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The Metasemantics of Contextual Sensitivity

In Brett Sherman & Alexis Burgess (eds.), Metasemantics: New Essays on the Foundations of Meaning. Oxford University Press. pp. 97-118 (2014)

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  1. Ways of Using Words: On Semantic Intentions.Emanuel Viebahn - 2020 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 100 (1):93-117.
    Intentionalism is the view that demonstratives, gradable adjectives, quantifiers, modals and other context‐sensitive expressions are intention‐sensitive: their semantic value on a given use is fixed by speaker intentions. The first aim of this paper is to defend Intentionalism against three recent objections, according to which speakers at least sometimes do not have suitable intentions when using supposedly intention‐sensitive expressions. Its second aim is to thereby shed light on the so far little‐explored question of which kinds of intentions can be semantically (...)
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  • Context as Knowledge.Torfinn Thomesen Huvenes & Andreas Stokke - 2022 - Mind and Language 37 (4):543-563.
    It has been argued that common ground information is unsuited to the role that contexts play in the theory of indexical and demonstrative reference. This paper explores an alternative view that identifies shared information with what is common knowledge among the participants. We argue this view of shared information avoids the problems for the common ground approach concerning reference while preserving its advantages in accounting for communication.
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  • Discourse and Method.Ethan Nowak & Eliot Michaelson - 2020 - Linguistics and Philosophy 43 (2):119-138.
    Stojnić et al. (2013, 2017) argue that the reference of demonstratives is fixed without any contribution from the extra-linguistic context. On their `prominence/coherence' theory, the reference of a demonstrative expression depends only on its context-independent linguistic meaning. Here, we argue that Stojnić et al.’s striking claims can be maintained in only the thinnest technical sense. Instead of eliminating appeals to the extra-linguistic context, we show how the prominence/coherence theory merely suppresses them. Then we ask why one might be tempted to (...)
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  • Decision-Theoretic Relativity in Deontic Modality.Nate Charlow - 2018 - Linguistics and Philosophy 41 (3):251-287.
    This paper explores the idea that a semantics for ‘ought’ should be neutral between different ways of deciding what an agent ought to do in a situation. While the idea is, I argue, well-motivated, taking it seriously leads to surprising, even paradoxical, problems for theorizing about the meaning of ‘ought’. This paper describes and defends one strategy—a form of Expressivism for the modal ‘ought’—for navigating these problems.
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  • Indexical Relativism?Eduardo Pérez-Navarro - 2021 - Philosophia 50 (3):1365-1389.
    The particular behavior exhibited by sentences featuring predicates of personal taste such as “tasty” may drive us to claim that their truth depends on the context of assessment, as MacFarlane does. MacFarlane considers two ways in which the truth of a sentence can depend on the context of assessment. On the one hand, we can say that the sentence expresses a proposition whose truth-value depends on the context of assessment. This is MacFarlane’s position, which he calls “truth relativism” and, following (...)
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  • Sneaky Assertions.Manuel García-Carpintero - 2018 - Philosophical Perspectives 32 (1):188-218.
    Some speech acts are made indirectly. It is thus natural to think that assertions could also be made indirectly. Grice’s conversational implicatures appear to be just a case of this, in which one indirectly makes an assertion or a related constative act by means of a declarative sentence. Several arguments, however, have been given against indirect assertions, by Davis (1999), Fricker (2012), Green (2007, 2015), Lepore & Stone (2010, 2015) and others. This paper confronts and rejects three considerations that have (...)
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  • “Philosophers Care About the Truth”: Descriptive/Normative Generics.Olivier Lemeire - forthcoming - Mind and Language.
    Some generic generalizations have both a descriptive and a normative reading. The generic sentence “Philosophers care about the truth”, for instance, can be read as describing what philosophers in fact care about, but can also be read as prescribing philosophers to care about the truth. On Leslie’s account, this generic sentence has two readings due to the polysemy of the kind term “philosopher”. In this paper, I first argue against this polysemy account of descriptive/normative generics. In response, a contextualist semantic (...)
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  • Metasemantic Quandaries.Nate Charlow - forthcoming - In Billy Dunaway & David Plunkett (eds.), Meaning, Decision, and Norms: Themes from the Work of Allan Gibbard. Ann Arbor: Maize Books. pp. 171-202.
    This paper advocates a generalized form of Expressivism, as a strategy for resolving certain metasemantic puzzles about identifying the semantic value of a context-sensitive expression in context. According to this form of Expressivism, speakers express properties of semantic parameters, and they do so in order to proffer those properties for cognitive adoption (acceptance) by their addressees. Puzzles arising from the pressure to say what a putatively context-sensitive expression refers to or denotes in contexts that do not seem to specify a (...)
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  • The Problem of Lexical Innovation.Josh Armstrong - 2016 - Linguistics and Philosophy 39 (2):87-118.
    In a series of papers, Donald Davidson :3–17, 1984, The philosophical grounds of rationality, 1986, Midwest Stud Philos 16:1–12, 1991) developed a powerful argument against the claim that linguistic conventions provide any explanatory purchase on an account of linguistic meaning and communication. This argument, as I shall develop it, turns on cases of what I call lexical innovation: cases in which a speaker uses a sentence containing a novel expression-meaning pair, but nevertheless successfully communicates her intended meaning to her audience. (...)
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  • Probabilities of Conditionals in Context.Justin Khoo - 2016 - Linguistics and Philosophy 39 (1):1-43.
    The Ramseyan thesis that the probability of an indicative conditional is equal to the corresponding conditional probability of its consequent given its antecedent is both widely confirmed and subject to attested counterexamples (e.g., McGee 2000, Kaufmann 2004). This raises several puzzling questions. For instance, why are there interpretations of conditionals that violate this Ramseyan thesis in certain contexts, and why are they otherwise very rare? In this paper, I raise some challenges to Stefan Kaufmann's account of why the Ramseyan thesis (...)
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  • No Context, No Content, No Problem.Ethan Nowak - 2021 - Mind and Language 36 (2):189-220.
    Recently, philosophers have offered compelling reasons to think that demonstratives are best represented as variables, sensitive not to the context of utterance, but to a variable assignment. Variablists typically explain familiar intuitions about demonstratives—intuitions that suggest that what is said by way of a demonstrative sentence varies systematically over contexts—by claiming that contexts initialize a particular assignment of values to variables. I argue that we do not need to link context and the assignment parameter in this way, and that we (...)
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  • Strong Contextual Felicity and Felicitous Underspecification.Jeffrey C. King - 2018 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 97 (3):631-657.
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  • Practical Commitment in Normative Discourse.Pekka Vayrynen - 2022 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 21 (2).
    Many normative judgments play a practical role in our thought. This paper concerns how their practical role is reflected in language. It is natural to wonder whether the phenomenon is semantic or pragmatic. The standard assumption in moral philosophy is that at least terms which can be used to express “thin” normative concepts – such as 'good', 'right', and 'ought' – are associated with certain practical roles somehow as a matter of meaning. But this view is rarely given explicit defense (...)
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  • Communicating in Contextual Ignorance.Alex Davies - 2021 - Synthese 199 (5-6):12385-12405.
    When A utters a declarative sentence in a context to B, typically A can mean a proposition by the sentence, the sentence in context literally expresses a proposition, there are propositions A and B can agree the sentence literally expressed, and B can acquire knowledge from this testimonial exchange. In recent work on linguistic communication, each of these four platitudes has been challenged, and on the same basis: viz. on the ground that exactly which proposition the sentence expressed in context (...)
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  • Testimonial Knowledge Without Knowledge of What is Said.Andrew Peet - 2018 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 99 (1):65-81.
    This article discusses the following question: what epistemic relation must audiences bear to the content of assertions in order to gain testimonial knowledge? There is a brief discussion of why this issue is of importance, followed by two counterexamples to the most intuitive answer: that in order for an audience to gain testimonial knowledge that p they must know that the speaker has asserted p. It is then suggested that the argument generalises and can be made to work on different (...)
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  • Pointing things out: in defense of attention and coherence.Una Stojnić, Matthew Stone & Ernie Lepore - 2020 - Linguistics and Philosophy 43 (2):139-148.
    Nowak and Michaelson have done us the service of presenting direct and clear worries about our account of demonstratives. In response, we use the opportunity to engage briefly with their remarks as a useful way to clarify our view.
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  • What the Metasemantics of "Know" is Not.Peter van Elswyk - 2020 - Linguistics and Philosophy 43 (1):69-82.
    Epistemic contextualism in the style of Lewis (1996) maintains that ascriptions of knowledge to a subject vary in truth with the alternatives that can be eliminated by the subject’s evidence in a context. Schaffer (2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2015), Schaffer and Knobe (2012), and Schaffer and Szabo ́ (2014) hold that the question under discussion or QUD always determines these alternatives in a context. This paper shows that the QUD does not perform such a role for "know" and uses this (...)
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  • The Speaker Authority Problem for Context-Sensitivity.Karen S. Lewis - 2020 - Erkenntnis 85 (6):1527-1555.
    Context-sensitivity raises a metasemantic question: what determines the value of a context-sensitive expression in context? Taking gradable adjectives as a case study, this paper argues against various forms of intentionalist metasemantics, i.e. that speaker intentions determine values for context-sensitive expressions in context, including the coordination account recently defended by King :219–237, 2014a; in: Burgess, Sherman Metasemantics: New essays on the foundations of meaning, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 97–118, 2014b). The paper argues that all intentionalist accounts face the speaker authority (...)
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  • Testimony and the Epistemic Uncertainty of Interpretation.Andrew Peet - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (2):395-416.
    In the epistemology of testimony it is often assumed that audiences are able to reliably recover asserted contents. In the philosophy of language this claim is contentious. This paper outlines one problem concerning the recovery of asserted contents, and argues that it prevents audiences from gaining testimonial knowledge in a range of cases. The recovery problem, in essence, is simply that due to the collective epistemic limitations of the speaker and audience speakers will, in certain cases, be insensitive to the (...)
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  • The Role of Speaker and Hearer in the Character of Demonstratives.Jeff Speaks - 2016 - Mind 125 (498):301-339.
    Demonstratives have different semantic values relative to different contexts of utterance. But it is surprisingly difficult to describe the function from contexts to contents which determines the semantic value of a given use of a demonstrative. It is very natural to think that the intentions of the speaker should play a significant role here. The aim of this paper is to discuss a pair of problems that arise for views which give intentions this central role in explaining the characters of (...)
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  • Binding, Compositionality, and Semantic Values.Michael Glanzberg & Jeffrey C. King - 2020 - Philosophers' Imprint 20.
    In this paper, we defend a traditional approach to semantics, that holds that the outputs of compositional semantics are propositional, i.e. truth conditions. Though traditional, this view has been challenged on a number of fronts over the years. Since classic work of Lewis, arguments have been offered which purport to show that semantic composition requires values that are relativized, e.g. to times, or other parameters that render them no longer propositional. Focusing in recent variants of these arguments involving quantification and (...)
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  • Generics in Context.Rachel Sterken - 2015 - Philosophers' Imprint 15.
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  • How to Have a Metalinguistic Dispute.Poppy Mankowitz - 2021 - Synthese 199 (3-4):5603-5622.
    There has been recent interest in the idea that speakers who appear to be having a verbal dispute may in fact be engaged in a metalinguistic negotiation: they are communicating information about how they believe an expression should be used. For example, individuals involved in a dispute about whether a racehorse is an athlete might be communicating their diverging views about how ‘athlete’ should be used. While many have argued that metalinguistic negotiation is a pervasive feature of philosophical and everyday (...)
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  • Backtracking Counterfactuals Revisited.Justin Khoo - 2017 - Mind 126 (503):841-910.
    I discuss three observations about backtracking counterfactuals not predicted by existing theories, and then motivate a theory of counterfactuals that does predict them. On my theory, counterfactuals quantify over a suitably restricted set of historical possibilities from some contextually relevant past time. I motivate each feature of the theory relevant to predicting our three observations about backtracking counterfactuals. The paper concludes with replies to three potential objections.
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  • Discourse and Logical Form: Pronouns, Attention and Coherence.Una Stojnić, Matthew Stone & Ernie Lepore - 2017 - Linguistics and Philosophy 40 (5):519-547.
    Traditionally, pronouns are treated as ambiguous between bound and demonstrative uses. Bound uses are non-referential and function as bound variables, and demonstrative uses are referential and take as a semantic value their referent, an object picked out jointly by linguistic meaning and a further cue—an accompanying demonstration, an appropriate and adequately transparent speaker’s intention, or both. In this paper, we challenge tradition and argue that both demonstrative and bound pronouns are dependent on, and co-vary with, antecedent expressions. Moreover, the semantic (...)
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  • Metasemantics, Intentions and Circularity.Lukas Lewerentz & Benjamin Marschall - 2018 - Synthese 195 (4):1667-1679.
    According to intentionalism, a demonstrative d refers to an object o only if the speaker intends d to refer to o. Intentionalism is a popular view in metasemantics, but Gauker has recently argued that it is circular. We defend intentionalism against this objection, by showing that Gauker’s argument rests on a misconstrual of the aim of metasemantics. We then introduce two related, but distinct circularity objections: the worry that intentionalism is uninformative, and the problem of intentional bootstrapping, according to which (...)
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  • Why horizontalism.Cameron Domenico Kirk-Giannini - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (10):2881-2905.
    Horizontalism is the thesis that what a speaker asserts in literally and sincerely uttering an indicative sentence is some horizontal proposition of her utterance; diagonalism is the thesis that what a speaker asserts in literally and sincerely uttering an indicative sentence is some diagonal proposition of her utterance. Recent work on assertion has reached no clear consensus favoring either horizontalism or diagonalism. I explore a novel strategy for adjudicating between the two views by considering the advantages and disadvantages which would (...)
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