Experimenting on Contextualism: Between-Subjects vs. Within-Subjects

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According to contextualism, vast majority of natural-language expressions are context-sensitive. When testing whether this claim is reflected in Folk intuitions, some interesting methodological questions were raised such as: which experimental design is more appropriate for testing contextualism – the within- or the between-subject design? The main thesis of this paper is that the between-subject design should be preferred. The first experiment aims at assessing the difference between the results obtained for within-subjects measurements (where all participants assess all contexts) and between-subject measurements (where respondents evaluating different contexts are distinct groups). It is shown that the within-subject design provides data that seems to support contextualism. However, I present an alternative, invariantist interpretation of these results, therefore showing that the within-subject design does not allow to empirically distinguish between contextualism and invariantism. The second experiment further elaborates the issue of how perceiving the contrast between contexts can affect subjects’ judgments – I show that certain kinds of contexts may elicit opposite intuitions when contrasted with different contexts.
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