Context and Communication

The Context and Communication sub-project will build on and expand research done by Herman Cappelen, Deirdre Wilson and collaborators during the first phase of CSMN.

About the project

Our work will centre around four areas of research:

  • We will build on work done by Cappelen and Hawthorne in their book Relativism and Monadic Truth (Oxford University Press, 2009). This has triggered a number of responses from advocates of a relativistic semantics for various natural language expressions. One goal of our research will be to investigate those responses and see whether new and more sophisticated version of relativistic semantics can overcome the objections raised by Cappelen, Hawthorne, and others.
  • We plan to explore forms of relativism that do not relativize truth, but instead construe the content of an utterance as varying between interpreters. According to this kind of view, sometimes called ‘content relativism’, the correct interpretation of an utterance of a sentence can vary between two interpreters. Such semantic theories are still in their infancy, but initial explorations have been made in connection with pronouns (in work by Andy Egan), conditionals (in work by Brian Weatherson), questions, demands, and other speech acts (by Herman Cappelen).
  • We will explore the connection between relativistic semantic frameworks and expressivist frameworks such as those developed by Seth Yalchin for epistemic modals and Alan Gibbard for moral language. Do expressivist models have theoretical virtues lacking in relativistic models?
  • There is currently an upsurge in literature that relies on and develops David Lewis’ theory of the de se to explain various phenomena involving indexicality, perspective, and context sensitivity in language and thought. Many theorists think Lewis’ account is well positioned to explain the connection between thought, language and the rationalization of agency. We want to investigate such claims. What kind of explanatory work can be done by semantic accounts that treat contents as centered worlds? In particular we focus on whether special contents – e.g. centered worlds – are needed to explain how agents can rationalize actions. This will provide a link between work done in Linguistic Agency and Rational Agency. 


In addition to these four interconnected areas of focus, we plan to continue some of the other research in our existing sub-project on “Context and communication”: What can norms of assertion tell us about the nature of content and the connection between context and communication? What is agreement and disagreement, and what role should intuitions about these phenomena play in a theory of communication? Can philosophical work on context and communication throw light on legal interpretation and the philosophy of law?

Published Jan. 20, 2012 2:03 PM - Last modified Feb. 13, 2012 1:13 PM