Crash course on semantic relativism

12th to 13th November 2008, Geneva

Lecture 1 (Wednesday, 16-18): Parameters of truth: back to the founding fathers

Lecture 2 (Thursday, 10-12): The contextualism/relativism debate: its motivations and scope

Course description:

This crash course is devoted to "semantic relativism", which covers a family of positions that have recently emerged at the interface of semantics, pragmatics and philosophy of language. To better understand the issues involved in the recent debate(s), it will be helpful to briefly return to some foundational issues. In semantics based upon classical logic, the truth of a sentence is relative to a structure of interpretation and an assignment of values to the free variables. It has become customary, though, to take the truth of a sentence to be relative to further parameters, such as contexts, indices, or points of evaluation. In lecture 1, we will try to pin down and clarify the arguments, put forward by Kamp, Kaplan, Lewis, etc., for a parametrization of truth that goes along such lines. However, it has been suggested that these traditional frameworks fall short of accounting for the behavior of expressions such as epistemic modals, predicates of personal taste, knowledge ascriptions, future tense, etc., and that in order to account for these, we need to take truth to be even more relative - for instance, by introducing a novel parameter of context of assessment (as opposed to context of use). In lecture 2, we will try to pin down and clarify the arguments involved in these more recent debates, and shed some light on the differences among the various "relativist" positions.

Notions in elementary logic (such as first order predicate calculus) and some familiarity with philosophy of language are advisable. There will be ample room for questions and discussion.

Recommended readings:
(for lecture 1) (for lecture 2)


For all inquiries, please contact the organiser, Philipp Keller.