DISAGREEMENT IN SEMANTICS
Department in Philosophy, University of Vienna
NIG building, Universitätsstraße 7, 3rd floor, room 3A
May 7-8, 2018
The workshop pertains to the Lise Meitner project Disagreement and the Semantics of Perspectival Expressions (M 2220-G24) and aims to engage with recent developments in the contemporary debate about the semantics of perspectival expressions (predicates of taste, aesthetic adjectives, moral terms, epistemic vocabulary, gradable adjectives etc.) between relativism, contextualism, absolutism and expressivism. Below you can find the program of the workshop and the abstracts of the papers presented. You can download the poster here.
The workshop is organized by Triinu Eesmaa and Dan Zeman, with the financial support of the Faculty of Philosophy and Education at the University of Vienna. Attendance is free, but please send a message to danczeman[at]gmail.com if you plan to attend (for logistic reasons). The event is fully accessible.
Monday, May 7
10.00-11.15: Isidora Stojanovic (CNRS, Institut Jean Nicod), "Disagreements about Taste vs. Disagreements about Moral Matters"
Comments: Carlos Núñez (University of Vienna)
11.30-12.45: Sanna Hirvonen, "A New Error Theory for Judgments of Taste"
Comments: Tom Fery (University of Vienna)
14.00-15.15: Alexander Davies (University of Tartu), "Meta-linguistic Negotiation, Coordination and Identity Display"
Comments: Katharina Sodoma (University of Vienna)
15.15-16.30: Joanna Odrowąż-Sypniewska (University of Warsaw), "Faultless and Genuine Disagreement over Vague Predicates"
Comments: Robin McKenna (University of Vienna)
16.45-18.00: Julia Zakkou (University of Hamburg/Free University Berlin) & Alexander Dinges (University of Hamburg), "A Direction Effect on Taste Predicates"
Comments: Max Kölbel (University of Vienna) & Triinu Eesmaa (University of Vienna)
Tuesday, May 8
10.00-11.15: Mihai Hîncu (Valahia University of Târgoviște) & Dan Zeman (University of Vienna), "On Wyatt's Absolutist Solution to the Problem of Faultless Disagreement"
Comments: Delia Belleri (University of Vienna)
11.30-12.45: Alexander Dinges (University of Hamburg), "Relativism and Conservatism"
Comments: Victoria Lavorerio (University of Vienna)
Isidora Stojanovic (CNRS, Institut Jean Nicod), "Disagreements about Taste vs. Disagreements about Moral Matters"
The aim of this paper is to argue against a growing tendency to assimilate moral disagreements to disagreements about matters of personal taste. The argumentative strategy adopted in the paper appeals to a battery of linguistic criteria that reveal interesting and important differences between predicates of personal taste and moral predicates. The paper further argues that these semantically tractable differences have an impact on the nature of the corresponding disagreements.
Sanna Hirvonen: "Two Error Theories for Judgments of Taste"
Let us suppose that subjectivism is true about taste properties like deliciousness: they are relations between different types of experiencers and objects. Let us further suppose that people mostly speak as if taste properties were objective. This conflict combined with a traditional theory of meaning determination leads to an error theory for judgments of taste: speakers intend to talk of properties that are not instantiated, and thus their positive judgments are false. The error theory thus explains disagreements of taste as speakers expressing contradictory propositions, neither of which are true.
In this talk I present an alternative, more externalist theory of meaning determination. It puts more weight on speakers' causal relations to the world and less weight on what they take themselves to be talking about. Applied to judgments of taste, it holds that in a disagreement of taste speakers express compatible propositions that are true, but they have false beliefs about what they talk about, thereby taking themselves to disagree. Thus, just like the traditional error theory it takes speakers to be in error. While the traditional error theory holds that the error lies in systematically asserting falsehoods, the new error theory holds that people speak truths but have false beliefs about what makes their judgments true. In order to decide which of the the two error theories does better we need to look at the underlying theories of meaning determination. I do so and argue in favour of the more externalist one.
Alexander Davies, University of Tartu: "Metalinguistic Negotiation, Coordination and Identity Display"
Predicates of personal taste are thought to distinguish themselves as a special subset of gradable adjectives in that, in the semantics of the former we find some form of relativization of the extension of the predicate to an assessor or judge. Timothy Sundell (2016) argues against this assumption. He has defended the thesis that all uses of predicates of personal taste can be explained without postulation of any such relativization in the predicates' semantics. He argues that the semantic properties of ordinary gradable adjectives combined with a socio-pragmatic phenomenon that he calls a “metalinguistic negotiation”, together explain all such uses. However, Marques (2017) and Zeman (2016, 2017) claim to have identified a kind of disagreement on matters of taste which seems to pose a problem for Sundell's thesis. It is a kind of disagreement which involves use of predicates of personal taste, which does not constitute a metalinguistic negotiation as Sundell defines that, but which nonetheless distinguishes predicates of personal taste from other context-sensitive predicates. In this paper, I'm going to defend Sundell's thesis against the Marques-Zeman objection. I think the Marques-Zeman objection is based partly upon a misunderstanding of Sundell's position and partly upon Sundell's excessive focus on cooperative activities in which metalinguistic disagreements arise. Once we recognize that there can be metalinguistic disagreements which are worth having even if there's no such cooperative activity, and even if there's no hope of achieving coordination between users of an expression on its content, then we'll also be able to see how Sundell's account, mildly modified, has no trouble with the disagreements upon which Marques and Zeman focus. The main line of argument put forward in this paper owes a great deal to the neglected work of Kathryn McFarland (2015), who not only raises the Marques-Zeman objection herself against Sundell, but also provides the materials to defend Sundell's thesis against the objection.
Joanna Odrowąż-Sypniewska, University of Warsaw: "Faultless and Genuine Disagreement over Vague Predicates"
In this paper I discuss the main differences between typical vague predicates (such as “tall” and “rich”) and predicates of personal taste. I also suggest an account of vague predicates that allows for genuine disagreement concerning clear cases and faultless disagreement concerning borderline cases. The idea is that the content of speech acts concerning clear cases is different from the content of speech acts concerning borderline cases. Namely, in clear cases “a is F” (where F is a vague predicate) means “a is F simpliciter”, whereas in borderline cases it means “a is F-according-to-me”. I address two possible objections: that faultless disagreement is spurious on my account and that the idea that assertions concerning borderline and clear cases have different contents is ad hoc. While answering the first objection I use Lopez de Sa’s idea of the presupposition of commonality but my understanding of it is importantly different. In answering the second objection I rely on key insights from Kennedy’s paper on subjectivity (2016).
Julia Zakkou (University of Hamburg/Free University Berlin) & Alexander Dinges (University of Hamburg), "A Direction Effect on Taste Predicates"
The recent literature abounds with accounts of the semantics and pragmatics of so-called predicates of personal taste, i.e. predicates whose application is, in some sense or other, a subjective matter. Relativism and contextualism are the major types of theories. One crucial difference between these theories concerns how we should assess previous taste claims. Relativism predicts that we should assess them in the light of the taste standard governing the context of assessment. Contextualism predicts that we should assess them in the light of the taste standard governing the context of use. We show in a range of experiments that neither prediction is correct. Which taste standard people choose in evaluating a previous taste claim crucially depend on whether they start out with a favorable attitude towards the object in question and then come to have an unfavorable attitude or vice versa. We argue that no extant theory predicts this direction effect and go on to suggest what we call hybrid relativism as a solution. On this view, taste sentences have a relativist and a contextualist reading, where the relevant reading is selected by an independently motivated pragmatic principle to interpret speakers as negatively as possible.
Mihai Hîncu (Valahia University of Târgoviște) & Dan Zeman (University of Vienna), "On Wyatt's Absolutist Solution to the Problem of Faultless Diasgreement"
In this paper we engage with a very recent absolutist proposal to account for faultless disagreement: that of Wyatt (2017). We introduce the phenomenon to be explained and situate both absolutism in the logical space of contemporary positions and Wyatt’s view within the absolutist camp. Wyatt's position stands out from other absolutist views in that it combines two claims: i) that the semantic content of sentences containing predicates of taste is different from the asserted content of such sentences (amounting to a minimal proposition in the sense of Borg or Cappelen and Lepore) and ii) that disagreement should be construed in terms of a clash of non-doxastic attitudes (i.e., preferences). The combination of these two claims allows Wyatt to both account for faultless disagreement and claim that the semantics of predicats of taste is absolutist. We raise a number of objections to Wyatt's account, showing that it relies on controversial assumptions and that it is costlier than other views on the market. We also take issue with the way in which Wyatt interprets certain experimental data put forward by Cova and Pain (2012).
Alexander Dinges, University of Hamburg: "Relativism and Conservatism"
Epistemic relativism is roughly the view that knowledge propositions have truth-values only relative to a more or less demanding epistemic standard. Thus, the proposition that Hannah knows that her train leaves at 3pm may be true relative to an undemanding epistemic standard already if she has only moderately strong evidence for believing that the train leaves at 3pm. The same proposition will be false though relative to a demanding epistemic standard. I will argue that relativism so understood faces a problem regarding the preservation of beliefs in memory. The basic worry is this: Suppose you find yourself in a context where the epistemic standard is undemanding. In line with relativism, you store in memory the belief that Hannah knows that her train leaves at 3pm because she has moderately strong evidence for believing this. It is normally assumed that people retain beliefs once they have formed them unless they forget or receive new evidence that counts against the belief. Suppose nothing like that happens, but the epistemic standard shifts and becomes demanding. According to the given assumption about belief retention, you will retain your belief. According to relativism, the belief will be false though relative to your present, demanding epistemic standard. In this way, relativism seems to entail that our memory is fraught with mistaken beliefs, that is, beliefs that are false from one’s present perspective. I will argue that relativists have no good answer to this worry. I will also argue that closely related positions like epistemic contextualism don’t face a similar concern.