SEMANTIC RELATIVISM ABOUT PERPSECTIVAL EXPRESSIONS: A REASSESSMENT AND DEFENSE
(OPUS 17 project no. 2019/33/B/HS1/01269)
Natural languages are replete with expressions for the interpretation of which appeal to perspectives is needed, such as “tasty”, “beautiful”, “good”, “might” or “knows”. Such perspectival expressions play a crucial role in our lives: they describe how parts of reality are experienced or judged from our own perspective, as well as give us insight into how they are experienced or judged from other people’s perspectives.
Two broad views are the main contenders in current literature on perspectival expressions: contextualism and relativism. There are essentially two types of arguments found in the debate between these views. One concerns judgments of truth-value (“intuitions”) in or about various scenarios such as disagreement, retraction, eavesdropping, etc. Among these, disagreement has been discussed extensively in the literature and the focus of my previous research project (click here for details). Another important argument concerns retraction - the phenomenon whereby a speaker “takes back” a previous assertion involving a perspectival expression. Recently, both conceptual and empirical challenges have been raised that undermine the dialectical efficacy of retraction. A less discussed but highly significant phenomenon that has recently surfaced in the literature is perspectival plurality. Simply put, perspectival plurality is the existence of readings of sentences containing two or more perspectival expressions that appeal to two or more perspectives. This phenomenon has been deemed problematic both for contextualism and relativism. The second type of arguments found in literature are syntactic, attending to linguistic phenomena like licensing, control, binding, sluicing, floating, ellipsis, anaphora, crossover, embedding under speech and attitude verbs etc. Each of the two views has been shown to have problems with at least some of these phenomena.
The project has two main aims. The first is to provide a thorough exploration and systematization of the various arguments found in the literature, of both types mentioned above. The second, arguably more important, aim of the project is to defend, by both taking up old arguments and providing new ones, a version of relativism about most perspectival expressions. In order to achieve these aims I will focus on the following three research questions:
1: What is the dialectical power of the argument from retraction, after the recent conceptual and empirical challenges?
2: What is the best way for the relativist to account for perspectival plurality, in all its manifestations?
3: How successful are the syntactic arguments both against and in favor of relativism?
The result of the project will be a comprehensive picture of the moves available to relativism vis-à-vis the phenomena described and, ultimately, a well-defended and fully developed relativist view of perspectival expressions.
The project's activities comprise regular seminars, workshops and occasional talks by invited speakers.
In the first year I convened an online biweekly seminar on retraction. In the second year I ran one on perspectival plurality. This year's topic is syntactic arguments in the contextualism/relativism debate.
The first workshop organized as part of the project was Theoretical and Empirical Challenges to Retraction, June 23-24, 2021, University of Warsaw (online). The second workshop was Perspectival Plurality, May 27-28, 2022, University of Warsaw (hybrid). The project also hosted several invited talks such as those by Una Stojnic (7.03.2022) and Quill Kukla (14.03.2022).