Topic: HUMAN SEMANTICS
Context, Content and Relativism
By Michael Glanzberg
Here is a simple and inviting picture: the semantic values of sentences, relative to contexts,are sets of possible worlds. These are the truth conditions of assertions of those sentences in contexts. They are thus the contents of assertions, or the objects of attitudes we might take towards such contents.
There have been many questions raised about the simple picture. I propose to ignore these questions to focus on whether the semantic values of sentences hould be sets of something more than possible worlds.
My main concern here shall be with the philosophy of language side of this debate. I shall argue that in fact, thinking about the way language works does not give us any argument for relativism. I shall also suggest, in the end, that the argument which leads to this kind of rampant relativism hinges on a particularly stringent view about the way context fixes contextual parameters. I shall suggest this stringent view is not well-justified, and that language shows us many contextual effects which do not conform to it. This will not constitute a knock-down argument against relativism, but I do hope to show that sober reflection on language offers relativism no support.
Source: Semantics Archive