Thursday, September 15, 2005

Relativism and Other Animals

Brian Weatherson has just posted a substantial blog entry on Types of Relativism - something I got interested in here a while ago. Brian offers a taxonomy of 18 logically possible positions, of which he thinks only eight are interesting, consisting of various possible combinations of 'Invariantist', 'Contextualist' and 'Relativist' views on three different issues: utterance content, utterance truth-value and proposition truth-value.

I was hoping I could write a post on how the six positions I talked about in my post relate to Brian's eight positions, but, after working out that Brian's III is not one of my positions - because it's not any kind of relativism-like view - I got confused by the following.

Brian's definitions of 'Invariantism', 'Contextualism' and 'Relativism' are all given in terms of the variation (or lack thereof) of some value (content or truth-value) with what he calls 'context'. I wasn't clear, though, whether this was meant to be the utterer's context, the context of the assessor of the utterance, or whether Brian intends to allow that it could be either (and/or maybe other things besides, such as subject's context). Given that he classes Cohen-DeRose-Lewis contextualism as one of the views definable in terms of his I/C/R classification scheme, I guess that utterer's context must be of importance sometimes. But in the theist graffiti case he explicitly discusses assessor's context. If we don't get clear on whose context it is that matters, surely we overlook an important dimension of variation in the various available views here.

Another point: Brian's contextualist is someone who thinks that:
Any token has the same value in all contexts, but some tokens of the same type take different values
Presumably, though, the reason for calling such a view 'contextualist' is that the explanation of the difference in values is required to have something to do with context (and by my understanding of how the term 'contextualist' is generally used, this would usually be utterer's context).


matt weiner said...

I think Brian uses 'context' to mean assessor's context, and the context of utterance comes into play via the type-token distinction. (After typing that I decided I was wrong, and now, having typed about half of what follows, I think I was right again. But I might change my mind again in another minute.)

Here's what (I think) happens if we let context be assessor's context and exploit the type-token distinction. take garden-variety contextualism: utterances of type 'I am (tenseless) in Lubbock on Sept. 14, 2005', and the propositions they express.

Most everybody (who, unlike me, believes it's useful to talk of 'contents' and 'propositions') is a UC-contextualist: not all content of this uttearnce have the same value in all contexts of assessment (where 'same' has wide scope). If I say this, my token-utterance has the content that MW is in Lubbock on 9/14/05; if you say this, your token-utterance has the content that CJ is in Lubbock on 9/14/05. [14/9/05, if you like.] But nobody's a relativist; those token-utterances have those contents no matter what context they're assessed in.

Most everybody is also a UT-contextualist: My token-utterance is true and your token-utterance is false (at least, if it were true I'd hope you'd let the Tech philosophy department know!), no matter what context they're evaluated is.

And most everybody is a PT-invariantist: the relevant propositions are things like [MW in Lubbock on 9/14/05], which is true no matter what context it is assessed in.

So with respect to 'I'-utterances, the standard view is CCI. utterer's context sneaks in by way of the token-type distinction; when you pick out a token-utterance, you're also picking out its context of utterance.

This might leave some wiggle room w/r/t your last comment; for Brian's contextualists, does the variation in values have to depend on context? Well, it depends on something about the utterance-token that isn't the utterance-type. Does everything about the token that's not the type count as context? Maybe we have to define 'context' (or 'type') so it does.

matt weiner said...

Thinking it over, I'm a bit confused about the role of possible worlds--the proposition [MW in Lubbock on 9/14/05] is true when assessed at any context in this world, but false when assessed in other worlds. I think I share this with one of Brian's commenters. I'll post a comment over there.