Chapter

Perspectives on Possibilities: Contextualism, Relativism, or What?

Kent Bach

in Epistemic Modality

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780199591596
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729027 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199591596.003.0002
Perspectives on Possibilities: Contextualism, Relativism, or What?

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Epistemic possibilities are relative to bodies of information, or perspectives. To claim that something is epistemically possible is typically to claim that it is possible relative one's own current perspective. We generally do this by using bare, unqualified epistemic possibility (EP) sentences, ones that don't mention our perspective. The fact that epistemic possibilities are relative to perspectives suggests that these bare EP sentences fall short of fully expressing propositions, contrary to what both contextualists and relativists take for granted. Although they rightly reject propositional invariantism, the implausible view that a bare EP sentence expresses the same classical (absolutely true or absolutely false) proposition in any context, they maintain that changes in perspective shift either the sentence's propositional content (a proposition involving a different perspective) or its truth-value (a perspectivally neutral proposition evaluated from a different perspective). This chapter denies that the semantic contents of bare EP sentences shift at all. But it also denies that these contents have truth-values. Rather, according to the radical invariantism that it defends, these contents are not full-fledged propositions but merely propositional radicals. Only explicitly relativized EP sentences manage fully to express propositions, and these perspective-involving propositions are the only EP propositions there are. Nevertheless, bare EP sentences are perfectly capable of being used to assert EP propositions, because utterances of them implicitly allude to the relevant perspective. Various problem cases challenge radical invariantism to explain pragmatically which perspective is read into the utterance of a given bare EP sentence. Unlike contextualism and relativism, it aims to do this without resorting to any semantic bells and whistles.

Keywords: epistemic modals; perspectives; propositional radicals; invariantism; relativism; contextualism

Chapter.  21561 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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