Perspective in context : relative truth, knowledge, and the first person
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This dissertation is about the nature of perspectival thoughts and the context-sensitivity of the language used to express them. It focuses on two kinds of perspectival thoughts: ‘subjective’ evaluative thoughts about matters of personal taste, such as 'Beetroot is delicious' or 'Skydiving is fun', and first-personal or de se thoughts about oneself, such as 'I am hungry' or 'I have been fooled.' The dissertation defends of a novel form of relativism about truth - the idea that the truth of some (but not all) perspectival thought and talk is relative to the perspective of an evaluating subject or group. In Part I, I argue that the realm of ‘subjective’ evaluative thought and talk whose truth is perspective-relative includes attributions of knowledge of the form ’S knows that p.’ Following a brief introduction (chapter 1), chapter 2 presents a new, error-theoretic objection against relativism about knowledge attributions. The case for relativism regarding knowledge attributions rests on the claim that relativism is the only view that explains all of the empirical data from speakers' use of the word "know" without recourse to an error theory. In chapter 2, I show that the relativist can only account for sceptical paradoxes and ordinary epistemic closure puzzles if she attributes a problematic form of semantic blindness to speakers. However, in 3 I show that all major competitor theories - forms of invariantism and contextualism - are subject to equally serious error-theoretic objections. This raises the following fundamental question for empirical theorising about the meaning of natural language expressions: If error attributions are ubiquitous, by which criteria do we evaluate and compare the force of error-theoretic objections and the plausibility of error attributions? I provide a number of criteria and argue that they give us reason to think that relativism's error attributions are more plausible than those of its competitors. In Part II, I develop a novel unified account of the content and communication of perspectival thoughts. Many relativists regarding ‘subjective’ thoughts and Lewisians about de se thoughts endorse a view of belief as self-location. In chapter 4, I argue that the self-location view of belief is in conflict with the received picture of linguistic communication, which understands communication as the transmission of information from speaker's head to hearer's head. I argue that understanding mental content and speech act content in terms of sequenced worlds allows a reconciliation of these views. On the view I advocate, content is modelled as a set of sequenced worlds - possible worlds ‘centred’ on a group of individuals inhabiting the world at some time. Intuitively, a sequenced world is a way a group of people may be. I develop a Stalnakerian model of communication based on sequenced worlds content, and I provide a suitable semantics for personal pronouns and predicates of personal taste. In chapter 5, I show that one of the advantages of this model is its compatibility with both nonindexical contextualism and truth relativism about taste. I argue in chapters 5 and 6 that the empirical data from eavesdropping, retraction, and disagreement cases supports a relativist completion of the model, and I show in detail how to account for these phenomena on the sequenced worlds view.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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