Philosophy 290-3

Spring 2008

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
290-3 Graduate Seminar: Assessment Sensitivity MacFarlane Tu 4-6 234 Moses Hall

We will examine the idea that some of the things we think and say are assessment-sensitive—that is, true or false only relative to a “context of assessment.” We will be concerned with three main issues:

  1. How can we make room for assessment sensitivity in existing semantic frameworks? To what extent is provision for assessment sensitivity a natural extension of these frameworks?

  2. How can we make philosophical sense of assessment sensitivity? What does it mean to say that what is asserted or believed is true or false only relative to a context of assessment? What are the costs of saying this? To what extent is this form of relativism subject to the usual philosophical objections?

  3. What is the motivation for positing assessment sensitivity? What phenomena can we explain by doing so? What are the prospects for alternative (and perhaps less radical) explanations of these phenomena?

For the sake of concreteness, we will focus first on “predicates of personal taste” (paradigmatically, “tasty”), and then on epistemic and deontic modals. In addition to newer literature that directly concerns assessment sensitivity, we will read some classic literature (both on semantics and on evaluative concepts, obligations, and possibility) that the newer work builds on.

Prerequisites: This seminar is primarily intended for graduate students in Philosophy and Logic and the Methodology of Science. Other students should seek my permission before continuing. I will not presuppose much background in the philosophy of language, but it would be good if everyone were familiar with the following three articles: Gottlob Frege, “The Thought: A Logical Inquiry” (English translation in Mind 65, 1956, pp. 289-311); H. P. Grice, “Logic and Conversation” (in Studies in the Way of Words, Harvard University Press, 1986); Richard Cartright, “Propositions,” in Philosophical Essays (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 33-53.