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Contextual Indeterminacy and Semantic Theory

18 apr 2017 15:30 - 20 apr 2017 18:30
Institut d'études avancées de Paris
Hôtel de Lauzun
17 quai d'Anjou
75004 Paris

Workshop organized by John MacFarlane (Paris IAS fellow) and François Recanati (Institut Jean Nicod), with the support of the Institut Jean Nicod, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Paris Institute for Advanced Study


The dominant framework for work in the semantics of natural language is truthconditional semantics. This approach has its roots in the work of Gottlob Frege and Alfred Tarski, who showed how to give recursive truth definitions for subsets of the language of mathematics. For this language, devoid of vagueness and contextual sensitivity, it made sense to talk of the condition for a sentence to be true, simpliciter. But natural language sentences like “I have been there” can only be classed as true in relation to a context. (Who is speaking? At what time? What place is meant by “there”?) So, natural-language semanticists replaced the project of giving conditions for sentences in a language to be true with the project of giving conditions for sentences to be true at a context. It has now become standard to talk of a context as determining a speaker, addressees, a reference time, referents of demonstratives and indexicals, a “modal base” of possibilities, quantifier domains, similarity metrics or selection functions for conditionals, reference classes and cutoff points for gradeable adjectives, and much else.

The purpose of this workshop is to assess whether it is problematic to posit contextual parameters whose settings are not mutually known (even in normal cases of successful communication), and to consider the upshots. Is it plausible to think of definitions of truth at a context as theories of meaning when the relevant contextual parameters are not known in common between speakers and hearers? How do such definitions figure in explanations of communication? If it is problematic to posit inscrutable settings for contextual parameters, what are the upshots for the abundant work in semantic theory that seems to posit them? Are there ways of reconceiving this work without throwing away its insights? Is it time to rethink the way formal semantic theory relates to the use of language?


Tuesday, April 18th

3:30–4:30 Tour of the Hôtel de Lauzun, led by Caroline zumKolk

4:30 Welcome

4:40–6:00 JohnMacFarlane, UC Berkeley/IEA de Paris : Constraint Semantics
Chair: Francois Recanati, Institut Jean Nicod

6:00 Cocktail, Hôtel de Lauzun

Wednesday, April 19th

10:00–11:20 Chris Barker, NYU : Delineations, not Hyperplans
Chair: EliotMichaelson, King’s College London

11:30–12:50 Diana Raffman, University of Toronto : Vagueness, Indefiniteness, andMultiple Reference
Chair: Paul Egré, Institut Jean Nicod

1:00–2:00 Lunch, Hôtel de Lauzun

2:10–3:30 Michael Glanzberg, Northwestern University : The Precision of Scales in AdjectivalMeaning
Chair: Heather Burnett, CNRS

3:40–5:00 Una Stojnic, NYU : Vague Utterances in Context
Chair: SalvadorMascarenhas, Institut Jean Nicod

5:10–6:30 SamCumming, UCLA : Meaning and Classification
Chair: Delia Graff Fara, Princeton

8:00 Conference dinner (L’Orangerie Paris, 28 rue Saint Louis en l’Île)

Thursday, April 20th

10:00–11:20 Peter Pagin, University of Stockholm : Communicative Success in Context
Chair: Stephen Neale, CUNY

11:30–12:50 Martin Abreu Zavaleta, NYU : Communicative Coordination
Chair: AldaMari, Institut Jean Nicod

1:00–2:00 Lunch, Hôtel de Lauzun

2:10–3:30 Gabe Dupre, UCLA : Truth and Idealization in Natural Language Semantics
Chair: RobertMay, UC Davis

3:40–5:00 Ethan Nowak, UCL : No Context, No Content, No Problem
Chair: Isidora Stojanovic, Institut Jean Nicod

5:10–6:30 Josh Armstrong, UCLA : Truth and Imprecision
Chair: Brian Rabern, University of Edinburgh


Marta Abrusán, IRIT, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse
Josh Armstrong, UCLA
Chris Barker, NYU
Heather Burnett, CNRS, Université de Paris 7-Denis Diderot
Sam Cumming, UCLA
Gabriel Dupre, UCLA
MaryamEbrahimi-Diani, Institut Jean Nicod
Paul Egré, Institut Jean Nicod, ENS
Manuel Garcia-Carpintero, University of Barcelona
Michael Glanzberg, Northwester University
Kathrin Glüer-Pagin, University of Stockholm
Dan Hoek, NYU/Institut Jean Nicod
Manuel Kriz, Institut Jean Nicod
JohnMacFarlane, UC Berkeley
AldaMari, Institut Jean Nicod
SalvadorMascarhenas, Institut Jean Nicod
RobertMay, UC Davis
EliotMichaelson, King’s College London
MichaelMurez, Institut Jean Nicod
Stephen Neale, CUNY
David Nicolas, Institut Jean Nicod
Ethan Nowak, University College London
Peter Pagin, University of Stockholm
Brian Rabern, University of Edinburgh
Diana Raffman, University of Toronto
Francois Recanati, Institut Jean Nicod
Andrés Soria-Ruiz, Institut Jean Nicod
Robert Stainton,Western University
Isidora Stojanovic, Institut Jean Nicod
Una Stojnic, NYU
Martin Abreu Zavaleta, NYU

An expressivist account of vagueness
01 October 2016 - 30 June 2017
20 Apr 2017 18:30
John MacFarlane
Conferences and workshops
Contemporary period (1789-…)
World or no region