Semantic Relativism, Expressives, and Derogatory Epithets

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Abstract

Semantic relativism maintains that the truth-value of some propositions is sensitive to a judge parameter, facilitating cases whereby a proposition can be true relative to one judge, but false relative to another. Most prominently, semantic relativism has been applied to predicates of personal tastes (PPTs). Recently, Lasersohn (2007, 2017) has urged an extension of semantic relativism to terms traditionally construed as expressives including derogatory epithets (e.g. ‘asshole’) and, more tentatively, expressions like ‘damn’. In this paper, we challenge Lasersohn’s extension of relativism. Section one gives a background on semantic theories for expressives and on semantic relativism. In section two, we focus on Lasersohn’s (2007) account where he attempts to apply relativism to a wider range of expressives. We argue that because PPTs and expressives have fundamentally different semantic functions, the prospects for a relativistic account are slim. Several problems are presented. Our focus is on the perspective sensitivity of expressive content and the phenomenon of projection failure, as both reveal a fundamental disparity between expressives and PPTs.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalInquiry
Early online date5 May 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019