Research Project
Contexts and Relative Truth in Epistemology and the Philosophy of Language

While relativist philosophical accounts were often dismissed as methodologically unclear, irrational, incoherent or even self-refuting, there has been a renaissance of relativist thinking in recent analytic philosophy. Proponents of the so-called “New Relativism” attempt to develop relativist semantics for knowledge attributions, epistemic modals, future contingents, as well as for moral, aesthetic, and evaluative predicates by means of formal methods of philosophy of language. These new relativist accounts do not only intend to yield linguistically adequate formal models for expressions in natural language. They also aim at solving central traditional philosophical problems, such as the problem of scepticism or the metaphysical and logical problems concerning the truth of sentences about the future. Relativist accounts differ in how the assumed context relativity is construed. For example, a sentence is indexical with regard to a context of a speaker if the sentence expresses different propositions in different contexts. A sentence is non-indexically context-sensitive with regard to a context of a speaker if, although it expresses the same proposition in every context, its truth-value nevertheless depends on the context of the speaker. In radical truth relativism, a truth-relative sentence is neither indexical nor is its semantic variability dependent on the context of the speaker. Rather, its truth-value is relative to an additional perspective from which the sentence is assessed. In this way, proponents of truth relativism attempt to endorse, inter alia, the phenomenon of “faultless disagreement”.
The research proposal aims at a further development and an analysis of the possibilities and limits of this recent relativist trend in analytic philosophy. To this end, research into epistemology and philosophy of language should be systematically combined with linguistic research into semantics and pragmatics. In particular, the different forms of context relativity should be analyzed against the background of theories of formal semantics and theories of the semantics-pragmatics interface in order to make a fruitful contribution to the philosophical debate on relativism.

Selected Publications

Brendel, E./Meibauer, J./Steinbach, M. (eds.). 2011. Understanding Quotation. Berlin/New York: Mouton De Gruyter.

Brendel, E. 2009. «Contextualism, Relativism, and Factivity» in: H. Leitgeb/A. Hieke (eds.): Reduction and Elimination in Philosophy and the Sciences. Frankfurt am Main: ontos, pp. 155-176.

Brendel, E. 2007. «Kontextualismus oder Invariantismus? Zur Semantik epistemischer Aussagen» in: A. Rami/H. Wansing (eds.): Referenz und Realität. Paderborn: mentis, pp. 11-28.

Brendel, E./Jäger, C. (eds.). 2005. Contextualisms in Epistemology. Dordrecht: Springer.

Brendel, E. 1999. Wahrheit und Wissen. Paderborn: mentis.