Contextualism, Relativism and the Liar

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Contextualist theories of truth appeal to context to solve the liar paradox: different stages of reasoning occur in different contexts, and so the contradiction is dispelled. The word ‘true’ is relativized by the contextualists to contexts of use. This paper shows that contextualist approaches to the liar are committed to a form of semantic relativism: that the truth value of some sentences depends on the context of assessment, as well as the context of use. In particular, it is shown how Simmons’s and Glanzberg’s contextualist approaches entail relativism. In both cases, the liar sentence gets different semantic evaluations as uttered in a fixed context of use but assessed from different contexts. Shift in context of use alone cannot provide the full explanation of the liar. These contextualist approaches, as originally presented, were thus mischaracterised and they should be re-evaluated according to their full implications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)913-928
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper originated from comments to Keith Simmons given at the Joint Workshop of The Hebrew University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013. It was then presented at the Third Workshop on Philosophy of Logic of the Munich - Buenos Aires Logic Group and at the Philosophy Department at the University of Konstanz. I thank the audiences there for useful comments. I also wish to thank the following for very helpful comments and discussion on earlier drafts: Ole Hjortland, Dirk Kindermann, Hannes Leitgeb, Julien Murzi, Stewart Shapiro, Keith Simmons, Paula Teijeiro and two anonymous referees for this journal. This work has benefited from the support of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Contextualism
  • Liar paradox
  • Relativism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Logic


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