The situation in which a discourse takes place. Not just surrounding
material but also the attitudes of the speakers, their interests, the point
of what they’re trying to say, etc.
E.g. “everyone has arrived” or “there’s no beer”
The context constrains “everyone who was invited” / “no beer in the
Can we make everything explicit?
To make things explicit you draw from the context you are in
It’s an illusion to think we can speak “purely”
It’s essential for us to draw on info that is salient to the person we
A big question for theorists: how is what is said in a statement dependent on
Under what possible worlds / conditions is what you say true?
Information conveyed by a statement is the exclusion of possible worlds.
“The cup is on the table” rules out the set of worlds in which the cup is
under the table, etc.
If the cup gets moved, the three people in the room know both that it was
moved and that the three people all know this fact, so it can then be
taken for granted / it becomes part of the context.
If I respond to “everyone’s here” with “really? the queen is here?” that
means I have included a possible world that the speaker had already ruled
A defective / mismatched context
So the possible worlds are used in multiple places
I say “he is over there” and you need to know what possible worlds are
available as context to know who I refer to (suppose it’s John), but also
now that you know that it affects the meaning what I’m saying (it rules
out worlds wheree John is somewhere else)
The information content of the sentence is not just contained in the
sentence itself. We can’t just isolate the context-dependent components
by picking out indexicals.
Set of problems in philosophy: “essentially indexical belief”
Know objective facts but can’t locate oneself w/r/t to those facts
“I know I’m here” but I don’t know where here is.
There are thoughts that we can only have using indexicals (meaning
changes when substituted).
When the same thing is named in two different ways. E.g. Hespherus
It was an empirical discovery that these two names named the same
thing. Knowing that fact changes the meanings of sentences, even
Science gives you language for talking about a way for talking about the world
in a fairly objective way, but there are still named terms that get their
reference via naming processes.
Worry about realism. Is there something anti-realist about this kind of
We can talk about the world only by connecting ourselves to it.
That’s no threat to the fact we are stating objective truths/falsehoods.
We can distinguish between the possible worlds with our contexts and be
objectively right or wrong.
Use case of contextualism
Contextual theories can be used to address skeptical claims (“to know” is
In politically contested discourse, context can be deliberately exploited to
manipulate / control the discourse.
Radical contextualism gives us a means of knowing how to gain
clarification in these situations.