A Seminar on Two Williamsonian Perspectives

We invite you to the event A Seminar on Two Williamsonian Perspectives taking place on the 11th of November, 12:00 p.m., at the IRH-ICUB location 1 Dimitrie Brandza St.


Sanna Hirvonen (University of Oxford), “Judgments of Taste as a Test Case for Metasemantics”

Alexandru Dragomir (University of Bucharest), “An objection on Dummett’s definition of Justificationist Truth based on Williamson’s critique of Edgington’s solution to Fitch’s Paradox”


Judgments of Taste as a Test Case for Metasemantics

Sanna Hirvonen (University of Oxford)

Judgments of taste such as “Rotten shark is delicious” are puzzling because they seem to have both subjective and objective characteristics. They are subjective in the sense that they are made on the basis of personal experiences, which vary between people. Moreover, many philosophers have argued that disagreements over taste are “faultless”: even if the speakers disagree, no one has made a mistake. However, they are objective in the sense that we also accept the existence of experts on taste, and that we think that not every disagreement of taste is faultless.

Reconciling these intuitions has been one of the driving forces behind the developments of semantic relativism, defended by e.g. Kölbel [2003], Lasersohn [2005] and MacFarlane [2014]. Relativists have claimed to be able to account for the two core features of judgments of taste: their subjective grounds and the fact that we disagree about them. The main competitor to relativism is contextualism, defended by e.g. Glanzberg [2007], Schaffer [2011] and Stojanovic [2007]. Nevertheless, relativists and contextualists agree on most issues. Certain forms of contextualism and relativism are so similar that arguably the only difference between them is the choice of the formal semantic framework, which makes no difference to the predictions the views (Stojanovic [2007]). Are there no other considerations that can help us decide which of the views, if any, should be adopted?

In this talk I argue that we need to think about an essential issue that has been ignored in the debates: metasemantics, or the theory of meaning / reference determination. I will contrast three approaches:

  1. Maximising justified belief.
  2. Maximising true belief.

3. Maximising knowledge.

Each of these metasemantic approaches gives very different results regarding the meanings of predicates of taste. Currently the choice of metasemantics has not been made explicit by any of the authors to the recent debates. Nevertheless, opting for maximising truth seems to be assumed by many since a standard method of arguing for one’s view is to show how it makes more judgments come out true than the competing views.

I will argue that the knowledge maximisation metasemantics defended by Williamson [2007] provides the most plausible account for the semantics of judgments of taste. The resulting view is a novel form of speaker-centered subjectivism, different in crucial respects from contextualist and relativist accounts.

Looking at judgments of taste from the point of view of different metasemantics has several advantages. First, it brings out the crucial importance of metasemantics by showing how the choice of it influences which semantic account one chooses. Secondly, despite of appearances, currently there is no consensus over which metasemantic account we should adopt. Seeing the results of the different metasemantics as applied to judgments of taste can thus be used to evaluate the plausibility of the metasemantic accounts themselves.

Suggested Readings

Williamson, T. Philosophy of Philosophy. Chapter 8. Oxford University Press, 2007.


Michael Glanzberg. Context, content and relativism. Philosophical Studies, (136):1–29, 2007.

Max Kölbel. Faultless disagreement. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 104:53–73, 2003.

Peter Lasersohn. Context dependence, disagreement, and predicates of personal taste. Linguistics and Philosophy, (28):643–686, 2005.

John MacFarlane. Assessment Sensitivity – Relative Truth and Its Applications. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Jonathan Schaffer. Perspective in taste predicates and epistemic modals. In Andy Egan and Brian Weatherson, editors, Epistemic Modality, pages 179–226. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Isidora Stojanovic. Talking about taste: Disagreement, implicit arguments and relative truth. Linguistics and Philosophy, 30(6):691–706, 2007.

Timothy Williamson. Philosophy of Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 2007.


An objection on Dummett’s definition of Justificationist Truth based on Williamson’s critique of Edgington’s solution to Fitch’s Paradox

Alexandru Dragomir, (University of Bucharest)

In order to find a suitable justificationist theory of truth for empirical sentences and solve the problem of the vanishing past, Dummett (2004) distinguished between (a) what makes a statement true, and (b) what a statement says. We will argue that (1) “knowing what a statement says” implies a case of counterfactual knowledge, since “what a statement says”  is a counterfactual, and that Dummett’s distinction is reminiscent of Edgington’s (1985) solution to Fitch’s paradox, and, as such, it inherits some of Williamson’s (1987) objections raised against it.  Edgington argued that the Verification Thesis can be saved from Fitch’s paradox by distinguishing between (a) the world of the knower, and (b) the world of the truth. This distinction allowed Edgington to offer an interpretation of the Verification Thesis that provably cannot lead to the Omniscience Thesis. Williamson (1987) showed that Edgington’s (1987) reformulation of the Verification Thesis implies a form of counterfactual knowledge and argued that this notion cannot be made sense of. If Dummett’s (2004) semantic definition for the truth of past-sentences  rests on counterfactual knowledge, as we will argue, then his definition will have to meet the same objection as Edgington’s (1985) Verification Thesis.

Dummett, Michael (2004). Truth and the Past. Columbia University Press.

Edgington, Dorothy (1985). “The paradox of knowability.” Mind 94 (376):557-568.

Williamson, Timothy (1987). “On knowledge of the unknowable.” Analysis 47 (3):154-158.