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The Scope and the Subtleties of the Contextualism–Literalism–Relativism Debate



In recent years, a number of new trends have seen light at the intersection of semantics and philosophy of language. They are meant to address puzzles raised by the context-sensitivity of a variety of natural language constructions, such as knowledge ascriptions, belief reports, epistemic modals, indicative conditionals, quantifier phrases, gradable adjectives, temporal constructions, vague predicates, moral predicates, predicates of personal taste. A diversity of labels have consequently emerged, such as ‘contextualism’, ‘indexicalism’, ‘invariantism’, ‘literalism’, ‘minimalism’, and ‘relativism’, variously qualified. The goal of this essay is to pinpoint the issues that lie at the heart of the recent debates, clarify what is at stake, and provide a snapshot of the current theoretical landscape.