Intuitions about retractions have been used to motivate truth relativism about certain types of claims. Among these figure epistemic modals, knowledge attributions, or personal taste claims. On MacFarlane’s prominent relativist proposal, sentences like “the ice cream might be in the freezer” or “Pocoyo is funny” are only assigned a truth-value relative to contexts of utterance and contexts of assessment. Retractions play a crucial role in the argument for assessment-relativism. A retraction of a past assertion is supposed to be mandatory whenever the asserted sentence is not true at the context of use and the context of assessment. If retractions were not obligatory in these conditions, there would be no normative difference between assessment-relativism and contextualism. The main goal of this paper is to undermine the claim that retractions reveal this normative difference. To this effect, the paper offers a review of three important objections to the obligatoriness of retractions. Taken together, these objections make a strong case against the alleged support that retractions give to assessment-relativism. The objections are moreover supported by recent experimental results that are also discussed. This will satisfy a further goal, which is to undermine the idea that there is a constitutive retraction rule. The paper also discusses two ways to understand what such a rule would be constitutive of, and concludes with a discussion of how to describe what retractions are.
KeywordsRetraction Contextualism Relativism Epistemic modals Predicates of personal taste
This work was presented at the conference of the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology in Granada, August 2013, the 2nd PLM Conference in Budapest, September 2013, the LanCog seminar in Lisbon, November 2013, and the LOGOS seminar in Barcelona, February 2014. I am grateful to the audiences at those events for discussion of this material, and in particular to Robyn Carston, Manuel García-Carpintero, Kathrin Glüer-Pagin, Joshua Knobe, Dan López de Sa, Josep Macià, Peter Pagin, François Recanati, Sven Rosenkranz, Pedro Santos, Isidora Stojanovic, Elia Zardini and Dan Zeman, and to two anonymous reviewers for this journal. This work was supported by FP7 Marie Curie Action, Intra-European Fellowship. Grant Agreement Number: PIEF-GA-2012-622114; Grup de Recerca Consolidat en Filosofia del Dret, 2014 SGR 626, funded by AGAUR de la Generalitat de Catalunya; About Ourselves, FFI2013-47948-P; and Online Companion to Problems of Analytic Philosophy, FCT Project PTDC/FIL-FIL/121209/20.
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