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Contextualism vs. Relativism: More Empirical Data

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Contextualism is the view that the extension of perspectival claims (involving e.g. predicates of personal taste or epistemic modals) depends on the context of utterance. Relativism is the view that the extension of perspectival claims depends on the context of assessment. Both views make concrete, empirically testable predictions about how such claims are used by ordinary English language speakers. This chapter surveys some of the recent empirical literature on the topic and presents four new experiments (total N=724). Consistent with contextualism and inconsistent with relativism, the results suggest that the extension of perspectival claims depends on the context of utterance, not the context of assessment.
DOI: 10.4324/9781003184225-8
1. Introduction
Let me not waste your time: There are three major truth-conditional
accounts that purport to explain the semantics of perspectival claims
regarding e.g. personal taste,1 epistemic modality,2 or aesthetic evalua-
tion.3 They dier with respect to two orthogonal dimensions, namely
(i) Whether the perspectival element (e.g. a standard of taste or an epistemic
perspective) is conceived as part of the content of the proposition uttered
or as a parameter in the circumstance of evaluation and (ii) whether the
extension of such claims is sensitive to the context of utterance or whether
it can, at times, be sensitive to a context of assessment. (For recent reviews
of the literature, see e.g. Stojanovic, 2017 and Glanzberg, 2021.)
According to indexical contextualism (e.g. Glanzberg, 2007; Stojanovic,
2007, 2017; Cappelen & Hawthorne, 2009; Schaer, 2011) an utterance
of “Salmon is delicious” features a tacit, quasi-indexical perspectival ele-
ment in the proposition’s content which is drawn from the context of
utterance. Nonindexical contextualists (e.g. Kölbel, 2002, 2004, 2009;
Recanati, 2007) argue that a position of this sort cannot accommodate
the phenomenon of faultless disagreement. The proposition itself, they
suggest, is taste-neutral, and the standard of taste is, like worlds or times,
part of the Kaplanian circumstance of evaluation (or a Lewisian index).
Relativists (e.g. MacFarlane, 2014; Egan, 2007, 2010) agree with non-
indexical contextualists that perspectival features are best located in the
circumstance and not the propositional content. However, and in contrast
to both kinds of contextualism, relativists look beyond the context of
utterance and make room for dynamic updating: people’s tastes, aesthetic
standards, and epistemic situations can change, and if they do, a perspec-
tival claim true at the context of utterance might be false as evaluated
from a later context of assessment. Here’s MacFarlane:
When our own tastes change, so that a food we used to find pleasant
to the taste now tastes bad, we may say that we were mistaken in
saying that the food was “tasty.” When I was a kid, I once told my
Contextualism Versus
More Empirical Data
Markus Kneer
Uncorrected Proof. Please consult final version.
Cite as Kneer, M. (2022). Contextualism versus Relativism. In Wyatt, J., Zakkou, J., &
Zeman, D. (Eds.). (2022). Perspectives on Taste: Aesthetics, Language, Metaphysics,
Experimental Philosophy (1st ed.). Routledge.
110 Markus Kneer
mother, “Fish sticks are tasty.” Now that I have exposed my palate to
a broader range of tastes, I think I was wrong about that; I’ve changed
my mind about the tastiness of fish sticks. So, if someone said, “But
you said years ago that fish sticks were tasty,” I would retract the ear-
lier assertion. I wouldn’t say, “They were tasty then, but they aren’t
tasty any more,” since that would imply that their taste changed. Nor
would I say, “When I said that, I only meant that they were tasty to
me then.” I didn’t mean that. At the time I took myself to be disagree-
ing with adults who claimed that fish sticks weren’t tasty.
(2014, pp.13–14)
What the passage highlights is that the dynamic nature of the relativist
view entails two norms of assertion. One, labelled the “Reflexive Truth
Rule,” specifies the conditions under which one is warranted to make an
Reflexive Truth Rule: An agent is permitted to assert that p at context
c1 only if p is true as used at c1 and assessed from c2.
(2014, p.103)
Given that the only context that matters for the making of assertions is
the context of utterance (or “use”), this might leave “contexts of assess-
ment without any essential role to play” (2014, p.104). However, on the
dynamic account of assertion proposed by relativists, there’s a second rule
in place—a rule which specifies under which conditions one must retract
an assertion:
Retraction Rule: An agent in context c2 is required to retract an (unre-
tracted) assertion of p made at c1 if p is not true as used at c1 and
assessed from c2.
(2014, p.108)
Naturally, a retraction cannot simply wipe the retracted assertion from
the conversational record. However, that’s not the point. Instead, in taking
back an assertion we attempt “to ‘undo’ the normative changes eected
by the original speech act” (MacFarlane, 2014, p.108; for discussion
about retraction in particular, see e.g. Ferrari (2016), Marques (2014a,
2018), Kneer (2015, 2021a), Zakkou (2019a), Caponetto (2020), and
Dinges (this volume)).
Truth relativism about perspectival expressions is a descriptive theory,
which makes hypotheses about norms of assertion in ordinary English. The
norms in question are conventional, non-codified, behaviour-dependent
rules, which govern our linguistic practice (at least in certain domains).
Norms of this kind are social facts, and as such, they are suited to empiri-
cal investigation: we can test whether ordinary language speakers are
Contextualism Versus Relativism 111
inclined to act in conformity with the proposed linguistic conventions and
whether their normative assessments of pertinent perspective-dependent
assertions track the Truth and Retraction Rules. If this were the case,
then the core tenets of relativism are in place (though they could possibly
be spelled out in terms of competing theories with similar explanatory
power). If people’s linguistic behaviour (and assessment thereof) proves
inconsistent with the proposed norms of assertion, both the force of
therelativist critique of contextualism as well as the central pillars of the
relativist view itself collapse.
This chapter surveys some recent experiments concerning the norms
of assertion proposed by relativism (Section 2). Amongst ordinary Eng-
lish speakers, there is evidence against the Truth Rule (Knobe & Yalcin,
2014; Kneer, 2015, 2021a) and the Retraction Rule (Kneer, 2015, 2021a;
Marques, ms). Moreover, the empirical literature on norms of assertion is
increasingly converging on the position that such a norm is not factive in
the first place. Consequently, there’s little reason to assume that the norms
of perspectival assertions diered in this regard.
However, there are some interesting diverging findings. Dinges and
Zakkou (2020) present conflicting results regarding the Truth Rule,
reporting a distinct lack of agreement with both contextualist and rela-
tivist predictions concerning the truth assessment of taste claims. Further-
more, according to Knobe and Yalcin (2014), the folk seem to agree with
some sort of retraction rule for epistemic modal claims (despite disagree-
ing with MacFarlane’s Truth Rule). Both in Dinges and Zakkou’s and in
Knobe and Yalcin’s experiments, I would like to suggest, the tested target
statements might not adequately mirror what is at stake in the contextual-
ism/relativism debate.
To anticipate the findings: in Dinges and Zakkou’s study, the lack of
agreement with the contextualist predictions might be due to an inad-
equate formulation of the response claim. Three experiments that attempt
to remedy this potential shortcoming lend support to contextualist truth
assessment (Sections 3 to 5). Knobe and Yalcin’s study concerning a norm
of retraction, by contrast, asks participants whether it is “appropriate”
for a speaker to take back an epistemic modal claim whose prejacent is
false at the context of assessment. What is appropriate, however, need not
be required. Relativists like MacFarlane (see quotation earlier), just like
most theorists in the debate concerning norms of assertion, however, tend
to state their hypothesized rules in terms of what is required or manda-
tory, or what must, ought and should be done. What they are concerned
with are core or potentially constitutive rules of assertion, and these can
be expected to invoke strict normative force. Such rules contrast with
peripheral rules that help regulate our assertive practices, characterized
inter alia by a more lenient normative force, of which there surely are
many. It is, for instance, appropriate or commendable to express oneself
with clarity and precision. However, neither of these two norms have
112 Markus Kneer
witnessed much attention in the literature about the (central or constitu-
tive) norms of assertion, let alone the contextualism/relativism debate.
Section 6 thus reports a replication of Knobe and Yalcin’s study, both with
their original formulation of the retraction question as well as a version
that tracks MacFarlane’s Retraction Rule. Whereas people—in line with
Knobe and Yalcin’s results—find it appropriate to take back epistemic
modal claims whose prejacent turns out false at the context of assessment,
they disagree with the assessment that retraction is required.
Overall, the findings of the three experiments question the adequacy
of the relativist Truth Rule and the Retraction Rule. The extension of
perspectival claims depends on the context of utterance, and there is no
requirement of any sort to retract them at a later context of assessment
(although one may sometimes do so).
2. Empirical Data
2.1. Utterance Sensitivity and Retraction for
Perspectival Claims
Let’s begin with the story MacFarlane uses to motivate relativism with
respect to predicates of personal taste. In several experiments (Kneer,
2015, ch. 7; 2021a), participants were presented with a scenario based
on said fish sticks scenario, quoted earlier. The vignette came in two ver-
sions, either containing a claim about the truth assessment of a previous
taste claim [A] or else the requirement for retraction [B]:
John is five years old and loves fish sticks. One day he says to his
sister Sally: “Fish sticks are delicious.” Twenty years later his taste
regarding fish sticks has changed. Sally asks him whether he still likes
fish sticks and John says he doesn’t anymore.
[A] Sally says: “So what you said back when you were five was
[B] Sally says: “So you are required to take back what you said
about fish sticks when you were five.”
Q. To what extent do you agree or disagree with Sally’s claim?
Participants responded to the questions on a seven-point Likert scale
anchored at 1 with “completely disagree” and at 7 with “completely
agree.” Advocates of a contextualist semantics would hypothesize agree-
ment with both claims of Sally to be low. After all, what, on this theory,
matters for truth-assessment is the context of utterance, at which John’s
claim was true. A relativist semantics, however, would predict agreement
Contextualism Versus Relativism 113
with Sally’s assertion that John’s original claim was false, since it is false
at the context of assessment. Given that it is false at the context of assess-
ment, relativists would further hypothesize, and given that Sally chal-
lenges John, he must retract his original claim. Relativists would predict
mean agreement with the proposed truth assessment and required retrac-
tion to be significantly above the midpoint of the scale. Contextualists, by
contrast, would predict the means to lie significantly below the midpoint
of the scale.
Consistent with contextualism and inconsistent with relativism, people
strongly disagreed with the claim that John’s original assertion was false or
that he should retract it. Similar results were found for another predicate
of personal taste, namely “fun” (the “Sandcastle scenario”). Although it
is the relativist’s paradigm example, reasonable concerns might be voiced
concerning the time lag between a childhood claim as to fish sticks’ tasti-
ness and a challenge in adult life. Reducing the time span between the
context of utterance and the context of assessment, however, does not
make a dierence (Kneer, 2021a, Exp. 2, “Salmon scenario”). Figure 6.1
visually represents the findings. All means are significantly below the mid-
point of the scale (one-sample t-tests, all ps < .001).
For a dierent type of perspectival expression (epistemic modals),
Knobe and Yalcin (2014) also report evidence for truth-assessment along
contextualist lines. Kneer (2015, ch. 6; ms) further finds that assertions
such as “John might be in China” are judged truth-conditionally on a
par with “For all I know, John is in China,” the contextualist’s preferred
interpretation of “might” claims. Marques (ms) reports results favouring
Fish Sticks
Mean agreement
Sandcastle Salmon
Figure 6.1 Mean agreement with the statement that an original taste claim was
false at the context of utterance and that it must be retracted given
preference reversals across dierent scenarios. Error bars denote stan-
dard error of the mean.
114 Markus Kneer
a contextualist semantics for epistemic modals for native Spanish speak-
ers. Despite considerable convergence, there are some findings that call
contextualism into question. To these we will turn in Sections 2.3 and 2.4
after a brief look at the literature on norms of assertion that is not directly
concerned with perspectival claims.
2.2. Norms of Assertion
Much of the contextualism/relativism debate centers on the validity of
the norms of assertion and retraction proposed by relativists. It is thus
surprising that the extensive literature about norms of assertion in general
is hardly discussed in this context. However, as I will briefly argue, the
latter also casts doubt on the hypotheses that our assertions—perspectival
or not—are governed by (something like) MacFarlane’s Truth Rule or the
Retraction Rule.
For several decades, philosophers have explored the question of what,
if anything, is required of a speaker to be in a position to assert a certain
proposition x (for an excellent review, see Pagin, 2014). On the most
demanding (and most widely defended) account, in order to assert x, the
speaker must know that x (the knowledge account, see e.g. Williamson,
1996, 2000; Hawthorne, 2004; Turri, 2011). According to an alternative
view, for a speaker to assert x, x must simply be true—though it need not
be known (the truth account, see e.g. Weiner, 2005). Both views are factiv-
ist in so far as they require the asserted proposition to be true. Nonfactiv-
ists argue that if it were only ever appropriate to assert true propositions,
the number of warranted assertions we make would be rather limited.
This either suggests that the alleged (factive) norm of assertion doesn’t
really do much to regulate our communicative behaviour (the force and
importance of such a norm is limited), or else the norm of assertion simply
is not factive. The position that the central rule of assertion is not tied to
propositional truth, it should be noted, still allows for the possibility that
assertion aims at (the conveying of) truth (see Marsili, 2018, 2020, 2021).
Some nonfactivists thus propose that in order to assert x, it suces to
have a justified belief as to x, even if x is false (the justified belief account,
e.g. Douven, 2006; Lackey, 2007). Other nonfactivists are more lenient
still and advocate a view according to which one can say whatever one
believes (the belief account, e.g. Bach, 2008; Hindriks, 2007; Mandelkern
& Dorst, ms).
What the debate about norms of assertion can contribute to the debate
about norms of retraction is this: only if assertability depends on proposi-
tional truth in general does it make sense to postulate norms of assertion
and retraction for perspectival claims that do. If, for instance, the justi-
fication account were correct and it were acceptable to assert a justified
yet false proposition, then it is obscure why perspectival claims should
be governed by something like MacFarlane’s Truth and Retraction Rules.
Contextualism Versus Relativism 115
Whether human communication is indeed regulated by norms of asser-
tion and what these might be is, of course, an empirical question (Dou-
ven, 2006; Turri, 2013; Pagin, 2016). There is some evidence that points
towards a factive norm of assertion (Turri, 2011, 2015; for an overview
see Turri, 2017). However, studies from other researchers have increas-
ingly converged on the position that the norm of assertion is most likely
justified belief (Kneer, 2018; Reuter & Brössel, 2019; Marsili & Wieg-
mann, 2021). In a large cross-cultural study with more than 1,000 native
speakers from the US, Germany, and Japan, for instance, it perspired that
people think that a speaker should assert that x in cases where x is false
yet justified (Figure 6.2, left), though should not assert that x when he has
poor evidence for his claim (Figure 6.2, right).
In short, given that assertion, in general, does not seem to be governed
by a norm tied to propositional truth, it is unclear why perspectival claims
2.3. Knobe and Yalcin
Knobe and Yalcin (2014) presented their participants with the following
vignette, which is closely modelled on an example by MacFarlane (2011):
Sally and George are talking about whether Joe is in Boston. Sally care-
fully considers all the information she has available and concludes
that there is no way to know for sure.
True Belief
Assertible True
False Belief
Good Evidence
Poor Evidence
Figure 6.2 Left—Proportions of participants who judged a justified claim x assert-
ible and true across conditions (true v. false); Right—Proportions of
participants who judged a claim assertible and justified across condi-
tions (good v. poor evidence).
Source: Kneer (2021b, p.2).
116 Markus Kneer
SALLY SAYS: “Joe might be in Boston.”
Just then, George gets an email from Joe. The email says that Joe is in
Berkeley. So George says: “No, he isn’t in Boston. He is in Berkeley.”
On a seven-point Likert-scale, participants were asked to report to what
extent they agreed or disagreed with one of the following two claims:
[Truth assessment] What Sally said is false.
[Retraction] It would be appropriate for Sally to take back what
she said.
As a control condition, there was an alternative scenario in which Sally
does not say that Joe might be in Boston but simply asserts that he is in
Boston. The experiment thus took a 2 claim type (indicative v. modal) × 2
question type (truth assessment v. retraction) between-subjects design.
Figure 6.3 graphically represents the results.
The truth assessment of epistemic modal claims, the results suggest, is
sensitive to the context of utterance and not the context of assessment.
It thus confirms a contextualist view of epistemic modals and challenges
relativism. What is astonishing is this: although the modal claim is not
considered false, it is nonetheless judged appropriate to retract it. Bed-
dor and Egan (2018, p.9) thus wonder whether the data really support
contextualism. There are thus three questions that arise: (i) Why do they
dier from other retraction findings for both epistemic modals and taste
claims that uniformly suggest there is no norm of retraction, (ii) what
could explain them, and (iii) does the data cast doubt on contextualism
as, e.g., Beddor and Egan (2018, p.9) wonder? We will come back to
these questions in section 6.
Figure 6.3 Mean ratings for the nonmodal and modal condition. Error bars des-
ignate standard error of the mean.
Source: (Knobe & Yalcin, 2014, p. 15)
Contextualism Versus Relativism 117
2.4. Dinges and Zakkou
In a rich and interesting paper, Dinges and Zakkou report experiments
concerning the expression “tasty.” Here’s one of their vignettes (2020,
p.8) and the questions they asked participants:
Yumble is a new brand of bubblegum. You have never had a Yumble.
One day you decide to try one. You don’t like the taste. You tell your
friend Paul:
“Yumble isn’t tasty.”
A few weeks later, you and Paul meet at the check-out in the super-
market. Yumble hasn’t changed its taste, but you have now come to
like it. You take a pack from the shelf. Paul says:
“That’s funny, I have a clear recollection of you saying ‘Yumble
isn’t tasty’ last time we met!”
For each of the following responses, please tell us how likely you
would be to give this response to Paul’s remark in the given context.
“What I said was false. Yumble is tasty.” [Scale from 0–100]
“What I said was true. Still, Yumble is tasty.” [Scale from 0–100]
The key idea of the experiment was to have people rate both a relativist
response (“What I said was false. Yumble is tasty”) and a contextualist
response (“What I said was true. Still, Yumble is tasty”). In the scenario,
Paul starts out disliking Yumble and comes to like it. This type of preference
reversal, labelled “not liking to liking” or “NLtoL” by Dinges and Zakkou,
is complemented by one in the opposite direction, labelled “liking to not
liking” or “LtoNL” for short. Participants were presented with either the
NLtoL or the LtoNL condition. Figure 6.4 graphically presents the results.
Figure 6.4 Mean ratings by condition. Error bars show 95% CI.
Source: (Dinges & Zakkou, 2020, p.10).
118 Markus Kneer
A mixed ANOVA with truth assessment (true v. false) as the within-
subjects variable and taste reversal direction (NLtoL v. LtoNL) as the
between-subjects variable revealed no significant main eect for truth
assessment (p = .11) or direction (p = .50). The interaction, however,
was significant (p = .007, ηp
2 = .025 a small eect). The data thus
suggests two main findings: First, neither of the two responses—one
relativist, one contextualist—finds particular favour or disfavour with
participants. The reported likelihood of asserting either sit roughly at
the midpoint of the scale. Dinges and Zakkou call this finding the Even
Split. Second, the direction of preference reversal—liking to not liking
versus not liking to liking—does have an impact on the results (the
Direction Eect).
What should give us pause is the Even Split.4 Contextualists and rela-
tivists would predict mean endorsement of the response corresponding
to their position to be not only significantly but substantially above the
midpoint (perhaps around 70%, though what counts as “substantially
above” is of course debatable). However, mean endorsement for all
four values hovers around the midpoint (and for most does not dif-
fer substantially from it), suggesting that on average, people report
it neither likely nor unlikely that they’d make either of the two sug-
gested utterances in response to their interlocutor’s challenge. These
results are at odds with most previous studies—for both predicates of
personal taste and epistemic modals—which found robust support for
contextualist and against relativist truth-assessment. What explains
the dierence in results and how come—overall—there is no signifi-
cant, let alone substantive endorsement of either claim in Dinges and
Zakkou’s studies?
2.5. Summary and Outlook
Let’s take stock: Some results suggest that the truth of perspectival claims
is sensitive to the context of utterance and that there is no retraction
requirement. Findings of this sort exist for both taste claims (Kneer, 2015,
2021a) and epistemic modals (Kneer, 2015, ms; Marques, ms). Knobe and
Yalcin’s (2014) data are consistent with these results as regards the truth
assessment of epistemic modal claims, whose truth is shown to depend on
the context of utterance, not the context of assessment in several studies.
Curiously, however, Knobe and Yalcin nonetheless find evidence in favour
of a retraction rule, even for claims that are deemed true at the relevant
context of assessment. Dinges and Zakkou’s findings challenge the results
of all other studies that converge on contextualist truth assessment: people
are neither particularly willing nor particularly unwilling to answer in line
with the predictions of contextualism or relativism. Given that the Truth
Rule is more fundamental than the Retraction Rule, I will first explore
Dinges and Zakkou’s findings in more detail.
Contextualism Versus Relativism 119
3. The Even Split—Experiment 1
In Dinges and Zakkou’s scenario, the reader is in the role of someone
whose tastes regarding a particular bubble gum changes either from liking
to not liking or vice versa. The reader is then prompted to rate how likely
they are to give one of the following two responses (here in the case of
liking to not liking) upon being challenged by another character:
[Relativist] “What I said was false. Yumble is tasty.” [Scale from
[Contextualist] “What I said was true. Still, Yumble is tasty.” [Scale
from 0–100]
As discussed, participants’ likelihood ratings were roughly at the midpoint
of the scale for either response (see Figure 6.4). What could explain these
results? Perhaps the evident place to look is the formulation of the contex-
tualist claim: “What I said was true. Still, Yumble is tasty.” Contextualists
might object that this is an adequate way of testing their predictions.
Dinges and Zakkou address precisely this worry:
Contextualists might still complain that we are artificially downgrad-
ing the “true” response. A more natural way of putting it, they might
say, would be something like “What I said was true. Still, Yumble is
tasty to me now.” Contextualists would presumably explain the dif-
ference in naturalness between this response and the one we oer by
assuming some kind of communicative ideal to make tacit arguments
explicit whenever there is a threat of misunderstanding. Note, how-
ever, that our primary concern is whether people prefer the “true” to
the “false” response or vice versa. Even if our “true” response fails to
live up to the indicated ideal, it should still be preferable to the “false”
response according to contextualism. After all, even as stated, the
“false” response is false according to contextualism and the “true”
response true. One would normally not prefer to say something out-
right false to saying something true just because the true claim is not
ideal in terms of a possible misunderstanding. This is not to say, of
course, that it would be uninteresting to modify the “true” response
in the suggested way and to see how this aects results.
(p.9, FN. 21)
As a card-carrying contextualist, my worry about the formulation of the
contextualist claim is not quite put to rest by this. According to contex-
tualist semantics, the context of assessment simply doesn’t play a mean-
ingful role for truth-assessment. In the experiment, following up one’s
insistence “What I said was true” with “Still, Yumble is tasty” sounds
confusing, if not confused, and the expression “still” can trigger a sense
120 Markus Kneer
of contradiction. Dinges and Zakkou argue that “[e]ven if our “true” [i.e.
the contextualist] response fails to live up to the indicated ideal, it should
still be preferable to the “false” response according to contextualism.” But
this is not evident. If, as suggested, the “true” response sounds confused,
it remains unclear why it should do any better than the “false” response
(i.e. the relativist response), for which previous experiments, like Dinges
and Zakkou’s itself, do not find much support. These complications could
have been avoided by employing the standard design for experiments of
this sort, in which people are simply asked to what extent they agree with
the claim that a previous perspectival assertion is true or false.5
If these thoughts are on the right track, then the reason why the
proposed contextualist response does little better than the relativist
response is simply because there is something amiss in this particular
formulation. To explore this possibility, I ran an experiment similar to
the one reported by Dinges and Zakkou. The relativist response was left
unchanged; the contextualist one was modified. Take the dislike-to-like
situation, where Yumble is not deemed tasty at the context of utterance,
yet considered tasty at the context of assessment. Instead of following
up “What I said was true” with a potentially confusing second sentence
(“Still, Yumble is tasty”), it was followed with what a contextualist
would provide as the rationale of their truth-assessment: “At the time,
I didn’t find Yumble tasty.” The revised formulation thus mirrors the
structure of the relativist statement (“What I said was false. Yumble is
tasty.”), in so far as here, too, the second sentence supports and explains
the truth-assessment expressed by the first sentence of the response. In a
nutshell, the revised design establishes parity between the two responses.
Each of the responses points to the context that is deemed relevant for
truth-evaluation according to the respective semantic view. The relativist
response highlights the context of assessment, the contextualist one the
context of utterance—and not something that simply does not play a
role on that account.
3.1. Participants
A total of 294 participants were recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk.
The IP address was restricted to participants from the US. In line with
the preregistered criteria,6 55 participants who failed an attention check,
took less than 20 seconds to answer the main questions or whose native
tongue was not English were excluded, leaving a sample of 239 partici-
pants (female: 51%; age M = 43 years, SD = 13 years, range: 20–76 years).
3.2. Methods and Materials
Participants read Dinges and Zakkou’s Bubble Gum scenario (see Appen-
dix). They were randomly assigned to either the dislike-to-like condition
Contextualism Versus Relativism 121
or to the like-to-dislike condition. Following the original methodology,
participants were asked how likely they were to respond with one of the
following two claims (here reproduced for the like-to-dislike condition,
the order was counterbalanced) on a scale of 0–100:
(i) [Relativist (unchanged)] “What I said was false. Yumble is tasty.”
(ii) [Contextualist (revised)] “What I said was true. At the time I didn’t
find Yumble tasty.”
3.3. Results
A mixed-design three-way ANOVA (Table 6.1) with order of presentation
(relativist claim first v. second) and direction of preference reversal (dis-
like to like v. like to dislike) as between-subjects factors, and assessment
(relativist v. contextualist) as within-subject factor revealed a significant
eect of assessment (F(1, 235) = 500.760,p < .001, 𝜂p
2 = .681, a large
eect). All other factors, as well as all interactions were non-significant
(all ps > .05). Figure 6.5 presents the results.
Given that the direction of preference reversal and the direction*assessment
interaction were nonsignificant, there is no evidence for a direction eect of
any sort. As is clearly visible from Figure 6.5, the results also testify against
an Even Split result. Whereas in either direction of preference reversal the
likelihood of giving the contextualist response exceeded 80% (and was
significantly above the midpoint, one-sample t-tests, ps < .001), the likeli-
hood of giving the relativist response was below 25% (significantly below
the midpoint, one-sample t-tests, ps < .001). For both scenarios, the eect
size of the dierence between contextualist and relativist response was
again large (Cohen’s ds > 1.41).
Table 6.1 Mixed ANOVA for the likelihood of uttering a contextualist or relativ-
ist response.
IV DFn DFd F p𝜂p
Order 1 235 1.691 0.195 0.007
Direction 1 235 < 0.001 0.975 < 0.001
Assessment 1 235 500.76 < 0.001* 0.681
Order*Direction 1 235 0.847 0.358 0.004
Order*Assessment 1 235 0.31 0.578 0.001
Direction*Assessment 1 235 0.068 0.795 < 0.001
Order*Direction*Assessment 1 235 0.019 0.890 < 0.001
Note: Within factor = response type, all other factors were manipulated between subjects.
122 Markus Kneer
3.4. Discussion
Experiment 1 could not find support for the Even Split results reported
by Dinges and Zakkou, according to which the likelihood of giving a
contextualist and a relativist response sits somewhere around the mid-
point. Instead, the findings indicate strong support for truth-assessment
along contextualist lines, and they challenge truth-assessment along rela-
tivist lines. The eect size for the dierence in likelihood across response
types is very large (Cohen’s ds > 1.42). What is more, truth assessment
is unaected by the direction of preference reversal. The nonsignificant
direction*assessment interaction suggests that there is no direction eect.
One finding is particularly interesting: Although the relativist answer
was not changed from Dinges and Zakkou’s experiments, the reported
mean likelihood of responding in that way dropped from about 50% in
their experiments to less than 25% in the present experiment. As in every
empirical experiment, this might just be an oddity in the data. However, it
need not be: if it were true, as hypothesized, that the contextualist response
sounds somewhat confusing or potentially contradictory in Dinges and
Zakkou’s experiments, it might be that the relativist response held more
appeal by comparison.7 Once the contextualist response is improved, the
comparative appeal of the relativist response declines. To explore whether
Dislike to like
True False
d = 1.42*** d = 1.48***
Like to dislike
Direction of change
Figure 6.5 Likelihood of uttering a contextualist (true) response and a relativist
(false) response across directions of preference reversal. Error bars
denote 95% confidence intervals.
Contextualism Versus Relativism 123
the distaste for the relativist response replicates, I ran another experi-
ment. So as to increase external validity, I switched to a forced-choice
response mechanism where participants could select between the relativist
response, the contextualist response, or neither.
4. The Even Split—Experiment 2
4.1. Participants
A total of 158 participants were recruited online via Amazon Mechanical
Turk. Following the preregistered criteria,8 13 participants who failed an
attention check or took less than 15 seconds to answer the main ques-
tions were excluded, leaving a sample of 145 participants (female: 47%;
age M = 43 years, SD = 14 years, range: 22–75 years).
4.2. Methods and Materials
The scenario and the conditions were the same as in Experiment 1.
Participants were randomly assigned to either the like-to-dislike or the
dislike-to-like condition of the Bubble Gum scenario. This time, how-
ever, participants had to choose amongst three options: the contextualist
response, the relativist response, or neither. In the dislike-to-like vignette,
where Paul doesn’t like Yumble at the context of utterance yet comes
to like it later, for instance, the question read (labels in square brackets
Please tell us which of the following responses you’d be more likely to
give to Paul (if any) in the given context:
[Relativist] “What I said was false. Yumble is tasty.”
[Contextualist] “What I said was true. I didn’t find Yumble tasty
at the time.”
[Neither] “Neither.”
4.3. Results
The results are graphically represented in Figure 6.6. As in the previous
experiment, more than 3 in 4 participants opted for the contextualist
response (as binomial tests show, significantly above chance—i.e. 33%,
ps < .001, and significantly above the midpoint, ps < .001). Agreement
with the relativist response was even less pronounced than in Experiment
1 and under 10% in either condition (significantly below chance and the
midpoint, ps < .001).
The fact that hardly anyone opted for the option “neither response”
(significantly below chance and the midpoint, ps < .001) suggests that
people are happy with a contextualist response as proposed. Interestingly,
124 Markus Kneer
there is a bit of a direction eect this time: agreement with the contextual-
ist response is somewhat more pronounced in the like-to-dislike condi-
tion than in the dislike-to-like condition, and vice versa for the relativist
response; a Fisher’s Exact Test revealed a significant eect for the direction
of change (p < .05, Cramer’s V(2) = .21). However, there is little reason
to investigate this further: given that the eect size is once again small,
yet this time goes in the opposite direction as in the original studies and is
absent in Experiment 1, there simply does not seem much of a systematic
phenomenon (and less of a pressing one given the absence of the Even
Split eect).
4.4. Discussion
Consistent with the majority of results for taste predicates and epistemic
modals in the empirical literature generally as well as the findings reported
in Experiment 1, the second replication of Dinges and Zakkou’s study
also supports a contextualist semantics of perspectival claims. Note that,
once again, we found strong evidence against relativism, although for the
relativist response the exact same formulation was employed as in Dinges
Dislike to like Like to dislike
Direction of change
True False Neither
Figure 6.6 Proportion of responses (forced-choice) across direction of preference
reversal. Error bars denote 95%-confidence intervals.
Contextualism Versus Relativism 125
and Zakkou’s original studies. But if support for the unchanged relativist
response drops away once a plausible contextualist response is available,
the external validity of Dinges and Zakkou’s results is in doubt.
5. The Even Split—Experiment 3
The majority of empirical findings concerning the truth assessment of
perspectival claims support contextualist predictions and challenge
relativist predictions. This pattern arises in experiments where the
perspectival claim is simply specified as true or false without further
details and participants are asked whether they agree or disagree with
this evaluation. The previous two experiments have shown that the
same pattern is found with likelihood-of-response judgements where
the contextualist and relativist answers invoke those contexts that are
of relevance for the respective positions—the context of utterance in
the contextualist case and the context of assessment in the relativist
case. The diverging findings of Dinges and Zakkou, I have argued,
are explained by the fact that their contextualist response only makes
mention of the context of assessment—a context that is irrelevant for
contextualist truth assessment and thus triggers a sense of confusion.
Once this is rectified, not only does the contextualist response receive
pronounced support, but the unchanged relativist response is deemed
In line with the suggestions of one of the editors—and in the hope of
putting all remaining skepticism to rest—I have run a final experiment
employing Dinges and Zakkou’s methodology. In this version the contex-
tualist and relativist response mention both the context of utterance and
the context of assessment. To make the responses as intuitive as possible,
the context deemed relevant by each of the two positions is mentioned
first. So, in the dislike-to-like situation, where the speaker has said that
Yumble is not tasty, the contextualist response is “What I said was true.
At the time Yumble wasn’t tasty to me [reference to Cu], although it’s tasty
to me now [reference to Ca].” The relativist response is “What I said was
false. Yumble is tasty to me now [reference to Ca], although at the time it
wasn’t tasty to me [reference to Cu].”
5.1. Participants
A total of 262 participants were recruited online via Amazon Mechanical
Turk. In line with the preregistered criteria,9 80 participants who failed an
attention test, were not native speakers of the English language, or took
less than 20 seconds to answer the main questions were excluded, leaving
a sample of 182 participants (female: 46%; age M = 41 years, SD = 13
years, range: 20–91 years).
126 Markus Kneer
5.2. Methods and Materials
The scenario and the conditions were the same as in Experiment 1.
Participants were randomly assigned to either the like-to-dislike or the
dislike-to-like condition of the Bubble Gum scenario. On a scale of 0–100,
participants again had to report how likely they were to give either of the
two responses. This time the responses read:
Dislike to like
[Relativist] “What I said was false. Yumble is tasty to me now,
although at the time it wasn’t tasty to me.”
[Contextualist] “What I said was true. At the time Yumble wasn’t
tasty to me, although it’s tasty to me now.”
Like to dislike
[Relativist] “What I said was false. Yumble is not tasty to me now,
although at the time it was tasty to me.”
[Contextualist] “What I said was true. At the time Yumble was tasty
to me, although it’s not tasty to me now.”
5.3. Results
A mixed-design ANOVA with direction of preference reversal (dislike to
like v. like to dislike) as between-subjects factor and assessment (relativist
v. contextualist) as within-subjects factor revealed a significant eect of
assessment (F(1, 180) = 241.64,p < .001, 𝜂p
2 = .573, a large eect). Direc-
tion of preference reversal was nonsignificant (p = .484); the interaction
was significant though the eect size was once again small (F(1, 180) =
5.92,p = .016, 𝜂p
2 = .032). Figure 6.7 presents the results.
Consistent with the two previous experiments, the findings support
contextualism and challenge relativism. In either direction of preference
reversal the mean likelihood of giving the contextualist response exceeded
75% (significantly above the midpoint, one-sample t-tests, ps < .001).
Consistent with the findings from Experiment 1 and 2 and inconsistent
with Dinges and Zakkou’s findings, the mean likelihood of responding
with a relativist response was again very low (significantly below the
midpoint, one sample t-tests, ps < .001). For both scenarios, the eect size
of the dierence between contextualist and relativist response was large
(Cohen’s ds > .97).
5.4. Discussion
Experiment 3 replicates the findings from Experiments 1 and 2 with dif-
ferent formulations of the responses. Overall, then, the results of the three
Contextualism Versus Relativism 127
experiments with distinct formulations and designs constitute support
for contextualist truth assessment. The results of all three experiments
(two of which used the exact same prompt for the relativist response as
Dinges and Zakkou’s studies) cast doubt on the plausibility of relativist
truth assessment. Given that, in total, about a dozen studies (diering
with regards to scenario, type of perspectival claim, response mechanism,
and language, cf. Knobe & Yalcin, 2014; Kneer, 2015, 2021a; Marques,
ms) converge on the same pro-contextualist results, Dinges and Zakkou’s
diverging findings seem to be owed to an idiosyncrasy in design choices.
6. Retraction
Knobe and Yalcin (2014), we saw earlier (Section 2.4), report evidence
supporting a retraction rule of sorts for epistemic modal claims whose
prejacent is false at the context of assessment. Knobe (2021) has recently
argued that similar behavior is to be expected in preference-reversal cases
for taste claims. The evidence is surprising for two reasons: First, truth
assessment of perspectival claims is near-uniformly sensitive to the con-
text of utterance. Second (see Section 2.3), recent evidence suggests that
Dislike to like
d = 0.98*** d = 1.32***
Like to dislike
Direction of change
Figure 6.7 Likelihood of uttering a contextualist (true) and relativist (false)
response across directions of preference reversal. Error bars denote
standard error of the mean.
128 Markus Kneer
the norm of assertion (tout court) is nonfactive, so it would be odd in
the extreme to find norms of retraction to be sensitive to propositional
truth. In the following, I’d like to suggest that the astonishing findings are
explained by the normative force invoked in the way Knobe and Yalcin
formulated their retraction question.
6.1. Normative Force
Norms come in dierent kinds and flavours. On the one end of the spec-
trum concerning normative force, we find prescriptive norms (one ought
to do x) and proscriptive norms (one ought not to do x). Strong norms,
concerned with what one ought, should, or must do, contrast with weaker
ones regarding what it is appropriate or permissible to do or what one
may do. Whereas strong norms entail their weaker equivalent—what one
should do must at least be appropriate or permissible—the reverse is not
the case: The fact that doing x might be permissible or appropriate does
not entail that one should or ought to do x. If doing x is permissible, it
can also be permissible to refrain from doing x. If, however, one must or
ought to do x, it is standardly inacceptable to not do x.
Philosophical accounts concerning norms of assertion standardly
invoke strong force: In order to be in a position to assert that x, one
“must” (Williamson, 2000) or “should” (Douven, 2006; Turri, 2013)
fulfil certain epistemic conditions (be it knowledge, justified belief, or
something else). Norms of retraction tend to be formulated in similar
fashion. Dummett (1978, p.20), for instance, writes that “[t]here’s a well-
defined consequence of an assertion proving incorrect [false], namely that
the speaker must withdraw it.“ As quoted earlier, MacFarlane’s Reflexive
Retraction Rule states that “[a]n agent in context c2 is required to retract
an (unretracted) assertion of p made at c1 if p is not true as used at c1 and
assessed from c2.”
A potential reason why Knobe and Yalcin’s findings in the Boston
experiment (quoted earlier) dier strongly from the majority of results
(including their own Experiment 3) is presumably this: rather than testing
a prescriptive norm as to whether Sally, the speaker, is required to retract
her epistemic modal claim whose prejacent is false at the context of assess-
ment, they ask people whether “[i]t would be appropriate for Sally to
take back what she said.” It is, however, entirely possible for a retraction
to be appropriate or permissible, without there being any requirement to
take it back. In order to explore whether people would also be willing to
impose such a requirement on Sally, I reran Knobe and Yalcin’s experi-
ment manipulating the formulation (also previously done in Kneer, 2015,
ch. 6). In one version, the retraction question was left exactly as phrased
by Knobe and Yalcin; the other asked whether Sally is “required to take
back what she said.”
Contextualism Versus Relativism 129
6.2. Participants
A total of 196 participants were recruited online via Amazon Mechani-
cal Turk. The IP address was restricted to the United States. Thirty-seven
participants who failed an attention check or took less than 15 seconds
to answer the main questions were excluded, leaving a sample of 159
participants (female: 44%; age M = 43 years, SD = 13 years, range:
23–76 years).
6.3. Methods and Materials
In a between-subjects experiment, participants were presented with Knobe
and Yalcin’s Boston vignette (see Section 2.2). There were two condi-
tions: One used Knobe and Yalcin’s original formulation of the retraction
question invoking “appropriate ... to take back” (RetractionWeak). The
other formulation (RetractionStrong) followed MacFarlane’s formulation of
the reflexive retraction rule and asked whether Sally is “required to take
back” what she said:
[RetractionWeak] It would be appropriate for Sally to take back what
she said.
[RetractionStrong] Sally is required to take back what she said.
Participants were randomly assigned to one of the two conditions.
6.4. Results
The results are graphically represented in Figure 6.8. A one-way ANOVA
(see Appendix) revealed a significant eect of formulation (“retraction
appropriate” v. “retraction required”; F(1, 157) = 56.11, p < .001,
2 = .265, a large eect). Agreement with the claims that it is appropriate
for Sally to take back what she said was significantly above the midpoint
(M = 5.75, p < .001), replicating the findings of Knobe and Yalcin. Agree-
ment with the claim that Sally is required to take back what she said,
however, was significantly below the midpoint (M = 3.41, p = .020),10
replicating the findings from Kneer (2015, ms) and Marques (ms), who
report similar findings for native Spanish speakers. The eect size of for-
mulation was large (Cohen’s d = 1.19).
6.5. Discussion
The results suggest that there is no requirement to retract an epistemic
modal claim from a context of assessment at which its prejacent is known
to be true. However, under certain circumstances (such as those of the
130 Markus Kneer
scenario) it is deemed nonetheless appropriate to do so. Knobe and Yalcin
explain the latter finding thus:
One possible approach would be to view retraction as a phenomenon
whereby speakers are primarily indicating that they no longer want a con-
versational common ground incorporating the update associated with a
sentence that they previously uttered. On this approach, what is retracted
is a certain conversational update; retraction is in part a means of undoing
or disowning the context change or update performed by a speech act.
(2014, p.17)
This conclusion dovetails nicely with some interesting observations by
Khoo (2015), which served as inspiration for Knobe and Yalcin (for
related discussion see also Khoo & Knobe, 2018). Much of the literature
on disagreement, Khoo argues, makes the following assumption:
Rejecting is contradicting: to reject an assertion just is to claim that
what is asserted by it is false.
(2015, p.515)
This assumption, however, is misconceived. Although it’s rather uncontro-
versial that, most times, in rejecting an assertion, one intends to flag it as
false, this need not always be the case. Here are three examples:
Retraction requiredRetraction appropriate
d = 1.19****
Figure 6.8 Agreement with proposed retraction across formulation (“retraction
appropriate” v. “retraction required”). Error bars denote standard errors.
Contextualism Versus Relativism 131
A: Jim ate some of the cookies from last night.
B: No, he ate all of the cookies from last night.
(Khoo, 2015, p.517)
A, B and C are sharing a flat and the kitchen tends to be a mess.
A: “I made B clean up the kitchen last night.”
B: “No. You asked me to clean up the kitchen and I did it.”
A and B are wondering whether the bank is open (it’s a Saturday). A has
just called a friend who told A that the bank was open last Saturday.
A: The bank is open today.
B: No, the bank might be open today. Banks are never open on national
holidays, and we still don’t know whether today is a national
(Khoo, 2015, p.516)
As Grice (1989) observed, communication is not limited to what is said
(the semantic content) but frequently revolves around what is meant,
which includes conversational implicatures. In the first two examples,
although what is said by A is true, B still has grounds to reject the asser-
tions due to the fact that they carry certain objectionable implicature:
That Jim ate some but not all of the cookies or that A had the authority
or power to force B to clean up the kitchen. Concerning the third example
and epistemic modals more generally, Khoo suggests what he calls the
Update Observation:
The Update Observation: generally, assertively uttering an epistemic
possibility sentence involves proposing that it not be common ground
that its prejacent is false. (Thus, generally, the communicative impact
of assertively uttering an epistemic possibility sentence will involve
the property of not having as a member the negation of its prejacent.)
(2015, p.528)
Whether we are, like Khoo or Knobe and Yalcin, inclined to invoke a Stal-
nakerian (1978, 1999, 2002) framework or else Grice’s theory of implica-
ture to explain rejections not aimed at the truth value of the proposition
expressed doesn’t matter much. What seems evident is that rejecting a
claim can go beyond objecting to its alleged falsity. Instead, one might be
objecting to certain implicatures it carries on its heels and/or to certain
updates of the common ground it tends to engender.
I find the explanation of Khoo and Knobe and Yalcin deeply plausible.
It sheds light on our communicative practices in general and the conver-
sational move of retraction more particularly. Note, however, that data
132 Markus Kneer
as to what kinds of (nonrequired) moves in communication are appropri-
ate, permissible, or commendable does not have any particular impact
on the quest for a constitutive or central norm of assertion, and neither
does it matter much for the contextualism/relativism debate. Assertion is
governed by a plethora of peripheral rules (concerning clarity, precision,
relevance, etc.), none of which can be expected to be core to the character-
ization of the practice itself. Moreover, the dispute between contextualists
and relativists concerns the truth-conditional semantics of perspectival
claims, and weak norms of retraction, just like other peripheral norms,
simply do not matter for this debate. I would thus like to resist any sug-
gestions that data of this sort, which is not predicted by any of the three
main theories of perspectival claims, requires “amendments” of any kind
(Khoo, 2015) or revive hope for (some version of) relativism (Beddor &
Egan, 2018, § 4.1)—for the simple reason that said theories are justly
mute on such questions.
7. Conclusion
The debate between contextualism and relativism revolves around two
points of contention: Truth assessment, i.e. the question whether the
extension of perspectival claims is assessment-sensitive on the one hand
and whether such claims are governed by a norm of retraction on the
other. The content of the contentious norm is to invoke propositional
truth at the context of assessment, and its force is prescriptive (when
appropriately challenged, one is required to retract a previous perspectival
Consistent with the majority of findings from the empirical literature
on perspectival claims, we have found that the truth assessment of taste
claims is sensitive to features of the context of utterance and not to fea-
tures of the context of assessment (Experiments 1–3). This invalidates the
relativist position not only with regards to truth assessment itself but also
with respect to a norm of retraction whose requirements allegedly track
assessment-sensitive propositional truth. If the truth of perspectival claims
is not assessment-sensitive, a situation in which MacFarlane’s reflexive
retraction rule takes grip can simply not arise. As argued, there are further,
independent reasons to question said rule: Converging evidence from the
empirical literature on the norm of assertion suggests that the latter is
nonfactive and that one is warranted in asserting false beliefs for which
one has good reasons. This suggests that norms of retraction are not tied
to propositional truth of any sort. It would be odd if one were held to
stricter normative standards for retracting a claim than for asserting it in
the first place.
Given that the norm of assertion—and by extension the norm of
retraction—is most likely not sensitive to propositional truth, and given
that the truth of perspectival claims is not assessment-sensitive anyway,
Contextualism Versus Relativism 133
the findings reported by Knobe and Yalcin might come as a surprise.
Experiment 4 has shown that for their scenario, too, there is no pre-
scriptive norm according to which one is required to retract an epistemic
modal claim, whose prejacent turns out false at the context of assessment.
People do, however, deem it appropriate to retract such a claim, in line
with Knobe and Yalcin’s original findings.
The retraction findings lend support to an explanation of the sort
proposed by Khoo (2015) and Knobe and Yalcin (2014), according to
which updating of the common ground can be eected due to reasons
that go beyond propositional truth. Importantly though, norms of this
sort simply do not bear on the discussion concerning a plausible truth-
conditional semantics of perspectival claims (see also Marques, 2018,
on this point). The kinds of norms that let us draw inferences about
semantics are unlikely to be loose principles of guidance as to what it is
permissible, commendable, or appropriate to say and do—if one so fan-
cies. Rather, rules of this sort can be expected to carry strong normative
force—they regulate what one is required to do or must do—just like the
kinds of norms proposed by MacFarlane, which we found invalidated by
the data.11
1. See inter alia Kölbel (2002, 2004, 2009), Lasersohn (2005, 2008, 2009,
2016), Glanzberg (2007, 2021), MacFarlane (2007, 2014), López de Sa
(2007, 2015, this volume), Recanati (2007), Stojanovic (2007, 2017), Ste-
phenson (2007), Sæbø (2009), Cappelen and Hawthorne (2009), Moltmann
(2010), Barker (2010), Egan (2010), Sundell (2011), Schaer (2011), Huvenes
(2012), Pearson (2013, this volume), Kennedy (2013), Snyder (2013), Collins
(2013), Plunkett and Sundell (2013), Marques and García-Carpintero (2014),
Marques (2014a, 2014b, 2018), Clapp (2015), Ferrari (2015, 2016), Hîncu
(2015), Zakkou (2015, 2019a, 2019b), Kneer (2015, 2021a, 2021c), Ken-
nedy and Willer (2016), Zeman (2016a, 2016b, 2017, 2020), Dinges (2017a,
2017b, this volume), Kneer et al. (2017), Wyatt (2018, 2021, this volume),
Kindermann (2019), Kaiser and Rudin (2020), Dinges and Zakkou (2020),
Hîncu and Zeman (2021), Kaiser & Stojanovic (this volume), Rudolph (this
volume), Willer & Kennedy (this volume).
2. See inter alia Kratzer (1977, 2012), Egan (2007, 2011), Stephenson (2007), Haw-
thorne (2007), von Fintel and Gillies (2008, 2011), MacFarlane (2010, 2011,
2014), Schaer (2011), Dowell (2011, 2017), Swanson (2011), Willer (2013),
Knobe and Yalcin (2014), Yanovich (2014, 2020), Khoo (2015), Kneer (2015,
ms), Beddor and Egan (2018), Marushak (2018), Marushak and Shaw (2020).
3. See inter alia Schafer (2011), Kölbel (2016), McNally and Stojanovic (2017),
Stojanovic (2016, 2017, 2018), Marques (2016), Liao and Meskin (2017),
Cova et al. (2019), Collins (2021), Bonard et al. (this volume), Martínez
Marín & Schellekens (this volume), Wallbank & Robson (this volume).
4. Personally, I am not particularly worried about the Direction Eect. Note that
there are no main eects (neither response is significantly more or less favoured
across directions of preference reversal), and the eect sizes of the interaction
are small (Experiment 1: ηp
2 = .025, Experiment 2: ηp
2 = .020). Furthermore,
134 Markus Kneer
the main reason why the Direction Eect could be interesting is that it arises
in conjunction with the Even Split Eect. However, the Even Split will be
challenged in the experiments that follow. What is more, in the experiments
reported in what follows the Direction Eect is sometimes absent and some-
times it goes in the opposite direction of what Dinges and Zakkou report. Given
that the eect’s size is always at best small and its direction capricious, there
simply does not seem to be a robust phenomenon that requires explanation.
5. Dinges and Zakkou’s design is motivated by a critique of extant studies
(2020, p.7), which apparently run the risk of a normative confound by asking
questions as to whether it is “appropriate” (Knobe & Yalcin, 2014) to retract
a certain claim or whether the speaker is “required” to do so (Kneer, 2015,
2021a, Marques, ms). On Dinges and Zakkou’s view, such “permissibility-
related judgments” might be sensitive to normative factors that go beyond
linguistic rules (e.g. norms of morality or etiquette). But even if there were
reason to be concerned about a normative confound (I do not quite see how
morality or etiquette could interfere in the short scenarios about the gustatory
merits of bubble gum or fish sticks) this argument seems to miss the mark: the
criticized questions test norms of retraction, not truth assessment, which is
the topic of Dinges and Zakkou. As regards the latter, the cited papers simply
test agreement with a proposed truth-evaluation. It is not evident what kind
of normative confound could be lurking here or why this tried-and-tested
methodology needs revision.
7. As detailed, the two responses were judged independently. But given that they
were presented on the same screen, it is perfectly plausible that the merits of
each response were assessed with an eye to the alternative.
10. Advocates of relativism might sense hope in light of the fact that the mean is
not that much below the midpoint (for arguments of this sort, see e.g. Bed-
dor & Egan, 2018, § 4.1). Two points: First, what the relativist predicts is
significant agreement with a required retraction claim, i.e. a mean rating that
is not only somewhat below or nonsignificantly dierent from the midpoint
but significantly above the midpoint. Dierently put, she predicts means of
the magnitude we find for the “appropriate” formulation of the retraction
claim, and the eect size of the dierence between the two formulations here
is instructive: it’s very large (d = 1.19). Second, the means of this particular
experiment—such is the nature of empirical research—simply seem to be a
little higher than in related studies. In Kneer (2015, Exp. 5) the mean retrac-
tion results for Knobe and Yalcin’s scenario is M = 3.2 (SD = 2.2); Marques
(ms, Exp. 1) reports near-identical results for English speakers and even lower
means (M = 2.9) for native Spanish speakers (ms, Exp. 2). For a similar yet
slightly dierent scenario (China, Kneer, 2015, Exp. 3) mean agreement with
required retraction is considerably lower (M = 1.6, SD = 1.2).
11. For comments and help, I would like to thank Joshua Knobe, Teresa Marques,
Neri Marsili, Marc-André Zehnder, and the editors. I do not want to imply
that any of them agree with me. This work was supported by a Swiss National
Science Foundation Grant (PZ00P1_179912).
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