Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Situations and semantic ontology

One interesting aspect of situation semantics is the insistence that traditional ontologies for semantics are not adequate for the job they purport to do. This comes out in two ways. First is the richer ontology. Some semantic theories try to explain attitude reports in terms of just facts or just propositions. Situation semantics uses facts and propositions to explain the meaning of expressions. When coupled with the utterance-based approach and the partial situations (i.e., not the whole world), this leads to a lot more explanatory power. If you are trying to explain something, why not look to see what entities seem to be needed, posit those, then cut back once you've explained things and it looks like there are ways to remove entities. The alternative seems to be select one class of objects and try to explain everything in terms of them, e.g. propositions.

The other way situation semantics differs from other semantic theories is that it uses a non-wellfounded set theory developed by Peter Aczel. I don't know the details of it, but it doesn't restrict sets to be wellfounded. This is a huge change, but I'm not sure how it plays out. I wonder how much of the use of that set theory was influenced by Aczel being at Stanford with the people that developed situation semantics.

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