Truth and Semantics

An ERC research project exploring a unified perspective on theories of truth and semantics.

Based in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Bristol.

Abstract

What this project is about

Anne believes that Bob assumes that Anne believes that Bob’s assumption is false.

Does Anne believe that Bob’s assumption is false?

Don’t try too hard answering the question - any straightforward attempt will lead to paradox.

But what are we to make of sentences such as “Anne believes that Bob’s assumption is false.”

Is the sentence true or false?

On the face of it, it would seem that answering this question is a pressing problem for natural language semantics that assigns truth conditions to sentences of natural language.

However, semanticists have largely ignored problems of this kind, leaving the field to philosophical logicians working on paradoxes, in particular, the paradoxes of truth such as the Liar paradox.

But research on the paradoxes of truth has often focused on exploring the space of possible coherent “solutions” to the paradoxes thereby ignoring desiderata of natural language semantics.

The project provides a unified perspective on natural language semantics, conceived of as truth-conditional semantics, and the research on the so-called semantic paradoxes in form of theories of self-applicable truth.

A unified approach to truth and semantics will need to answer two principal challenges, which divides the research project into two interrelated parts:

  • The first part, Truth in Semantics, aims at developing semantic accounts for rich fragments of natural language, that is, fragments in which, besides the notion of truth, we allow for, e.g., modal expressions, propositional attitudes but also natural language conditionals.
  • The second part, Truth and the Foundations of Semantics, assumes a metasemantic perspective and explores the role of the notion of truth in the foundations of natural language semantics, conceived of as truth-conditional semantics.

The project constitutes the first systematic study of truth and natural language semantics from such a combined perspective.

People

Johannes Stern

Principal Investigator
I am a research fellow and permanent member of staff at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Bristol. I specialize mostly in logic, in particular theories of truth and modality, and topics at the intersection of logic and the philosophy of language. I am also interested in the philosophy of mathematics, metaphysics, epistemology and general philosophy of science.

Poppy Mankowitz

Research Associate
I was previously a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Salzburg, having completed my PhD at the University of St Andrews. I work primarily on formal semantics, pragmatics, the philosophy of language and metaphysics. My current research interests include quantifiers, contextualism, semantic paradoxes, and the role of truth in semantics.

Thomas Schindler

Research Associate
Before moving to Bristol, I held positions in Amsterdam, Cambridge and Munich. I specialize in logic, metaphysics, the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mathematics, with a particular focus on deflationary theories of truth and abstract objects, and the semantic and logical paradoxes.

Simone Picenni

PhD student
I got a master’s degree in Logic and Philosophy of Science from the University of Florence. While there, I have also spent a semester at the MCMP in Munich. My focus is on formal semantics, semantic paradoxes, theories of truth. I am also interested in proof theory, lambda-calculus, combinatory logic and automatic theorem proving (HOL Light).

Tedy Nenu

PhD student
I read Computer Science and Philosophy at the University of Oxford. I relish thinking about Truth, Language, Mathematics and Cognition. Occasionally, I interview bright people as part of my ‘Philosophical Trials’ series.

Events

Together with Foundational Studies Bristol Group we host a regular series of talks. See the FSB-calendar for more information.

Kick-Off Workshop & Bristol Logic Meeting

A two-day workshop providing a platform for recent work in logic and philosophy of mathematics in the UK.

Visit

Visitors to the project are very welcome.

Contact Johannes Stern to discuss these or further opportunities.

Funding

The project is based at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Bristol and funded by an European Research Council Starting Grant ( TRUST 803684).

It started in October 2018 and will run for a total of five years. The project comes with two postdoc and two PhD-positions.

Contact