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Semantics, situation

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-U041-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Situation semantics attempts to provide systematic and philosophically coherent accounts of the meanings of various constructions that philosophers and linguists find important. It is based on the old idea that sentences stand for facts or something like them. As such, it provides an alternative to extensional semantics, which takes sentences to stand for truth-values, and to possible worlds semantics, which takes them to stand for sets of possible worlds.

Situations are limited parts or aspects of reality, while states of affairs (or infons) are complexes of properties and objects of the sort suitable to constitute a fact. Consider the issue of whether Jackie, a dog, broke her leg at a certain time T. There are two states of affairs or possibilities, that she did or she did not. The situation at T, in the place where Jackie was then, determines which of these states of affairs (infons) is factual (or is the case or is supported). Situation theory, the formal theory that underlies situation semantics, focuses on the nature of the supports relation.

Situation semantics sees meaning as a relation among types of situations. The meaning of ’I am sitting next to David’, for example, is a relation between types of situations in which someone A utters this sentence referring with the name ’David’ to a certain person B, and those in which A is sitting next to B. This relational theory of meaning makes situation semantics well-suited to treat indexicality, tense and other similar phenomena. It has also inspired relational accounts of information and action.

Citing this article:
Perry, John R.. Semantics, situation, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-U041-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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