In the present section, Weir says something about the kind of semantic framework he favours, and in particular about issues of context-sensitivity. Here I do little more than summarize.
The basic idea is very familiar. “Utterances of declarative sentences are typically true or false, and what makes them one or the other is, in general, a triple product of firstly the Sinn or informational content they express, secondly the circumstances of the utterance, and finally the way the world is”. So this is the usual modern twist on the ur-Fregean story: it isn’t just sense, but sense plus context (broadly construed), that determines reference and so fixes truth-conditions. This basic picture is widely endorsed, and Weir doesn’t aim to develop a detailed account of how the three layers of story interrelate. Some general remarks are enough for his purposes.
Suppose we aim for a systematic story about how a certain class of sentences gets its truth conditions, for example those involving a demonstrative ‘that’. The systematic story will, perhaps, use a notion like salience, so for example it tells us that ‘that man is clever’ is true when the most salient man in the context is clever. Now, for this to be part of a semantic theory that is explanantory of speech-behaviour, speakers will have to reveal appropriate sensitivity to what we theorists would call considerations of salience. But those we are interpreting needn’t themselves have the concept of salience. And the explanatory statement of truth-conditions is not synonymous with ‘that man is clever’. We thus need to distinguish the literal content of the sentence as speakers understand it (what is shared by literal translation, for example) from the explanatory truth-conditions delivered by our systematic semantic theory.
Note though, semantics is one thing, metaphysics something else. It might be that what it takes (according to semantic theory) for ‘that man is clever’ to be true is that the most salient man in the context is clever. But what has to exist for that to be the case? — does it require the existence, for example, of a truth-making fact? Semantics is silent on the issue: so, for example, fans and foes of truth-makers can alike accept the same semantic story about explanatory truth-conditions.
Now, ‘literal content’ vs ‘explanatory truth-conditions’ was, Weir tells us (fn. 28) his own originally preferred terminology here. He now thinks ‘informational content’ or ‘sense’ vs ‘metaphysical content’ is less misleading. Really? Does dubbing something ‘metaphysical’ ever make things clearer?? Especially when you’ve just used ‘metaphysical’ in a significantly different way in talking of metaphysical realism, and also insisted on downplaying the metaphysical loading of the semantic story??? But let’s not get fractious! — if we are in the business of a traditional kind of semantic theory, there is a distinction to be made, whatever we call it. Though let’s also be on the watch for occasions where the possibly tendentious labelling is allowed to carry argumentative weight.
As Weir says, not everyone endorses the sense/circumstances/world (SCW) picture. For a start, there are radical contextualists who don’t like the idea of a given sense or meaning making a fixed contribution to determining truth-conditions. But Weir “side[s] with those who hold that radical contextualism makes language grasp a mystery”.
However, even if we go along with the basic SCW picture, there is room for debate about how much work circumstances do, just how much context-relativity we need to recognize. Cappelen and Lepore, for example, have argued that there is only a rather confined Basic Set of context-sensitive expressions in language, contra those who seek philosophical illumination by claiming to discern hidden context sensitivity. Weir hints that he is going to need to take a more generous line than Cappelen and Lepore (but without falling back into radical contextualism). But we’ll have to wait to see how this works out.
So far, as I said, that’s mostly summary. But let me add two final comments. (a) Weir’s anti-realism about mathematics, as we saw, is to be a built on a distinction between representational and non-representational modes of discourse. And on the face of it, you would expect that issues about different modes of discourse would be orthogonal to the issues about kinds of context-sensitivity most highlighted in this section. Again, we’ll have to wait to see just see what connections get forged. True, there is a murky hint on p. 38; but it didn’t at all help this reader. (b) A more thorough-going pragmatist, perhaps of Wittgensteinian disposition, will also emphasize the different roles of different discourses, but will resist the thought that one kind is more basic or more central than others. She might start to worry that Weir’s semantic framework — at least so far — is looking too traditionally biased towards privileging the representational discourse for which the SCW picture seems tailor-made. More on this anon.