A common problem facing those interested in learning about situation
theory and situation semantics for the first time is knowing where to
begin. The goal of this blog post is to save my readers as much time and
effort as possible by pointing them to the key references in the
literature that will enable them to get a quick start in situation
theory and situation semantics.
Where Not to Start
When people want to learn what situation theory and situation semantics
is all about, people frequently turn to John Perry and Jon Barwise's
book Situations and Attitudes. The choice is understandable enough:
after all, their book is widely cited and regarded, and its publication
did a great deal to stimulate interest in situation semantics. However,
this may be an unfortunate choice as an introduction to the theory.
While their book is certainly worth reading, it was published quite
early in situation theory's development. In short, the situation theory
of Situations and Attitudes differs in too many important ways from
situation theory's later, more mature, manifestations for it to be the
proper place to start. Save it for later.
Pointing in a Better Direction
Where then to begin? Below you will find my recommendations to those who
want to become quickly acquainted with situation theory and situation
semantics, either to learn it well-enough to apply it as a tool of
analysis or to prepare themselves for more topical readings in the
situation-theory and situation-semantics literatures. Although a
person's personal syllabus will certainly depend upon their goals and
background knowledge, my hope is that I might make that choosing an
easier and more successful one.
Before giving my list, I would like to forewarn the reader that there is
no single canonical version of situation theory. Instead, there is a
family of models of situation theory, each modeled with varying degrees
of rigor, and with varying degrees of pairwise mutual compatibility. Do
not expect each publication below to agree in all respects with the
A place to begin
Perhaps the best place to start is Keith Devlin's excellent book Logic
and Information. Devlin's presentation of the theory is fairly
informal, but it conforms in many ways to later developments to the
theory. It is oriented toward rough and ready application to problems,
and the book is full of numerous examples, mostly, but not exclusively,
of a linguistic nature.
Devlin, Keith. 1991. Logic and information. Cambridge, Great Britain:
Cambridge University Press.
If you are interested in seeing how Devlin's situation theory can be
applied in a real-world setting, then I would recommend a look at Devlin
and Rosenberg's monograph:
Devlin, Keith, and Duska Rosenberg. 1996. *Language at work: Analyzing
communication breakdown in the workplace to inform systems design*. CSLI
Lecture Notes 66. Stanford, CA, USA: Center for the Study of Language
and Information (CSLI).
Finally, I somewhat self-servingly recommend that you read my thesis. I
debated whether to include this, but in many ways I view my thesis as
filling exactly this role: a resource for someone interested in engaging
with the literature. The thesis describes the theory, discusses many of
the main points of contentious theoretical concern, and gives the reader
a sense of the historical trajectory of the theory. I also made a point
of including a lot of straight-forward examples. Situation semantics is
treated far too briefly, however.
Lee, Jacob. 2011. *Situation Theory: a survey*. Master’s Thesis, Fresno,
California: California State University Fresno.
It may also be useful to consider Jon Barwise's famous article
Barwise, Jon. 1989. Notes on branch points in situation theory. In *The
logic*, ed. Jon Barwise, 255-276. CSLI Lecture Notes 17. Stanford, CA:
Center for the Study of Language (CSLI).
in which he outlines various decision points that modelers of situation
theory must confront in one way or another.
### Formal Presentations of the Theory
At this point, more rigorous presentations of the theory would probably
be useful. For this I recommend the following mature versions of the
theory. The first is a simple situation theory developed by Jon Barwise
and Robin Cooper. Their work also introduces a very nice graphical
notation for situation theory.
Barwise, Jon, and Robin Cooper. 1991. Simple situation theory and its
graphical representation. DYANA REPORT R2.1.C 38-74.205
Barwise, Jon, and Robin Cooper. 1993. Extended Kamp notation: A
graphical notation for situation theory. In *Situation theory and its
applications*, ed. Peter Aczel and David Israel, 3:29-53. CSLI Lecture
Notes 37. Stanford, CA, USA: Center for the
Study of Language (CSLI).
In addition to these I recommend the more challenging presentation of
Jeremy Seligman and Lawrence Moss in their article in the *Handbook of
Logic and Language*. Seligman and Moss develop a theory of extensional
relational structures maximizing in order to provide a means of building
up models of situation theory in a modular way. There are two editions.
I've noticed only one or two slight (but possibly interesting)
differences between them.
Seligman, Jeremy, and Lawrence Moss. 1997. Situation theory. In
*Handbook of logic and language*, ed. Johan van Benthem and A. Ter
Meulen, 239-309. Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: MIT Press.
Seligman, Jeremy, and Lawrence Moss. Situation theory (updated). In
*Handbook of logic and language*, ed. Johan van Benthem and A. Ter
Meulen, 253-328. 2cd edition.
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: MIT Press.
For those interested in seeing Seligman and Moss's approach utilized by
others, I recommend reading Jonathan Ginzburg and Ivan Sag's
Ginzburg, Jonathan, and Ivan A. Sag. 2001. *Interrogative
investigations: the form, meaning, and use of English interrogatives*.
CSLI Lecture Notes 123. Stanford, CA, USA: Center for the Study of
Language and Information (CSLI).
### Information Flow
For those interested in information flow, I might recommend
Mares, Edwin, Jeremy Seligman, and Greg Restall. 2011. Situations,
and channels. In *Handbook of Logic and Language*, ed. Johan van
and Alice Ter Meulen, 329-344. 2nd ed. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.
as a place to start, and of course
Barwise, Jon, and Jerry Seligman. 1997. *Information Flow: The Logic of
Distributed Systems*. Cambridge tracts in theoretical computer science
44. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
but my thesis also gives an in depth review of the various variants of
information flow theories in situation theory.
For some classic works of situation semantics I would recommend
Gawron, Jean Mark, and Stanley Peters. 1990. Anaphora and
Quantification in Situation Semantics. CSLI lecture notes no. 19.
Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information.
Barwise, Jon, and John Perry. 1983. *Situations and attitudes*. MIT
with the forewarning that Barwise and Perry's book utilizes an early, in
some ways flawed, version of situation theory.
Also, of course, *The Liar*:
Barwise, Jon, and John Etchemendy. 1989. *The liar*. Oxford University
Finally, for an overview of some historical debates in situation
semantics, and a view into some contemporary work in philosophical
linguistics employing situations I would recommend Angelika Kratzer's
article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Kratzer, Angelika. Situations in natural language semantics. Ed. Edward
I think it is fair to say however that Kratzer's work diverges from
Barwise and Perry's program in a number of respects. Nonetheless her
work seems to have inspired some renewed interest in situation-based