Philosophy of language
Truth theories, translation manuals, and theories of meaning
Linguistics & Philosophy 29:4 (2006), 487-505.
Abstract. In "Truth and Meaning", Davidson suggested that a truth theory can do the work of a theory of meaning: it can give the meanings of expressions of a language, and can explain the semantic competence of speakers of the language by stating information knowledge of which would suffice for competence. From the start, this program faced certain fundamental objections. One response to these objections has been to supplement the truth theory with additional rules of inference (e.g. from T-sentences to meaning theorems). I argue that these modifications of Davidson's original idea fail to solve the problems with Davidsonian semantics, and that the prospects for a solution to these problems within the Davidsonian framework are dim. A general lesson to be drawn is that Davidsonian theories do not provide a viable alternative to Russellian and Fregean approaches to semantics which recognize the reality of language-independent contents.
Conversational implicature, thought, and communication
Mind & Language 23:1 (2008), 107-122.
Abstract. Some linguistic phenomena can occur in uses of language in thought, whereas others only occur in uses of language in communication. I argue that this distinction can be used as a test for whether some phenomenon can be explained via Grice's theory of conversational implicature (or any theory similarly based on principles governing conversation). I argue further, on the basis of this test, that conversational implicature cannot be used to explain quantifier domain restriction, apparent substitution failures involving coreferential names, or metaphor, but that it can be used to explain the the phenomenon of referential uses of definite descriptions. I conclude with a brief discussion of the relevance of this to the semantics/pragmatics distinction.
The normativity of content and 'the Frege point'
European Journal of Philosophy 17:3 (2009), 405-415.
Abstract. In "Assertion," Geach identified failure to attend to the distinction between meaning and speech act as a source of philosophical errors. I argue that failure to attend to this distinction, along with the parallel distinction between attitude and content, has been behind the idea that meaning and content are, in some sense, normative. By an argument parallel to Geach's argument against performative analyses of "good," we can show that the phenomena identified by theorists of the normativity of content are properties in the first instance of speech act and propositional attitude types, rather than content as such.
The epistemic argument and epistemic two-dimensionalism
Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88:1 (2010), 59-78.
Abstract. One of Kripke’s fundamental objections to descriptivism was that the theory misclassifies certain a posteriori propositions expressed by sentences involving names as a priori. Though nowadays very few philosophers would endorse a descriptivism of the sort that Kripke criticized, many find two-dimensionalism attractive as a kind of successor theory. Because two-dimensionalism needn’t be a form of descriptivism, it is not open to the epistemic argument as formulated by Kripke; but the most promising versions of two-dimensionalism are open to a close relative of that argument.
Introduction, transmission, and the foundations of meaning
New Waves in the Philosophy of Language, ed. Sarah Sawyer (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010) 226-249.
New Waves in the Philosophy of Language,
ed. Sarah Sawyer (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010) 226-249 | penultimate draft
Abstract. The most widely accepted and well worked out approaches to the foundations of meaning take facts about the meanings of linguistic expressions at a time to be derivative from the propositional attitudes of speakers of the language at that time. This mentalist strategy takes two principal forms, one which traces meaning to belief, and one which analyzes it in terms of communicative intentions. I argue that either form of mentalism fails, and conclude by suggesting that we can do better by focusing on connections between linguistic meaning and the contents of perceptions (rather than beliefs or intentions), and by (following Kripke's approach to reference) replacing questions about the nature of meaning with questions about the nature of term introduction and meaning transmission.
Millian descriptivism defended
Philosophical Studies 149:2 (2010), 201-208.
Abstract. In "Millian Descriptivism," Ben Caplan argued that the conjunction of Millianism with the view that utterances of sentences involving names often pragmatically convey descriptively enriched propositions is vulnerable to Kripke's arguments against classical descriptivism. I argue that, given some plausible assumptions about pragmatics and semantics, this is not true.
Frege's puzzle and descriptive enrichment
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 83:2 (2011), 267-282.
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
83:2 (2011), 267-282 | preprint
Abstract. Millians sometimes claim that we can explain the fact that sentences like "If Hesperus exists, then Hesperus is Phosphorus" seem a posteriori to speakers in terms of the fact that utterances of sentences of this sort would typically pragmatically convey propositions which really are a posteriori. I argue that this kind of pragmatic explanation of the seeming a posterioricity of sentences of this sort fails. The main reason is that for every sentence like the above which (by Millian lights) is a priori, seems a posteriori to most speakers, and would typically be used to convey a posteriori propositions, there is another which (again, by Millian lights) is a priori, seems a posteriori to most speakers, but can only typically be used to convey a priori propositions.
A Companion to Davidson, ed. Ernie LePore and Kirk Ludwig (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 328-338.
A Companion to Davidson, ed. Ernie LePore and Kirk Ludwig (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 328-338 | draft of 7/12
Abstract. I discuss Davidson's answer to the "problem of predication" -- i.e., the problem of explaining the difference between strings of words which can be true or false, and those which cannot. I also discuss Davidson's opposition to views which try to explain predication in terms of propositions, and his view that the problem of the unity of the proposition is insoluble.
Individuating Fregean sense
Canadian Journal of Philosophy 43:5-6 (2013), 634-654.
Canadian Journal of Philosophy
43:5-6 (2013), 634-654 | draft of 7/13
Abstract. Even though it is highly controversial whether Frege’s criterion of sameness and difference for sense is true, it is uncontroversial that that principle is inconsistent with Millian-Russellian views of content. I argue that this should not be uncontroversial. The reason is that it is surprisingly difficult to come up with an interpretation of Frege’s criterion which implies anything substantial about the sameness or difference of content of anything.
No easy argument for two-dimensionalism
Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92:4 (2014), 775-781.
Abstract. In 'Epistemic two-dimensionalism and the epistemic argument,' I argued that epistemic two-dimensionalism misclassifies certain intuitively a posteriori sentences as a priori. In ‘Epistemic two-dimensionalism and arguments from epistemic misclassification,’ Edward Elliott, Kelvin McQueen, and Clas Weber argued that (i) no argument of this form could succeed against epistemic two-dimensionalism, and (ii) a certain sort of epistemic two-dimensionalist could resist my argument for the conclusion that the relevant sentences are a priori. I reply to (i) and (ii) and defend some of the assumptions made in my original paper.
The role of speaker and hearer in the character of demonstratives
Mind 125:498 (2016), 301-339.
Abstract. Demonstratives have different semantic values relative to different contexts of utterance. But it is surprisingly difficult to describe the function from contexts to contents (i.e., the character) which determines the semantic value of a given use of a demonstrative. It is very natural to think that the intentions of the speaker should play a significant role here. The aim of this paper is to discuss a pair of problems that arise for views which give intentions this central role in explaining the characters of demonstratives. As will emerge, these problems lead quickly to a foundational question about the semantics of demonstratives and many other context-sensitive expressions: the question of whether, in explaining their characters, we need to understand them as sensitive, not just to facts about the psychology of the speaker of the context, but also to facts about the audience of the context. I critically examine Jeffrey King’s theory of demonstratives, which answers this question in the affirmative, and argue that it ultimately collapses into a purely speaker-based view of the character of demonstratives. I then show how to develop a much simpler speaker-based theory which both handles all of the cases handled by King’s theory and avoids some of the more serious problems which King’s theory faces. Toward the end I consider how we might solve the very difficult problems which result from cases in which speakers use demonstratives with conflicting referential intentions.
A puzzle about demonstratives and semantic competence
Philosophical Studies 174:3 (2017), 709-734.
Abstract. My aim in this paper is to lay out a number of theses which are very widely held in contemporary philosophy of language and linguistics, and to argue that, given some extra theses for which I'll argue, they are inconsistent. The widely held theses concern the nature of our semantic competence, and the explanation of this semantic competence in terms of mastery of a compositional semantic theory. The theses for which I argue concern, first, parallels between our semantic competence and our knowledge of the semantic values of indexicals in contexts and, second, the difficult of giving a theory of the character of indexicals which could explain this parallel. The result is a kind of paradox: a set of theses, each of which can be given a plausible defense, but which are jointly inconsistent.