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
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
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 |
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.
The schmidentity strategy
invited for Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Language.
Abstract. This is a paper about a prominent style of
argument in the philosophy of language, which Nathan Salmon has called `the schmidentity
strategy.' The style of argument has great intuitive force, and has been used to defend
theses as diverse as the classical theory of the `is' of identity, the Russellian
analysis of definite descriptions, and the Millian theory of proper names. Given the
significance of the views it has been used to defend, it is somewhat surprising that
(with a few exceptions) the style of argument has not received much attention. The aim
of this paper is to investigate the conditions under which the form of argument can
successfully be used.