Abstract: Horizontalism is the thesis that what a speaker asserts in literally and sincerely uttering an indicative sentence is some horizontal proposition of her utterance; diagonalism is the thesis that what a speaker asserts in literally and sincerely uttering an indicative sentence is some diagonal proposition of her utterance. Recent work on assertion has reached no clear consensus favoring either horizontalism or diagonalism. I explore a novel strategy for adjudicating between the two views by considering the advantages and disadvantages which would accrue to a linguistic community as a result of adopting different committal practices – that is, practices of associating utterances with the propositions to which speakers undertake assertoric commitments in uttering them – ultimately concluding that a horizontalist practice has important advantages over its competitors.
''Slurs Are Directives'' Philosophers' Imprint 19(48), 1-28 (2019).
[Official (Open Access)]
Abstract: Recent work on the semantics and pragmatics of slurs has explored a variety of ways of explaining their potential to derogate, with the most popular family of approaches appealing to either: (i), the non-cognitive attitudes expressed by — or (ii), the propositions concerning such attitudes semantically or pragmatically communicated by — the speakers who use them. I begin by arguing that no such speaker-oriented approach can be correct. I then propose an alternative treatment of slurs, according to which they are semantically associated with both descriptive and directive content. On the view I defend, when speakers use slurs, they simultaneously propose to add an at-issue proposition to the conversational common ground and issue a not-at-issue directive to their interlocutors to adopt a derogatory perspective toward members of the targeted group. This proposal both avoids the problems faced by other accounts and opens up a novel way of thinking about the phenomenon of appropriation.
Abstract: Sceptical theists attempt to meet the challenge to theism posed by evidential arguments from evil by appealing to the limitations of human cognition. Drawing on an exchange between William Rowe and Michael Bergmann, I argue that consistent sceptical theists must be radically insensitive to certain kinds of evidence about prima facie evils – that is, that they must endorse the claim that not even evidence of extreme and pervasive suffering could justify disbelief in theism. I show that Bergmann’s attempt to respond to this problem does not succeed and argue that no alternative response is forthcoming, concluding that the threat of radical insensitivity constitutes a serious and underappreciated difficulty for sceptical theism.
Abstract: Can rational communication proceed when interlocutors are uncertain which contents utterances contribute to discourse? An influential negative answer to this question is embodied in the Stalnakerian principle of uniformity, which requires speakers to produce only utterances that express the same content in every possibility treated as live for the purposes of the conversation. The principle of uniformity enjoys considerable intuitive plausibility and, moreover, seems to follow from platitudes about assertion; nevertheless, it has recently proven controversial. In what follows, I defend the principle by developing two arguments for it based on premises reflecting the central aims and assumptions of possibility-carving frameworks for modeling inquiry — that is, frameworks which describe the evolution of individuals’ attitudinal states in terms of set-theoretic operations defined over a domain of objects representing possibilities.
Abstract: Greg Ray (2014) believes he has discovered a crucial oversight in Donald Davidson’s semantic programme, recognition of which paves the way for a novel approach to Davidsonian semantics. We disagree: Ray’s novel approach involves a tacit appeal to pre-existing semantic knowledge which vitiates its interest as a development of the Davidsonian programme.
The Structure of Truth. Forthcoming with Oxford University Press. (With Ernie Lepore.)
Abstract: Donald Davidson's 1970 Locke Lectures appear in print for the first time in this volume, accompanied by an introduction highlighting their significance as a snapshot of his evolving views in the philosophy of language and describing their relationship to the work he published during his lifetime. The lectures comprise an invaluable historical document that illuminates how Davidson was thinking about the theory of meaning, the role of a truth theory therein, the ontological commitments of a truth theory, the notion of logical form, and so on, at a pivotal moment in the development of his thought. Unlike Davidson’s previously published work, they are written so as to be presented to an audience as a fully organized and coherent exposition of his program in the philosophy of language. Had these lectures been widely available in the years following 1970, we believe the reception of Davidson’s work, especially in the philosophy of language, might have been very different. Given the systematic nature of their presentation of Davidson's semantic program, we also hope that they will be of use to those encountering his thought for the first time.
Works in Progress
(Drafts available on request)
''Do Not Diagonalize''
Summary: I show that diagonalism — the thesis that a speaker always asserts some diagonal proposition of her utterance — conflicts with our intuitive judgments about the truth-value of what is asserted in a range of cases involving known information asymmetries between speaker and audience. I then show how a compelling argument for diagonalism can be constructed from the premise that the content of an assertion is the proposition on which the speaker and her interlocutors doxastically coordinate. The failure of diagonalism, then, requires that we reject this premise. I therefore suggest an alternative way of thinking about assertion, according to which the content of an assertion is the proposition to which a speaker undertakes a distinctive sort of commitment.
''On the Plurality of Tongues''
Summary: I argue that careful consideration of the relationship between the horizontal and diagonal propositions of an utterance shows that David Lewis's attempt to ground sentential meaning in linguistic conventions of truthfulness and trust cannot succeed: given Lewis's theoretical commitments, the facts about convention to which he appeals are in principle unable to distinguish between different languages which make the same predictions about when speakers will be disposed to produce utterances.
''Gaslighting in Axiology''
Summary: I begin by developing a characterization of gaslighting which broadens the range of cases in which the term can be applied in a way that allows us to understand it as associated with a distinctive sort of harm toward its victims. I then explore one application of my favored view of gaslighting: that claims about what sorts of lives are good can constitute gaslighting. I illustrate this phenomenon with two examples drawn from the literature on axiology: first, the debate over whether certain disabled lives are as good as non-disabled lives; second, the question of whether sexual activity must be potentially procreative to contribute to human wellbeing.
Recent and Upcoming Presentations
Gaslighting in Axiology. Pacific APA, San Francisco. [April 2020]
No Puzzle About Meaning and Communication. CUNY Cognitive Science Speaker Series, New York. [April 2020]
Contextology. (Joint work with Simon Goldstein.) New York Philosophy of Language Workshop, New York. [March 2020]
Comments on Ethan Jerzak, Arc Kocurek, and Rachel Rudolf, "Against Conventional Wisdom." Eastern APA, Philadelphia. [January 2020]
On the Plurality of Tongues. Australian Catholic University, Melbourne. [December 2019]
On the Plurality of Tongues. Rutgers Alumni Workshop, New Brunswick. [April 2019]
Slurs Are Directives. Bochum-Rutgers Workshop in Philosophy and Cognitive Science, Ruhr-Universität Bochum. [March 2019]
Gaslighting in Axiology. New York City Minorities and Philosophy Workshop Series, CUNY. [March 2019]
Slurs Are Directives. Ashoka University. [December 2018]
Slurs Are Directives. Pacific APA Colloquium, San Diego. [March 2018]
Slurs Are Directives. USC/UCLA Graduate Conference, USC. [March 2018]
Uniformity Motivated. Central APA Colloquium, Chicago. [February 2018]
Slurs Are Directives. Harvard/MIT Graduate Conference, MIT. [February 2018]