Abstract: Contextology is the science of the dynamics of the conversational context. Contextology formulates laws governing how the shared information states of interlocutors evolve in response to assertion. More precisely, the contextologist attempts to construct a function which, when provided with just a conversation's pre-update context and the content of an assertion, delivers that conversation's post-update context. Most contextologists have assumed that the function governing the evolution of the context is simple: the post-update context is just the pre-update context intersected with the content of the assertion. We argue that this assumption is wrong: not only is it false, it is also incoherent given standard contextological assumptions. Moreover, it is impossible in principle to revise it to correctly describe the dynamics of context. We conclude that there can be no science of Contextology. The laws governing the evolution of the context in response to assertion must make essential reference to the private information states of interlocutors.
''Do Not Diagonalize'' Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Language (forthcoming).
Abstract: Speakers assert in order to communicate information. It is natural, therefore, to hold that the content of an assertion is whatever information it communicates to its audience. In cases involving uncertainty about the semantic values of context-sensitive lexical items, moreover, it is natural to hold that the information an assertion communicates to its audience is whatever information audience members are in a position to recover from it by assuming that the proposition it semantically determines is true. This sort of picture corresponds to an influential and widely endorsed theory of assertoric content: diagonalism. I begin by arguing that, despite its intuitive appeal, diagonalism should be rejected because it conflicts with our intuitive judgments about the circumstances in which the contents of speakers' assertions would be true or false. I then show that the failure of diagonalism requires us to either abandon a familiar way of thinking about information and rational assertion or hold that the content of an assertion is not always the information it communicates. I suggest that we choose the latter horn of this dilemma — assertoric content is better characterized in terms of the commitments speakers undertake than in terms of the information they communicate.
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.
Abstract: Donald Davidson was one of the most famous and influential philosophers of the twentieth century. The Structure of Truth presents his 1970 Locke Lectures in print for the first time. They comprise an invaluable historical document which 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, the lectures 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 they been widely available in the years following 1970, the reception of Davidson's work might have been very different. Given the systematic nature of their presentation of Davidson's semantic program, these lectures will be of interest to anyone working in the philosophy of language.
Recent and Upcoming Presentations
Quotation for Dummies. Philosophy of Language Association Conference, Digital. [June 2022]
Quotation for Dummies. New York Philosophy of Language Workshop, New York. [May 2022]
Cogventionalism. Central APA Symposium, Chicago. [February 2022]
Covert Quotation. Virtual Language Work-in-Progress Group (VirLaWP), Digital. [August 2021]
Cogventionalism. CUNY Cognitive Science Speaker Series, Digital. [April 2021]
Gaslighting in Axiology. Pacific APA, Digital. [April 2021]