(see also my PhilPapers page)
published or in press
- *NEW* Category mistakes and figurative language, forthcoming in Philosophical Studies
Category mistakes are sentences such as ‘The number two is blue’ or ‘Green ideas sleep furiously’. Such sentences are highly infelicitous and thus a prominent view claims that they are meaningless. Category mistakes are also highly prevalent in figurative language. That is to say, it is very common for sentences which are used figuratively to be such that, if taken literally, they would constitute category mistakes. (Consider for example the metaphor ‘The poem is pregnant’, the metonymy ‘The White House decided to change its policy’, or a fictional use of ‘The tree was happy’.) In this paper I argue that the view that category mistakes are meaningless is inconsistent with many central and otherwise plausible theories of figurative language. Thus if the meaninglessness view is correct, the theories in question must each be rejected, and conversely, if any of the theories in question is correct, the meaninglessness view must be wrong. The debates concerning the semantics of figurative language and concerning the semantic status of category mistakes are closely connected.
- *NEW* Enduantism vs. Perdurantism?: A debate reconsidered, forthcoming in Nous
One of the central debates in contemporary metaphysics has been the debate between endurantism and perdurantism about persistence. In this paper I argue that much of this debate has been misconstrued: most (if not all) of the arguments in the debate crucially rely on theses which are strictly orthogonal to the endurantism/perdurantism debate. To show this, I note that the arguments in the endurantism/perdurantism debate typically take the following form: one presents a challenge that endurantists (/perdurantists) allegedly have some trouble addressing, and to which perdurantism (/endurantism) apparently has a straightforward response. I argue, however, that in each case, there are versions of endurantism (/perdurantism) that can offer precisely the same (or at least a highly analogous) response to the challenge, and thus the ability to provide this particular solution does not directly tell in favour of one the two views. In §1, I elaborate two views which will be particularly prominent in the discussion: liberal endurantism and restrictive perdurantism. In §2-6 I discuss in turn the central pro-perdurantism arguments: the argument from anthropocentricism, the argument from vagueness, the argument from recombination, the argument from temporary intrinsics, and the argument from coincidence. In §7-8, I discuss the main pro-endurantism arguments: the arguments from motion, and the argument from permanent coincidence. Finally, in §9, I discuss what conclusion can be drawn from this discussion.
- *NEW* Why neither diachronic universalism nor the argument from vagueness establishes perdurantism, forthcoming in Candian Journal of Philosophy
One of the most influential arguments in favour of perdurantism is The Argument from Vagueness. The argument proceeds in three stages: The first aims to establish atemporal universalism; The second presents a parallel argument in favour of universalism in the context of temporalized parthood ('diachronic universalism'). The third argues that diachronic universalism entails perdurantism. In this paper, I offer a novel objection to the argument. I show that on the correct way of formulating diachornic universalism the principle does not entail perdurantism. However, Ted Sider proposes a different (and I argue incorrect) formulation of diachronic universalism. I show that on Sider's way of formulating the principle, the argument from vagueness does not entail diachronic universalism and thus does not entail perdurantism either.
- *NEW* Reflections on reasons (co-authored with John Hawthorne), forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Reasons and Normativity
We offer a series reflections on the rather complex ideology of reasons. In the first couple of section we argue for the following claims: normative reasons constructions are factive (if the proposition that p is a reason for X to phi, then it is true that p); possession of a reason requires knowledge (if p is a reason for X to phi then X possesses p as a reason only if X knows that p); possession ascriptions can be factored into a normative reason construction and a possession claim (the fact that p is a reason which X possesses to phi iff the fact that p is a reason for X to phi and X possesses this fact as a reason). One theme that runs throughout these arguments is the following: there is typical range of cases where, since an agent does not know a pertinent worldly fact that might otherwise serve as a motivating reason, one might be tempted to fall-back on describing an agent’s motivating reasons using a psychological ascription (e.g., in the case where an agent is hallucinating a tiger and runs, we might revert to ‘His reason for running was that he thought there was a tiger in the room’). We maintain that in many such cases the psychological fact cited is not after all a motivating reason, and indeed the agent might have no motivating reason for their action. In the final section we turn to compare two views concerning the nature of normative reasons: Kearns and Star’s view of reasons as evidence that one ought to phi, and Broome’s view of reasons as explanations of why one ought to phi. We discuss a range of considerations that might help adjudicate between these two conceptions.
- *NEW* The myth of the de se, forthcoming in Philosophical Perspectives
An increasingly popular line of thought in both philosophy and linguistics is one that I call ‘The myth of the de se’. At the core of the myth is the following line of thought: There is a special kind of propositional attitudes: self-locating or de se attitudes. Moreover, De se attitudes pose a special challenge for our account of propositional attitudes, requiring us to amend what would otherwise be considered adequate accounts. The aim of this paper is to debunk the myth of the de se, with special focus on the most influential defence of the myth: Lewis’s claim that de se attitudes require a shift from the possible-worlds account of attitudes to the centred-worlds account.
- Category Mistakes, Oxford University Press (2013).
- Semantic sovereignty (co-authored with Stephen Kearns), Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 85 (2012):322-350.
A widely (indeed almost universally) accepted thesis in Philosophy of Language is Semantic Supervenience: semantic facts supervene on use facts (that is, at least if 'use facts' is given a sufficiently broad interpretation). Against this orthodoxy, we argue for a radical thesis we call 'Semantic Sovereignty': semantic facts do not supervene on use facts, even if 'use facts' are given a maximally broad interpretation.
- Strict finitism and the happy sorites, Journal of Philosophical Logic 41 (2012): 471-191
Call an argument a ‘happy sorites’ if it is a sorites argument with true premises and a false conclusion. It’s a striking fact that although most philosophers working on the sorites paradox find it prima facie highly compelling that the premises of the sorites paradox are true and its conclusion false, few (if any) of the standard theories on the issue ultimately allow for happy sorites arguments. There is one philosophical view, however, that appears to allow for at least some such argument arguments: strict finitism in the philosophy of mathematics. The paper explores the question of whether this appearance is accurate: I show that this question is far from trivial, but that strict finitism can ultimately accept happy sorites arguments.
- Arbitrary reference (with Wylie Breckenridge), Philosophical Studies 158 (2012): 377-400
Two fundamental rules of reasoning are Universal Generalisation and Existential Instantiation. Applications of these rules involve stipulations such as ‘Let n be an arbitrary number’. Yet the semantics underlying such stipulations are far from clear: what, for example, does ‘n’ refer to following the above stipulation? In this paper, we argue that ‘n’ refers to a number (an ordinary, particular number such as 58 or 2,345,043), but we do not and cannot know which number, because the reference of ‘n’ is fixed arbitrarily. The paper defends the claim that such arbitrary reference is possible. In particular, we argue that the possibility of arbitrary reference account can be used to provide an account of instantial reasoning (one that is better than the alternatives), and we suggest that the thesis can also figure in offering new solutions to a range of difficult philosophical puzzles.
- Review of Ludlow, The Philosophy of Generative Linguistics , Analysis 72 (2012): 844-846.
- Arguments by Leibniz’s Law in Metaphysics, Philosophy Compass 6 (2011): 180-195
Leibniz’s Law (or ‘the Indiscerniblity of Identicals’) is a widely accepted principle governing the notion of numerical identity. Leibniz’s Law may seem like a trivial principle, but its apparent consequences are far from trivial: The law has been utilised in a wide range of arguments in metaphysics, many leading to substantive and controversial conclusions. This article discusses the applications of Leibniz’s Law to arguments in metaphysics, and what strategies are available to those who wish to resist such arguments.
- Assertion and Epistemic Opacity (with John Hawthorne), Mind 119 (2010): 1087-1105
In ‘Assertion, Context, and Epistemic Accessibility', we presented an argument against Stalnaker’s meta-semantic framework. In this paper we address two critical responses to our paper by Stalnaker, and by Almotahari and Glick. We pay special attention (Sect. 2) to an interesting argument that Stalnaker offers to bolster the transparency of presupposition (an argument that, if successful, could also form the basis of a defence of the KK principle).
- Review of Robert Stalnaker, Our Knowledge of the Internal World, Philosophical Review 119 (2010): 384-391
Critical review of Stalnaker's book (aprox. 3400 words long)
- Category mistakes are meaningful, Linguistics & Philosophy 32 (2009): 553-581
Category mistakes are sentences such as ‘Colourless green ideas sleep furiously’ or ‘The theory of relativity is eating breakfast’. Such sentences are highly infelicitous, and this has led a large number of linguists and philosophers to conclude that they are meaningless. In this paper I argue that the meaninglessness view is incorrect and category mistakes are meaningful.
- Natural language and how we use it: Psychology, pragmatics, and presupposition, (critical notice of Soames, Philosophical Essays vol. 1), Analysis 70 (2010): 160-174
In this extended critical notice, I discuss several themes from Soames’s volume, but I focus especially on a discussion of a range of issues concerning presupposition.
- Assertion, context, and epistemic accessibility, co-authored with John Hawthorne, Mind 118 (2009): 377-197
In his seminal paper ‘Assertion’, Robert Stalnaker distinguishes between the semantic content of a sentence on an occasion of use and the content asserted by an utterance of that sentence on that occasion. While in general the assertoric content of an utterance is simply its semantic content, the mechanisms of conversation sometimes force the two apart. Of special interest in this connection is one of the principles governing assertoric content in the framework, one according to which the asserted content ought to be identical at each world in the context set (the Uniformity principle). In this paper, we present a problem for Stalnaker’s meta-semantic framework, by challenging the plausibility of the Uniformity principle. We argue that the interaction of the framework with facts about epistemic accessibility — in particular, failures of epistemic transparency — cause problems for the Uniformity principle and thus for Stalnaker’s framework more generally. See also responses by Stalnaker and Almotahari & Glick and our counter-response.
- The last dogma of type confusions, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 109 (2009): 1-29
I discuss sentences (or quasi-sentences) involving a kind of radical ‘type confusion’, i.e. strings involving expressions of the wrong grammatical category, as in ‘runs eats’. It is (nearly) universally accepted that such strings are meaningless (‘the last dogma’), but in this paper I question this widespread assumption.
- Epistemicism about vagueness and meta-linguistic safety, co-authored with Stephen Kearns, Philosophical Perspectives 22 (2008): 277-304
We challenge Williamson's safety-based explanation for why one cannot know the sharp cut-off points of vague predicates. In particular, we point out that Williamson's explanation implicitly relies on a principle of Meta-linguistic safety (MBS), but we argue that MBS is not a necessary condition on knowledge.
- Another note on Zeno’s arrow, Phronesis 53 (2008): 359-272
In Physics VI.9 Aristotle addresses Zeno’s four paradoxes of motion and amongst them the arrow paradox. In his brief remarks on the paradox, Aristotle also suggests what he takes to be a solution to the paradox. I claim that what seems on the face of it to be Aristotle’s solution to the paradox raises two puzzles, and offer an interpretation of Aristotle which - as as opposed to the previous interpretations of Lear and Vlastos - provides a response to the puzzles.
- Strict finitism refuted?, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society CVII (2007): 403-411
In his paper ‘Wang’s paradox’, Michael Dummett argues that strict finitism in mathematics is internally inconsistent and therefore an untenable position. I argue that Dummett's argument fails.
work in progress
- 'Category mistakes', under preperation for Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- 'Response to critics', for Inquiry book symposium on Category Mistakes (in early progress)
- 'The epistemicist solution tot he sorites paradox', for CUP volume on the Sorites Paradox (in early progress)
- 'Epistemicism, distribution, and the argument from vagueness' (in progress)
- 'Conditional acceptance' (in progress)
- 'Presupposition projection in infelicitous environments' (in early progress)