“Agency, Stability, and Permeability in 'Games'”
forthcoming in Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.
In “Games and the Art of Agency,” Thi Nguyen argues that games highlight and foster a profound complexity in human motivation, of “purposeful and managed agential disunity.” I agree that human agency is “fluid and fleeting,” but argue that Nguyen’s analysis relies on a traditional conception of selves as stable, goal-driven agents, which his discussion rightly throws into question. Without this conception, games look more like life, and both look riskier, than we might otherwise hope.
“Organization and Structure in the Service of Systematicity and Productivity”
forthcoming in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science.
Nick Shea’s Representation in Cognitive Science (OUP 2018) places a broadly teleosemantic account of mental representation on a realist footing by stressing the need to explain how a representational system tracks information, with different formats exploiting structural correspondences between vehicles and contents in different ways. I explore how realism interacts with format ecumenicalism, and more specifically how different representational systems distribute the representational burden at systemic and local levels. Varieties of systematicity and structure matter functionally, by affecting systems’ representational capacities and vulnerabilities. And they matter theoretically, by affecting where and how we posit and test for representational mechanisms.
“Language: Power Plays At The Edges Of Communication”
in Philosophy for Girls: An Invitation to the Life of Thought, ed. M. Shew and K. Garchar (OUP 2020), 167-180.
We do many things with words. We describe, we plan and promise, we invite and command, we hint and intimate. We also use words to wound–to demean, insult, and exclude. The fact that words can have such potent, pernicious effects is puzzling, because they are, after all, just words. As the schoolyard chant goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Words do hurt though–not only our feelings, but our social status, even our basic dignity as human beings. How can sounds and shapes do all that? Many philosophers have thought of language as a kind of game. Both games and language are complex, abstract structures that we deploy strategically to achieve serious goals, as well as for fun. Thinking through some of these similarities can illuminate how something so intangible can have such powerful effects, and seeing how people wield that power for malicious ends can reveal how to turn the tables and fight back.
“Priorities and Diversities in Thought and Language”
in Language and Reality From a Naturalistic Perspective: Themes From Michael Devitt, ed. A. Bianchi (Springer 2020), 45-66.
Philosophers have long debated the relative priority of thought and language, both at the deepest level, in asking what makes us distinctively human, and more superficially, in explaining why we find it so natural to communicate with words. The “linguistic turn” in analytic philosophy accorded pride of place to language in the order of investigation, but only because it treated language as a window onto thought, which it took to be fundamental in the order of explanation. The Chomskian linguistic program tips the balance further toward language, by construing the language faculty as an independent, distinctively human biological mechanism. Devitt (Ignorance of language. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2006) attempts to swing the pendulum back toward the other extreme, by proposing that thought itself is fundamentally sentential, and that there is little or nothing for language to do beyond reflecting the structure and content of thought. I argue that both thought and language involve a greater diversity of function and form than either the Chomskian model or Devitt’s antithesis acknowledge. Both thought and language are better seen as complex, mutually supporting suites of interacting abilities.
in The Routledge Handbook of Metaethics, ed. T. McPherson and D. Plunkett (Routledge 2017), 87-101.
I consider what it might mean for an utterance to "express" an attitude in a way that differentiates expressive from descriptive speech, and how individual words might have the conventional function of performing such acts of expression. Drawing on recent work in formal semantics, I argue that while there are promising models for implementing the intuition that certain expressions and constructions, for instance, deontic and epistemic modals, pejoratives like "damn", and slurs, express non-cognitive states and/or have dynamic non-truth-conditional effects, these models are not easily extended to the classic case of "thin" ethical terms.
"Pragmatic Force in Semantic Context: Robert Stalnaker's Context"
Philosophical Studies 174:6 (2017), 1617–1627.
Stalnaker's Context deploys the core machinery of common ground, possible worlds, and epistemic accessibility to mount a powerful case for the "autonomy of pragmatics": the utility of theorizing about discourse function independently of specific linguistic mechanisms. Illocutionary force lies at the periphery between pragmatics as the rational, non-conventional dynamics of context change and semantics as a conventional compositional mechanism for determining truth-conditional contents' in an interesting way. I argue that the conventionalization of illocutionary force, most notably in assertion, has cross contextual consequences that are not fully captured by a specification of dynamic effects on common ground. More generally, I suggest that Stalnaker's purely informational, propositional analysis of both semantic content and dynamic effects distorts our understanding of the function of language, especially of the real-world commitments and consequences engendered by robustly "expressive" language like slurs, honorifics, and thick terms.
"Ofra Magidor's Category Mistakes"
Mind 125:498 (2016), 611-615.
Category mistakes sentences like Julius Caesar is a prime number, Colourless green ideas sleep furiously, or Saturday is in bed are theoretically interesting precisely because they are marginal: as by-products of our linguistic and conceptual systems lacking any obvious function, they reveal the limits of, and interactions among, those systems. Do syntactic or semantic restrictions block is green from taking "Two" as a subject? Does the compositional machinery proceed smoothly, but fail to generate a coherent proposition or delimit a coherent possibility? Or is the proposition it produces simply one that our paltry minds cannot grasp, or that fails to arouse our interest? One's answers to these questions depend on, and constrain, one's conceptions of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, of language and thought, and of the relations among them and between them and the world.
"Metaphors in Literature"
in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Literature, ed. N. Carroll and J. Gibson (Routledge 2015), 334-346.
What is distinctive about literary metaphors? Why do authors use metaphors in literature? I argue that metaphors in literature, like metaphors elsewhere, allow authors to communicate thoughts and stake claims about how the world is. To make this claim plausible, we need, first, to free ourselves of an overly restrictive conception of ordinary discourse, which can be open-ended, nuanced, and imagistically and emotionally evocative, just like literary metaphors; and in particular which can also present contents through perspectives. Second, we need to recognize the interpretive differences that are generated by the literary context: because literary texts are published works of art, literary meaning is constructed as a collaboration between a 'model author' and a 'model reader', each of whom has access to both more and fewer interpretive assumptions than the actual writer and recipient do. Third, we need to attend to the diversity among literary metaphors, which can be laser-focused as well as open-ended, abstract as well as concretely imagistic and emotional, and which can stake truth-evaluable claims while also presenting non-propositional perspectives. Finally, metaphors differ from other perspectival tropes, like exemplification, in presenting one thing through the lens or filter of something else, producing a kind of twofoldness that gives metaphors a distinctive rhetorical and cognitive power.
The Pragmatics Encyclopedia, ed. L. Cummings (Routledge 2009), 264-266.
A survey of recent work on metaphor in cognitive science, linguistics, and pragmatic theory, with special attention to challenges to the "standard" Gricean model of metaphor as implicature.
"Metaphor" (with Marga Reimer)
in Handbook of Philosophy of Language, ed. E. Lepore & B. Smith (OUP 2006), 845-863.
A survey of four influential theories of metaphor in the philosophy of language simile theories (e.g. Fogelin), interaction theories (e.g. Black), Gricean theories (e.g. Searle), and noncognitivist theories (e.g. Davidson) in terms of their answers to four central questions: What are metaphors? What is metaphorical meaning? How do metaphors work? And what is the nature of metaphorical truth?
"Metaphor in the Mind: The Cognition of Metaphor"
Philosophy Compass 1:2 (2006), 154-170.
The most sustained and innovative recent work on metaphor has occurred in cognitive science and psychology. Psycholinguistic investigation suggests that novel, poetic metaphors are processed differently than literal speech, while relatively conventionalized and contextually salient metaphors are processed more like literal speech. This conflicts with the view of "cognitive linguists" like George Lakoff that all or nearly all thought is essentially metaphorical. There are currently four main cognitive models of metaphor comprehension: juxtaposition, category-transfer, feature-matching, and structural alignment. Structural alignment deals best with the widest range of examples; but it still fails to account for the complexity and richness of fairly novel, poetic metaphors.
"Critical Study of Josef Stern's Metaphor in Context"
Nous 39:4 (2005), 715-731.
A critical discussion of Stern's 2000 book postulating a metaphoricity operator 'Mthat' modeled on Kaplan's 'Dthat'. I focus on Stern's claim that we need to adopt a semantic analysis of metaphor because metaphor exhibits interpretive constraints which cannot be explained on a pragmatic view; I argue that in each case the 'constraint' is merely defeasible, and that a pragmatic analysis can accommodate the data more parsimoniously and in greater generality than Stern's theory can.