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Meaning Transfer Revisited (with Ofra Magidor)

forthcoming in Philosophical Perspectives

With some context, we can transfer the meaning of various linguistic items. For example, ‘The ham sandwich left without paying’ can be used to communicate that the person who order the sandwich (rather than the sandwich itself) left without paying, and ‘Jill is a ham sandwich’ can be used to communicate that Jill ordered a ham sandwich (rather than that she is literally a sandwich).

Although the phenomenon of meaning transfer is widely recognised in both philosophy of language and linguistics, it remains substantially under-theorised with many key questions left unanswered. This paper attempts to fill-in some of this gap  We address a number of key issues concerning the nature and implementation of meaning transfer including its relationship to other figures of speech, as well as implications for thinking about the semantics/pragmatics distinction.

Copredication, Counting, and Criteria of Indivdiuation: A Response to Gotham (with Ofra Magidor)

forthcoming in Journal of Semantics

Gotham (2017) advances an insightful and innovative view of copredication. We critically assess his account, arguing that it does not provide the correct truth-conditions for several types of sentences, especially counting sentences.

Copredication and Property Inheritance (with Ofra Magidor)

Philosophical Issues 27(1) (2017): 131-166.

Intuitively, co-predication occurs when two properties are truly predicated of a single object, where those properties cannot both be instantiated by a single object. Co-predication has led theorists to draw a number of radical conclusions, including a wholesale rejection of referential semantics. We reject the intuitive view of co-predication and the dramatic conclusions others have drawn from it. On our view, co-predication requires nothing more than familiar property instantiation, though the instantiation may hold be explained by property inheritance. A kind, for instance, may inherit properties from its members. Once this is appreciated and defended, copredication ceases to be particularly puzzling.

Counting as a Type of Measuring

Philosophers’ Imprint 16(12): 1-25

There may be two and a half bagels on the table. When there are two and a half, it is false that there are exactly two. As obvious as these claims are, they can’t be accounted for on the most straightforward and familiar views of counting and the semantics of number words. I develop a view on which counting is a type of measuring. In particular, counting involves a specific measure function. I then analyze that function and show how it can account for the cases in which counting is sensitive to partiality, e.g. partial bagels.

Sodium-Free Semantics: The Continuing Relevance of the Concept Horse

in Topics in Predication Theory, ed. Piotr Stalmaszczyk

Far from being of mere historical interest, concept horse-style expressibility problems arise for versions of type-theoretic semantics in the tradition of Montague. Grappling with expressibility problems yields lessons about the philosophical interpretation and empirical limits of such type-theories.

Does Vagueness Underlie the Mass/Count Distinction?

Synthese 193: 185-203. 

My answer to the title question is no. I motivate this answer in two ways. First, I argue against Chierchia’s (2010) attempt to explain the mass/count distinction in terms of vagueness. Second, I argue that, independently of details of Chierchia’s account, no vagueness-centric account of the mass/count distinction will succeed.

We Do Not Count By Identity 

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 93: 121-42.

It is widely assumed in psychology, philosophy, and linguistics that we count by identity. For example, to count the dogs by identity,we correlate each dog  that isn’t identical to the rest with a natural number, starting with one and assigning each successive dog the successive natural number. When we run out of distinct dogs, we’ve yielded a correct count. I argue that this model of counting is incorrect. We do not count by identity.

Predication as Ascription

Mind 124: 517-69.

I articulate and defend a necessary and sufficient condition for predication. The condition is that a term or term-occurrence stands in the relation of ascription to its designatum, ascription being a fundamental semantic relation that differs from reference. This view has dramatically different semantic consequences from its alternatives. After outlining the alternatives, I draw out these consequences and show how they favor the ascription view. I then develop the view and elicit a number of its virtues.

Quantifier Variance, Intensionality, and Metaphysical Merit

in Quantifiers, Quantifiers, and Quantifiers, ed. Alessandro Torza

Attempting to deflate ontological debates, the proponent of Quantifier Variance (QV) claims that there are multiple quantifier meanings of equal metaphysical merit. According to Hirsch—the main proponent of QV—metaphysical merit should be understood intensionally: two languages have equal merit if they allow us to express the same possibilities. I examine the notion of metaphysical merit and its purported link to intensionality. That link, I argue, should not be supported by adopting an intensional theory of semantic content. Rather, I give a general strategy for supporting claims about metaphysical merit and examine whether that strategy can be used to link merit and intensionality. Though I don’t deliver a definitive verdict, the discussion provides a clearer framework for articulating and evaluating claims about metaphysical merit.

The Normativity of Meaning

for The Oxford Handbook of Reasons and Normativity, ed. Dan Star

I consider two ways to attempt to vindicate the claim that meaning is normative.

Relations and Order-Sensitivity

Metaphysica 15: 409-429.

I ate my broccoli, though my broccoli did not eat me. The eating relation, like many other relations, differentiates between its arguments. The fact that eating holds between a and b does not entail that it holds between b and a. How are we to make sense of this? The standard view is that relations are sensitive to the order of their arguments. As natural as this view is, it has been the target of a powerful objection from Kit Fine. I examine Fine’s objection and defend the standard view.

Necessarily, Sherlock Holmes is not a Person

Analytic Philosophy 55:306-318.

In the appendix to Naming and Necessity, Kripke espouses the view that necessarily, Sherlock Holmes is not a person. To date, no compelling argument has been extracted from Kripke’s remarks. I give an argument for Kripke’s conclusion that is not only interpretively plausible but also philosophically compelling. I then defend the argument against salient objections.

Converse and Identity

dialectica 67: 137-55.

Necessarily, if I ate a slice of pizza, then that slice of pizza was eaten by me. More generally, it is necessarily true that if a relation holds between two objects in some order, its converse holds of the same objects in reverse order. What is the intimate relationship that guarantees such necessary connections? Timothy Williamson argues that the relationship between converses must be identity, on pain of the massive and systematic indeterminacy of relational predicates. If sound, Williamson’s argument overturns our standard conception of relations, according to which relations are individuated not just by the arguments they take, but by the order in which they take those arguments. I show how one can defend the standard conception against Williamson’s argument. My defense helps us to better understand both the standard conception of relations and the nature of relational predicates.

Some Puzzles About Some Puzzles About Belief

Analysis  72: 608-618

In this critical notice of Saul Kripke, edited by Alan Berger, I discuss a trio of papers on the necessary a posteriori and Kripke’s puzzle.

Causation and the Canberra Plan

Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 92: 232-242

David Lewis has a general recipe for analysis: the Canberra Plan. His analyses of mind, color, and value all proceed according to the plan. What’s curious is that his analysis of causation—one of his seminal analyses—doesn’t. It doesn’t and according to Lewis it can’t. Lewis has two objections against using the Canberra Plan to analyze causation. After presenting Lewis’ objections I argue that they both fail. I then draw some lessons from their failure.

Simple Generics

Noûs 45: 409-442 (Reprinted in Philosopher’s Annual XXXI)

Consensus has it that generic sentences such as “Dogs bark” and “Birds fly” contain, at the level of logical form, an unpronounced generic operator: Gen. On this view, generics have a tripartite structure similar to overtly quantified sentences such as “Most dogs bark” and “Typically, birds fly”. I argue that Gen doesn’t exist and that generics have a simple bipartite structure on par with ordinary atomic sentences such as “Homer is drinking”. On my view, the subject terms of generics are kind-referring. The interesting truth conditions characteristic of generics arise from the interesting ways in which kinds inherit properties from their members.

Sider on Existence (co-authored with Matti Eklund)

Noûs 41:519-28.

Ted Sider gives two arguments that the (unrestricted) existential quantifier cannot possibly be semantically indeterminate. We argue that there is a clash between the arguments: they cannot both work. Then we discuss the significance of the clash for how to conceive of the nature of ontology.