Research

For Your Eyes Only

Dissertation

Harlequin Semantics

Dissertation Directors: Ernest Lepore and Barry Loewer

“My great principle, as regards natural things, is that of Harlequin, Emperor of the Moon,… that it is always and everywhere in all things just like here.” ~Leibniz

This dissertation is about Semantic Uniformity. Semantic Uniformity is the claim that what is true for some expressions is true for them all—at least, when it comes to semantics. In particular, I defend three claims in three chapters, in this order:

First, all simple linguistic expressions, and not just some, are non-descriptive. That is, their referents are not determined by fit with our beliefs.

Second, all simple linguistic expressions are rigid. Relative to each possible world, construed as a world of evaluation, every expression has one and the same referent.

These two claims point toward a general picture of why simple expressions refer to what they do. Simple expressions have their referents determined by the causal, informational, or lawful connections they bear to objects and properties in the world. Furthermore, this referential connection is direct in that it doesn‘t depend on the distribution of objects and properties at a world; simple expressions simply refer, and that explains their rigidity.

In the third chapter I defend the view that the same holds for complex expressions. Consensus has it that complex expressions derive their meanings from the meanings of their parts and how those parts are combined. But, I argue, a better account assumes that complex expressions have their referents determined by the causal, informational, or lawful connections they bear to objects and properties in the world, just like simple expressions.

In the background of all this is the Referentialist thesis, that there is no further aspect to meaning than reference. If Referentialism is accepted, then the argument of the dissertation is that we can have a complete theory of meaning simply by extending a direct causal theory of reference to all expressions.

Publications

Compositionality. 2015. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Moderate Intuitionism: A Metasemantic Account. (w/ Jennifer Nado) 2014. In A.R. Booth and D. Rowbottom, (eds.), Intuitions. Oxford University Press.

The Punctuation Theory of Quotation. 2011. In Elke Brendel, Jörg Meibauer, Markus Steinbach (eds.)(2011): Understanding Quotation. Linguistic and Philosophical Analyses. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter (Mouton Series in Pragmatics).

Misrepresenting Misrepresentation (w/ Ernie Lepore). 2011. In Elke Brendel, Jörg Meibauer, Markus Steinbach (eds.)(2011): Understanding Quotation. Linguistic and Philosophical Analyses. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter (Mouton Series in Pragmatics).

Drafts

“Rigidity for the Common Noun”. Abstract: In this essay, I argue for a specific view of what rigidity is for general terms. The view is that a general term is rigid iff if it expresses property P relative to some world, then it expresses P relative to all worlds. I argue that this view is better than the relevant alternatives (in particular, Rigid Application), and that objections to it in the literature, especially the triviality objection, are ill-founded. I explain why the view should be true, and explore what rigidity is for a wider variety of grammatical expressions.

“Moderate Intuitionism” (w/ Jennifer Nado). Abstract: We suggest an outline for a metasemantic account which ties facts about meanings to dispositions to apply words when in possession of complete information. We show that this sort of account both fits our metasemantic intuitions and predicts a link between intuition and meaning which could underwrite the former’s reliability. At the same time, the account also predicts that intuitions will fail under certain conditions. This fits well with how the empirical evidence on intuition turns out. This general fit between our account and the evidence provides support both for the metasemantic account itself (or some other account along the same lines), as well as for the moderate approach to intuition.

Talks

Pure Quotation and Natural Naming, 26 September 2016, Lingnan University

Conference

Dispositional Metasemantics, 7 Apr 2016, HKU

Why Inner Speech? Taiyuan University

Indexicality, Quotation, and the 18th Century Novel (Powerpoint) Presented at Hong Kong University, 11 September 2014.

Why Inner Speech? (Powerpoint) Presented at the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology, Granada, 12 July 2013. Conference paper here.

Inner Speech (Powerpoint Slides) Presented at Lingnan University, on 18 February 2013.

Metasemantics of Complex Expressions (Powerpoint Slides) Presented at the National University of Singapore, on 8 October 2012 (poster).

Rigid Application (Powerpoint Slides) Presented at the International Conference on Kripke, Logic, and Philosophy at Peking University on 3 September 2012.

More on the Problematic de se (Powerpoint Slides) Presented at the Workshop on the Philosophy of Michael Devitt at Lingnan University on 1 May 2012.

Linguistic Intuitions (Powerpoint Slides) Presented to the University of Hong Kong philosophy department on 10 November 2011.