Other Papers in the Philosophy of Language and Mind


“Convention and Language”, Synthese, 117 (3) 1998: pp. 295-312. (PDF)


Abstract: This paper has three objectives. The first is to show how David Lewis’ influential account of how a population is related to its language requires that speakers be ‘conceptually autonomous’ in a way that is incompatible with content ascriptions following from the assumption that its speakers share a language. The second objective is to sketch an alternate account of the psychological and sociological facts that relate a population to its language. The third is to suggest a modification of Lewis’ account of convention that will allow one to preserve the claim that there are conventions of language.



“Foundationalism, Coherentism and Rule Following Skepticism” International Journal of Philosophical Studies, Volume 11, No. 1, (March 2003), pp. 25-41. (PDF)


Abstract: Semantic holists view what one’s terms mean as function of all of one’s beliefs and applications. Holists will thus be coherentists about how one’s usage is justified: showing that one’s usage of a term is justified involves showing how it coheres with the rest of one’s beliefs and applications. Semantic reductionists, on the other hand, will understand such justification in a classically foundationalist fashion. Now Saul Kripke has, on Wittgenstein’s behalf, famously argued for a type of scepticism about meaning and the possibility of demonstrating the correctness of one’s usage. However, Kripke’s argument has bite only if one understands justification in classically foundationalist terms. Consequently, Kripke’s arguments, if good, lead not to a type of scepticism about meaning, but rather to the conclusion that one should be a coherentist about the justification of our usage, and thus a holist about semantic facts.


“Charity, Self-Interpretation, and Belief” Journal of Philosophical Research, Volume 28 (2003), pp. 145-170. (PDF)


Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to motivate and defend a recognizable version of N. L. Wilson’s “Principle of Charity.” Doing so will involve: (1) distinguishing it from the significantly different versions of the Principle familiar through the work of Quine and Davidson; (2) showing that it is compatible with, among other things, both semantic externalism and “simulation” accounts of interpretation; and (3) explaining how it follows from plausible constraints relating to the connection between interpretation and self-interpretation. Finally, it will be argued that Charity represents a type of “minimal individualism” that is closely tied to first person authority, and that endorsing Charity in our interpretations of others reflects a commitment to capturing, from the third-person starting point, their first-personal point of view. 




“Semantic Pragmatism and A Priori Knowledge” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol 31, No. 4, (Dec 2001) pp. 455-480. (PDF)


Abstract: Hilary Putnam has famously argued that we can know that we are not brains in a vat because the hypothesis that we are is self-refuting. While Putnam’s argument has generated interest primarily as a novel response to skepticism, he originally introduced his brain in a vat scenario to help illustrate a point about the “mind/world relationship.”  In particular, he intended it to be part of an argument against the coherence of metaphysical realism, and thus to be part of a defense of his conception of truth as idealized rational acceptability.  Putnam’s discussion has already inspired a substantial body of criticism, but it will be argued here that these criticisms fail to capture the central problem with his argument. Indeed, it will be shown that, rather than simply following from his semantic externalism, Putnam’s conclusions about the self refuting character of the brain in a vat hypothesis are actually out of line with central and plausible aspects of his own account of the relationship between our minds and the world.  The criticisms that follow are thus, in many respects, ‘internal’ to Putnam’s system.  Reflections on intentionality and semantics ultimately give us no compelling reason to suppose that the beliefs expressed by claims like “I am a brain in a vat” could not be true, but (pace Putnam) this supports neither skepticism nor metaphysical realism.



"Minimalism, psychological reality, meaning and use" Gerhard Preyer and George Peter (eds), Context-Sensitivity and Semantic Minimalism: Essays in Semantics and Pragmatics.  Oxford University Press, November 2007, pp. 320-336. (PDF)


Abstract: A growing number of philosophers and linguists have argued that many, if not most, terms in our language should be understood as semantically context sensitive.  In opposition to this trend, Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore defend a view they call "Semantic Minimalism", which holds that there are virtually no semantically context sensitive expressions in English once you get past the standard list of indexicals and demonstratives such as "I", "you", "this", and "that".  While minimalism strikes many as obviously false, it will be argued here that the view is more plausible than commonly assumed if one accepts the 'normative' conception of the relation between meaning and use characteristic of the literature on semantic externalism.  That said, it is not clear that Cappelen and Lepore always conceive of their minimal semantic contents in this more normative fashion, and once this framework is place, a version of 'moderate contextualism' that they do not consider comes into view.


“Belief, Rationality and Psychophysical Laws," in the Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, Volume 9: Philosophy of Mind. Bowling Green: Philosophy Documentation Center, 2000; pp. 47-54. (PDF)


Abstract: Davidson has argued that the connection between belief and the “constitutive ideal of rationality” precludes the possibility of their being any type-type identities between mental and physical events. However, there are radically different ways to understand both the nature and the content of this “constitutive ideal,” and the plausibility of Davidson’s argument depends on blurring the distinction between two of these ways. Indeed, it will be argued here that no consistent understanding the constitutive ideal will allow it to play the dialectical role Davidson intends for it. 


“Radical Interpretation and the Permutation Principle”, Erkenntnis. 1996, v. 44, no. 3: pp. 317-326. (PDF)


Abstract: Davidson has claimed that to conclude that reference is inscrutable, one must assume that “If some theory of truth . . . is satisfactory in the light of all relevant evidence . . . then any theory that is generated from the first theory by a permutation will also be satisfactory in the light of all relevant evidence.”  However, given that theories of truth are not directly read off the world, but rather serve as parts of larger theories of behavior, this assumption is far from self-evident.  A proper understanding of the role truth theories play in theories of interpretation makes the inscrutability of reference much less wide-spread than Davidson suggests, and, as a result, the radical interpretation methodology is much less likely to saddle its defenders with counterintuitive cases of indeterminacy than is commonly supposed.


“Expression, Thought and Language”, Philosophia, Vol. 31, No. 1-2 (October 2003), pp. 33-54. (PDF)


Abstract: It is natural to think of our sincere utterances as expressions of our beliefs, and this suggests the following expressive constraint on accounts of the relation between thought and utterance content.


(EC) When a speaker expresses a belief with a sincere utterance, the utterance and the belief have the same content.


However, the two most obvious accounts of the relation between thought and language compatible with the constraint (giving an independent account of linguistic meaning and explaining thought content in terms of it, and giving an independent account of thought content and understanding linguistic meaning in terms of it) both face serious difficulties. Because of this, the following will suggest an alternative picture of the relation between thought and language that remains compatible with the constraint. Such an account will stress the interdependence of belief content and linguistic meaning, an interdependence that comes from the fact that our language is itself one of the things about which we have many beliefs. 


“Charity and the Normativity of Meaning “  Presented at the APA Pacific Division Meeting, March 2004. (PDF)


(I had planned to replace this with an updated version that is still in progress, but since this version is cited in Glüer and Wikforss’s otherwise excellent “The Normativity of Meaning and Content”, I’ll be keeping it online.)


Abstract: It has frequently been suggested that meaning is, in some important sense, normative. However, precisely what is particularly normative about it is often left without any satisfactory explanation, and the ‘normativity thesis’ has thus, justly, been called into question. Furthermore, the normativity thesis, if true, would seem to rule out a large group of popular ‘use-based’ theories of meaning, so the popularity of such theories may give one prima facie reason for being suspicious of the normativity thesis. That said, it will be argued here that the intuition that meaning is ‘normative’ is on the right track, even if many of the purported explanations for meaning’s normativity are not. In particular, rather that being particularly social, the normativity of meaning may follow from the more logical/epistemic relations between use and meaning. Because of this, some use-based theories will still be able to accommodate the normativity of meaning by allowing that while meaning supervenes upon use, the function from use to meaning is a normative one. 

“Interpretivism and ‘canonical’ ascriptions”, Studia Philosophica Estonica Vol. 10.2 (2017), pp 28-37. (PDF)


This paper investigates the crucial notion of a “canonical ascription statement” in Bruno Mölder’s Mind Ascribed, and argues that the reasons given for preferring the book’s approach of canonicallity to a more common understanding of canonicallity in terms of the ascriptions we would “ideally” make are not only unpersuasive, but also leave the interpretivist position more open to skeptical worries than it should be.  The paper further argues that the resources for a more compelling justification of Mölder’s conception of canonicality are already in Mölder’s book itself.