•  1365
    The semantics of contextual shifting and sensitivity
    Dissertation, The Australian National University. 2012.
    This thesis argues for two main points concerning the philosophy of natural language semantics. Firstly, that the objects of assertion are distinct from the entities appealed to in the compositional rules of natural language semantics. Secondly, natural languages contain context-shifting operators known as "monsters". In fact, it will be shown that these theses are simply two sides of the same coin.
  •  1311
    Descriptions which have grown capital letters
    Mind and Language 30 (3): 292-319. 2015.
    Almost entirely ignored in the linguistic theorising on names and descriptions is a hybrid form of expression which, like definite descriptions, begin with 'the' but which, like proper names, are capitalised and seem to lack descriptive content. These are expressions such as the following, 'the Holy Roman Empire', 'the Mississippi River', or 'the Space Needle'. Such capitalised descriptions are ubiquitous in natural language, but to which linguistic categories do they belong? Are they simply pro…Read more
  •  953
    The Antinomy of the Variable: A Tarskian Resolution
    Journal of Philosophy 113 (3): 137-170. 2016.
    Kit Fine has reawakened a puzzle about variables with a long history in analytic philosophy, labeling it “the antinomy of the variable”. Fine suggests that the antinomy demands a reconceptualization of the role of variables in mathematics, natural language semantics, and first-order logic. The difficulty arises because: (i) the variables ‘x’ and ‘y’ cannot be synonymous, since they make different contributions when they jointly occur within a sentence, but (ii) there is a strong temptation to s…Read more
  •  776
    At least since Aristotle’s famous 'sea-battle' passages in On Interpretation 9, some substantial minority of philosophers has been attracted to the doctrine of the open future--the doctrine that future contingent statements are not true. But, prima facie, such views seem inconsistent with the following intuition: if something has happened, then (looking back) it was the case that it would happen. How can it be that, looking forwards, it isn’t true that there will be a sea battle, while also bein…Read more
  •  640
    Does Semantic Relationism Solve Frege’s Puzzle?
    Journal of Philosophical Logic 46 (1): 97-118. 2017.
    In a series of recent works, Kit Fine, 605–631, 2003, 2007) has sketched a novel solution to Frege’s puzzle. Radically departing from previous solutions, Fine argues that Frege’s puzzle forces us to reject compositionality. In this paper we first provide an explicit formalization of the relational semantics for first-order logic suggested, but only briefly sketched, by Fine. We then show why the relational semantics alone is technically inadequate, forcing Fine to enrich the syntax with a coordi…Read more
  •  580
    Graeme Forbes (2011) raises some problems for two-dimensional semantic theories. The problems concern nested environments: linguistic environments where sentences are nested under both modal and epistemic operators. Closely related problems involving nested environments have been raised by Scott Soames (2005) and Josh Dever (2007). Soames goes so far as to say that nested environments pose the “chief technical problem” for strong two-dimensionalism. We call the problem of handling nested environ…Read more
  •  578
    Todd (2016) proposes an analysis of future-directed sentences, in particular sentences of the form 'will(φ)', that is based on the classic Russellian analysis of definite descriptions. Todd's analysis is supposed to vindicate the claim that the future is metaphysically open while retaining a simple Ockhamist semantics of future contingents and the principles of classical logic, i.e. bivalence and the law of excluded middle. Consequently, an open futurist can straightforwardly retain classical lo…Read more
  •  503
    Monsters in Kaplan’s logic of demonstratives
    Philosophical Studies 164 (2): 393-404. 2013.
    Kaplan (1989a) insists that natural languages do not contain displacing devices that operate on character—such displacing devices are called monsters. This thesis has recently faced various empirical challenges (e.g., Schlenker 2003; Anand and Nevins 2004). In this note, the thesis is challenged on grounds of a more theoretical nature. It is argued that the standard compositional semantics of variable binding employs monstrous operations. As a dramatic first example, Kaplan’s formal language, th…Read more
  •  439
    Monsters and the theoretical role of context
    with Derek Ball
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 98 (2): 392-416. 2019.
    Kaplan (1989) famously claimed that monsters--operators that shift the context--do not exist in English and "could not be added to it". Several recent theorists have pointed out a range of data that seem to refute Kaplan's claim, but others (most explicitly Stalnaker 2014) have offered a principled argument that monsters are impossible. This paper interprets and resolves the dispute. Contra appearances, this is no dry, technical matter: it cuts to the heart of a deep disagreement about the fun…Read more
  •  426
    Propositions and Multiple Indexing
    Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 1 (2): 116-124. 2012.
    It is argued that propositions cannot be the compositional semantic values of sentences (in context) simply due to issues stemming from the compositional semantics of modal operators (or modal quantifiers). In particular, the fact that the arguments for double indexing generalize to multiple indexing exposes a fundamental tension in the default philosophical conception of semantic theory. This provides further motivation for making a distinction between two sentential semantic contents—what (Dum…Read more
  •  414
    This essay investigates whether or not we should think that the things we say are identical to the things our sentences mean. It is argued that these theoretical notions should be distinguished, since assertoric content does not respect the compositionality principle. As a paradigmatic example, Kaplan's formal language LD is shown to exemplify a failure of compositionality. It is demonstrated that by respecting the theoretical distinction between the objects of assertion and compositional values…Read more
  •  388
    Binding bound variables in epistemic contexts
    Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 64 (5-6): 533-563. 2021.
    ABSTRACT Quine insisted that the satisfaction of an open modalised formula by an object depends on how that object is described. Kripke's ‘objectual’ interpretation of quantified modal logic, whereby variables are rigid, is commonly thought to avoid these Quinean worries. Yet there remain residual Quinean worries for epistemic modality. Theorists have recently been toying with assignment-shifting treatments of epistemic contexts. On such views an epistemic operator ends up binding all the variab…Read more
  •  375
    A Bridge from Semantic Value to Content
    Philosophical Topics 45 (2): 181-207. 2017.
    A common view relating compositional semantics and the objects of assertion holds the following: Sentences φ and ψ expresses the same proposition iff φ and ψ have the same modal profile. Following Dummett, Evans, and Lewis, Stanley argues that this view is fundamentally mistaken. According to Dummett, we must distinguish the semantic contribution a sentence makes to more complex expressions in which it occurs from its assertoric content. Stojnić insists that views which distinguish the roles of …Read more
  •  354
    The myth of occurrence-based semantics
    Linguistics and Philosophy 44 813-837. 2021.
    The principle of compositionality requires that the meaning of a complex expression remains the same after substitution of synonymous expressions. Alleged counterexamples to compositionality seem to force a theoretical choice: either apparent synonyms are not synonyms or synonyms do not syntactically occur where they appear to occur. Some theorists have instead looked to Frege’s doctrine of “reference shift” according to which the meaning of an expression is sensitive to its linguistic context. …Read more
  •  338
    Dangerous Reference Graphs and Semantic Paradoxes
    with Landon Rabern and Matthew Macauley
    Journal of Philosophical Logic 42 (5): 727-765. 2013.
    The semantic paradoxes are often associated with self-reference or referential circularity. Yablo (Analysis 53(4):251–252, 1993), however, has shown that there are infinitary versions of the paradoxes that do not involve this form of circularity. It remains an open question what relations of reference between collections of sentences afford the structure necessary for paradoxicality. In this essay, we lay the groundwork for a general investigation into the nature of reference structures that sup…Read more
  •  321
    Reviving the parameter revolution in semantics
    In Derek Ball & Brian Rabern (eds.), The Science of Meaning, Oxford University Press. pp. 138-171. 2018.
    Montague and Kaplan began a revolution in semantics, which promised to explain how a univocal expression could make distinct truth-conditional contributions in its various occurrences. The idea was to treat context as a parameter at which a sentence is semantically evaluated. But the revolution has stalled. One salient problem comes from recurring demonstratives: "He is tall and he is not tall". For the sentence to be true at a context, each occurrence of the demonstrative must make a different …Read more
  •  318
    A simple solution to the hardest logic puzzle ever
    Analysis 68 (2): 105-112. 2008.
    We present the simplest solution ever to 'the hardest logic puzzle ever'. We then modify the puzzle to make it even harder and give a simple solution to the modified puzzle. The final sections investigate exploding god-heads and a two-question solution to the original puzzle.
  •  287
    Frege and saving substitution
    Philosophical Studies 178 (8): 2687-2697. 2021.
    Goodman and Lederman (2020) argue that the traditional Fregean strategy for preserving the validity of Leibniz’s Law of substitution fails when confronted with apparent counterexamples involving proper names embedded under propositional attitude verbs. We argue, on the contrary, that the Fregean strategy succeeds and that Goodman and Lederman’s argument misfires.
  •  221
    Well Founding Grounding Grounding
    Journal of Philosophical Logic 45 (4): 349-379. 2016.
    Those who wish to claim that all facts about grounding are themselves grounded (“the meta-grounding thesis”) must defend against the charge that such a claim leads to infinite regress and violates the well-foundedness of ground. In this paper, we defend. First, we explore three distinct but related notions of “well-founded”, which are often conflated, and three corresponding notions of infinite regress. We explore the entailment relations between these notions. We conclude that the meta-groundin…Read more
  •  209
    Semantic monsters
    In Heimir Geirsson & Stephen Biggs (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Linguistic Reference, Routledge. pp. 515-532. 2021.
    This chapter provides a general overview of the issues surrounding so-called semantic monsters. In section 1, I outline the basics of Kaplan’s framework and spell out how and why the topic of “monsters” arises within that framework. In Section 2, I distinguish four notions of a monster that are discussed in the literature, and show why, although they can pull apart in different frameworks or with different assumptions, they all coincide within Kaplan’s framework. In Section 3, I discuss one noti…Read more
  •  180
    Might generics
    Snippets 39 8-9. 2020.
    How do generics interact with modals? This note offers one observation about an interaction with 'might' that presents a challenge for standard theories.
  •  174
    The principle of Conditional Excluded Middle has been a matter of longstanding controversy in both semantics and metaphysics. According to this principle, we are, inter alia, committed to claims like the following: If the coin had been flipped, it would have landed heads, or if the coin had been flipped, it would not have landed heads. In favour of the principle, theorists have appealed, primarily, to linguistic data such as that we tend to hear ¬(A > B) as equivalent to (A > ¬B). Williams (201…Read more
  •  163
    The paradox of self-blame
    American Philosophical Quarterly. forthcoming.
    It is widely accepted that there is what has been called a non-hypocrisy norm on the appropriateness of moral blame; roughly, one has standing to blame only if one is not guilty of the very offence one seeks to criticize. Our acceptance of this norm is embodied in the common retort to criticism, “Who are you to blame me?”. But there is a paradox lurking behind this commonplace norm. If it is always inappropriate for x to blame y for a wrong that x has committed, then all cases in which x blames …Read more
  •  111
    In contemporary natural languages semantics one will often see the use of special brackets to enclose a linguistic expression, e.g. ⟦carrot⟧. These brackets---so-called denotation brackets or semantic evaluation brackets---stand for a function that maps a linguistic expression to its "denotation" or semantic value (perhaps relative to a model or other parameters). Even though this notation has been used in one form or another since the early development of natural language semantics in the 1960s…Read more
  •  86
    By creating certain marks on paper, or by making certain sounds-breathing past a moving tongue-or by articulation of hands and bodies, language users can give expression to their mental lives. With language we command, assert, query, emote, insult, and inspire. Language has meaning. This fact can be quite mystifying, yet a science of linguistic meaning-semantics-has emerged at the intersection of a variety of disciplines: philosophy, linguistics, computer science, and psychology. Semantics is th…Read more
  •  86
    Index, context, and the content of knowledge
    In Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism, Routledge. pp. 465-479. 2017.
    The verb 'knows' is often taken to be context-sensitive in an interesting way. What 'knows' means seems to be sensitive to the epistemic features of the context, e.g. the epistemic standard in play, the set of relevant alternatives, etc. There are standard model-theoretic semantic frameworks which deal with both intensional operators and context-sensitive expressions. In this chapter, we provide a brief overview of the various moving parts of these frameworks, the roles of context and index, …Read more
  •  50
    Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 21 (edited book)
    with Rob Truswell, Chris Cummins, Caroline Heycock, and Hannah Rohde
    Semantics Archives. 2018.
    The present volume contains a collection of papers presented at the 21st annual meeting “Sinn und Bedeutung” of the Gesellschaft fur Semantik, which was held at the University of Edinburgh on September 4th–6th, 2016. The Sinn und Bedeutung conferences are one of the leading international venues for research in formal semantics.
  •  33
    The semantic paradoxes are associated with self-reference or referential circularity. However, there are infinitary versions of the paradoxes, such as Yablo's paradox, that do not involve this form of circularity. It remains an open question what relations of reference between collections of sentences afford the structure necessary for paradoxicality -- these are the so-called "dangerous" directed graphs. Building on Rabern, et. al (2013) we reformulate this problem in terms of fixed points of c…Read more