•  170
    Intention and Commitment in Speech Acts
    Theoretical Linguistics 45 (1–2). 2019.
    What is a speech act, and what makes it count as one kind of speech act rather than another? In the target article, Geurts considers two ways of answering these questions. His opponent is intentionalism—the view that performing a speech act is a matter of acting with a communicative intention, and that speech acts of different kinds involve intentions to affect hearers in different ways. Geurts offers several objections to intentionalism. Instead, he articulates and defends an admirably clear …Read more
  •  134
    Intentionalism is a research program that seeks to explain facts about meaning and communication in psychological terms, with our capacity for intention recognition playing a starring role. My aim here is to recommend a methodological reorientation in this program. Instead of a focus on intuitive counterexamples to proposals about necessary-and-sufficient conditions, we should aim to investigate the psychological mechanisms whose activities and interactions explain our capacity to communicate. T…Read more
  •  97
    The History and Prehistory of Natural-Language Semantics
    In Sandra Lapointe & Christopher Pincock (eds.), Innovations in the History of Analytical Philosophy, Palgrave-macmillan. pp. 149--194. 2017.
    Contemporary natural-language semantics began with the assumption that the meaning of a sentence could be modeled by a single truth condition, or by an entity with a truth-condition. But with the recent explosion of dynamic semantics and pragmatics and of work on non- truth-conditional dimensions of linguistic meaning, we are now in the midst of a shift away from a truth-condition-centric view and toward the idea that a sentence’s meaning must be spelled out in terms of its various roles in conv…Read more
  •  68
    Intentionalism and Bald-Faced Lies
    Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy. forthcoming.
    In Lying and Insincerity, Andreas Stokke argues that bald-faced lies are genuine lies, and that lies are always assertions. Since bald-faced lies seem not to be aimed at convincing addressees of their contents, Stokke concludes that assertions needn’t have this aim. This conflicts with a traditional version of intentionalism, originally due to Grice, on which asserting something is a matter of communicatively intending for one’s addressee to believe it. I argue that Stokke’s own account of bald-…Read more
  •  51
    How the Philosophy of Language Grew Out of Analytic Philosophy
    In Piotr Stalmaszczyk (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Philosophy of Language, Cambridge University Press. forthcoming.
    This chapter tells the story of how the philosophy of language, as it exists now, grew out of work in the history of analytic philosophy. I pay particular attention to the history of semantics, to debates about propositional content, and to the origins of contemporary pragmatics and speech-act theory. I identify an overarching narrative: Many of the ideas that are now used to understand natural language on its own terms were originally developed not for this purpose, but as methodological tools …Read more
  •  138
    Semantics without Semantic Content
    Mind and Language. forthcoming.
    I argue that semantics is the study of the proprietary database of a centrally inaccessible and informationally encapsulated input–output system. This system’s role is to encode and decode partial and defeasible evidence of what speakers are saying. Since information about nonlinguistic context is therefore outside the purview of semantic processing, a sentence’s semantic value is not its content but a partial and defeasible constraint on what it can be used to say. I show how to translate this …Read more
  •  187
    We give a brief overview of several recent strands of speech-act theory, and then survey some issues in social and political philosophy can be profitably understood in speech-act-theoretic terms. Our topics include the social contract, the law, the creation and reinforcement of social norms and practices, silencing, and freedom of speech.
  •  53
    We talk to people, not contexts
    Philosophical Studies 177 (9): 2713-2733. 2020.
    According to a popular family of theories, assertions and other communicative acts should be understood as attempts to change the context of a conversation. Contexts, on this view, are publicly shared bodies of information that evolve over the course of a conversation and that play a range of semantic and pragmatic roles. I argue that this view is mistaken: performing a communicative act requires aiming to change the mind of one’s addressee, but not necessarily the context. Although changing the…Read more
  •  4
    Speech Act Theoretic Semantics
    Dissertation, CUNY. 2014.
    I defend the view that linguistic meaning is a relation borne by an expression to a type of speech act, and that this relation holds in virtue of our overlapping communicative dispositions, and not in virtue of linguistic conventions. I argue that this theory gives the right account of the semantics–pragmatics interface and the best-available semantics for non-declarative clauses, and show that it allows for the construction of a rigorous compositional semantic theory with greater explanatory po…Read more
  •  15
    Speaker Reference and Cognitive Architecture
    Croatian Journal of Philosophy 17 (3): 319-349. 2017.
    Philosophers of language inspired by Grice have long sought to show how facts about reference boil down to facts about speakers’ communicative intentions. I focus on a recent attempt by Stephen Neale, who argues that referring with an expression requires having a special kind of communicative intention—one that involves representing an occurrence of the expression as standing in some particular relation to its referent. Neale raises a problem for this account: because some referring expressions …Read more
  •  18
    A Puzzle about Context and Communicative Acts
    ProtoSociology 34 119-143. 2017.
    A context-directed theory of communicative acts is one that thinks of a communicative act as a proposal to change the context in some way. I focus on three influential examples: Robert Stalnaker’s theory of assertion, Craige Roberts’ theory of questions, and Paul Portner’s theory of directives. These theories distinguish different categories of communicative acts by distinguishing the components of context that they aim to change. I argue that the components of context they posit turn out not to…Read more
  •  994
    Speech Acts: The Contemporary Theoretical Landscape
    with Daniel Fogal and Matt Moss
    In Daniel Fogal, Matt Moss & Daniel Harris (eds.), New Work on Speech Acts, Oxford University Press. 2018.
    What makes it the case that an utterance constitutes an illocutionary act of a given kind? This is the central question of speech-act theory. Answers to it—i.e., theories of speech acts—have proliferated. Our main goal in this chapter is to clarify the logical space into which these different theories fit. We begin, in Section 1, by dividing theories of speech acts into five families, each distinguished from the others by its account of the key ingredients in illocutionary acts. Are speech acts…Read more
  •  505
    Wittgenstein’s influence on Austin’s philosophy of language
    British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26 (2): 371-395. 2018.
    Many philosophers have assumed, without argument, that Wittgenstein influenced Austin. More often, however, this is vehemently denied, especially by those who knew Austin personally. We compile and assess the currently available evidence for Wittgenstein’s influence on Austin’s philosophy of language. Surprisingly, this has not been done before in any detail. On the basis of both textual and circumstantial evidence we show that Austin’s work demonstrates substantial engagement with Wittgenstein’…Read more
  •  14
    Intentionalism versus The New Conventionalism
    Croatian Journal of Philosophy 16 (2): 173-201. 2016.
    Are the properties of communicative acts grounded in the intentions with which they are performed, or in the conventions that govern them? The latest round in this debate has been sparked by Ernie Lepore and Matthew Stone, who argue that much more of communication is conventional than we thought, and that the rest isn’t really communication after all, but merely the initiation of open-ended imaginative thought. I argue that although Lepore and Stone may be right about many of the specific cases …Read more
  •  96
    New Work on Speech Acts (edited book)
    with Daniel Fogal and Matt Moss
    Oxford University Press. 2018.
    This volume presents new essays by leading figures in speech-act theory, the interdisciplinary study of things we do with words. They range over formal semantics and pragmatics, foundational issues about the nature of linguistic representation, and issues at the intersection of the philosophy of language, ethics, and political philosophy.
  •  154