•  746
    Relativism and disagreement
    Philosophical Studies 132 (1): 17-31. 2007.
    The relativist's central objection to contextualism is that it fails to account for the disagreement we perceive in discourse about "subjective" matters, such as whether stewed prunes are delicious. If we are to adjudicate between contextualism and relativism, then, we must first get clear about what it is for two people to disagree. This question turns out to be surprisingly difficult to answer. A partial answer is given here; although it is incomplete, it does help shape what the relativist mu…Read more
  •  696
    Ifs and Oughts
    Journal of Philosophy 107 (3): 115-143. 2010.
    We consider a paradox involving indicative conditionals (‘ifs’) and deontic modals (‘oughts’). After considering and rejecting several standard options for resolv- ing the paradox—including rejecting various premises, positing an ambiguity or hidden contextual sensitivity, and positing a non-obvious logical form—we offer a semantics for deontic modals and indicative conditionals that resolves the paradox by making modus ponens invalid. We argue that this is a result to be welcomed on independent…Read more
  •  451
    Making sense of relative truth
    Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 105 (3). 2005.
    The goal of this paper is to make sense of relativism about truth. There are two key ideas. (1) To be a relativist about truth is to allow that a sentence or proposition might be assessment-sensitive: that is, its truth value might vary with the context of assessment as well as the context of use. (2) Making sense of relativism is a matter of understanding what it would be to commit oneself to the truth of an assessment-sensitive sentence or proposition.
  •  433
    Nonindexical contextualism
    Synthese 166 (2): 231-250. 2009.
    Philosophers on all sides of the contextualism debates have had an overly narrow conception of what semantic context sensitivity could be. They have conflated context sensitivity (dependence of truth or extension on features of context) with indexicality (dependence of content on features of context). As a result of this conflation, proponents of contextualism have taken arguments that establish only context sensitivity to establish indexicality, while opponents of contextualism have taken argum…Read more
  •  359
    Frege, Kant, and the logic in logicism
    Philosophical Review 111 (1): 25-65. 2002.
    Let me start with a well-known story. Kant held that logic and conceptual analysis alone cannot account for our knowledge of arithmetic: “however we might turn and twist our concepts, we could never, by the mere analysis of them, and without the aid of intuition, discover what is the sum [7+5]” (KrV, B16). Frege took himself to have shown that Kant was wrong about this. According to Frege’s logicist thesis, every arithmetical concept can be defined in purely logical terms, and every theorem of a…Read more
  •  293
    What Is Assertion
    In Jessica Brown & Herman Cappelen (eds.), Assertion, Oxford University Press. 2011.
    To assert something is to perform a certain kind of act. This act is different in kind both from other speech acts, like questions, requests, commands, promises, and apologies, and from acts that are not speech acts, like toast buttering and inarticulate yodeling. My question, then is this: what features of an act qualify it as an assertion, and not one of these other kinds of act? To focus on a particular example: in uttering “Bill will close the window,” one might be practicing English pronunc…Read more
  •  258
    Future contingents and relative truth
    Philosophical Quarterly 53 (212). 2003.
    If it is not now determined whether there will be a sea battle tomorrow, can an assertion that there will be one be true? The problem has persisted because there are compelling arguments on both sides. If there are objectively possible futures which would make the prediction true and others which would make it false, symmetry considerations seem to forbid counting it either true or false. Yet if we think about how we would assess the prediction tomorrow, when a sea battle is raging (or not), it …Read more
  •  254
    John MacFarlane explores how we might make sense of the idea that truth is relative. He provides new, satisfying accounts of parts of our thought and talk that have resisted traditional methods of analysis, including what we mean when we talk about what is tasty, what we know, what will happen, what might be the case, and what we ought to do.
  •  243
    Pragmatism and inferentialism
    In Bernhard Weiss & Jeremy Wanderer (eds.), Reading Brandom: On Making It Explici, Routledge. pp. 81--95. 2010.
    One of the central themes of Brandom’s work is that we should construct our sematic theories around material validity and incompatibility, rather than reference, truth, and satisfaction. This approach to semantics is motivated in part by Brandom’s pragmatism about the relation between semantics and the more general study of language use—what he calls “pragmatics”: Inferring is a kind of doing. . . . The status of inference as something that can be done accordingly holds out the promise of securi…Read more
  •  218
    Truth in the Garden of Forking Paths
    In Manuel García-Carpintero & Max Kölbel (eds.), Relative Truth, Oxford University Press. pp. 81--102. 2008.
    From García-Carpintero and Kölbel, eds, Relative Truth
  •  216
    The Assessment Sensitivity of Knowledge Attributions
    In Tamar Szabo Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Oxford Studies in Epistemology, Oxford University Press. pp. 197--234. 2005.
    Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in the semantics of knowledge-attributing sentences, not just among epistemologists but among philosophers of language seeking a general understanding of linguistic context sensitivity. Despite all this critical attention, however, we are as far from consensus as ever. If we have learned anything, it is that each of the standard views—invariantism, contextualism, and sensitive invariantism—has its Achilles’ heel: a residuum of facts about our use o…Read more
  •  211
    According to “sensitive invariantism,” the word “know” expresses the same relation in every context of use, but what it takes to stand in this relation to a proposition can vary with the subject’s circumstances. Sensitive invariantism looks like an attractive reconciliation of invariantism and contextualism. However, it is incompatible with a widely-held view about the way knowledge is transmitted through testimony. If both views were true, someone whose evidence for p fell short of what was req…Read more
  •  189
    Semantic Minimalism and Nonindexical Contextualism
    In Gerhard Preyer & Georg Peter (eds.), Context-Sensitivity and Semantic Minimalism: New Essays on Semantics and Pragmatics, Oxford University Press. pp. 240--250. 2007.
    According to Semantic Minimalism, every use of "Chiara is tall" (fixing the girl and the time) semantically expresses the same proposition, the proposition that Chiara is (just plain) tall. Given standard assumptions, this proposition ought to have an intension (a function from possible worlds to truth values). However, speakers tend to reject questions that presuppose that it does. I suggest that semantic minimalists might address this problem by adopting a form of "nonindexical contextualism,"…Read more
  •  186
    I want to discuss a puzzle about the semantics of epistemic modals, like “It might be the case that” as it occurs in “It might be the case that Goldbach’s conjecture is false.”1 I’ll argue that the puzzle cannot be adequately explained on standard accounts of the semantics of epistemic modals, and that a proper solution requires relativizing utterance truth to a context of assessment, a semantic device whose utility and coherence I have defended elsewhere for future contingents (MacFarlane..
  •  178
    Epistemic modals are assessment-sensitive
    In Andy Egan & B. Weatherson (eds.), Epistemic Modality, Oxford University Press. 2011.
    By “epistemic modals,” I mean epistemic uses of modal words: adverbs like “necessarily,” “possibly,” and “probably,” adjectives like “necessary,” “possible,” and “probable,” and auxiliaries like “might,” “may,” “must,” and “could.” It is hard to say exactly what makes a word modal, or what makes a use of a modal epistemic, without begging the questions that will be our concern below, but some examples should get the idea across. If I say “Goldbach’s conjecture might be true, and it might be fals…Read more
  •  165
    Boghossian, Bellarmine, and Bayes
    Philosophical Studies 141 (3): 391-398. 2008.
    As Paul Boghossian sees it, postmodernist relativists and constructivists are paralyzed by a “fear of knowledge.” For example, they lack the courage to say, in the face of the Lakotas’ claim that their ancestors came from inside the earth, that it is a matter of known fact that their ancestors came across the Bering Strait. To avoid this, they accept the nonconfrontational view Boghossian calls..
  •  163
    McDowell's Kantianism
    Theoria 70 (2-3): 250-265. 2004.
    In recent work, John McDowell has urged that we resurrect the Kantian thesis that concepts without intuitions are empty. I distinguish two forms of the thesis: a strong form that applies to all concepts and a weak form that is limited to empirical concepts. Because McDowell rejects Kant’s philosophy of mathematics, he can accept only the weaker form of the thesis. But this position is unstable. The reasoning behind McDowell’s insistence that empirical concepts can have content only if they are a…Read more
  •  162
    Brandom’s Demarcation of Logic
    Philosophical Topics 36 (2): 55-62. 2008.
    This is a lightly edited version of my comments on Brandom’s Lecture 2, as delivered in Prague at the “Prague Locke Lectures” in April, 2007. I try to say why Brandom’s proposed demarcation is significant, by placing it in a broader context of demarcation proposals from Kant to the twentieth century. I then raise some questions about the basic ingredients of Brandom’s demarcation—the notions of PP-sufficiency and VP-sufficiency—and question whether the vocabulary of conditionals, Brandom’s parad…Read more
  •  161
    What Does It Mean to Say That Logic is Formal?
    Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. 2000.
    Much philosophy of logic is shaped, explicitly or implicitly, by the thought that logic is distinctively formal and abstracts from material content. The distinction between formal and material does not appear to coincide with the more familiar contrasts between a priori and empirical, necessary and contingent, analytic and synthetic—indeed, it is often invoked to explain these. Nor, it turns out, can it be explained by appeal to schematic inference patterns, syntactic rules, or grammar. What doe…Read more
  •  154
    Logical constants
    Mind. 2008.
    Logic is usually thought to concern itself only with features that sentences and arguments possess in virtue of their logical structures or forms. The logical form of a sentence or argument is determined by its syntactic or semantic structure and by the placement of certain expressions called “logical constants.”[1] Thus, for example, the sentences Every boy loves some girl. and Some boy loves every girl. are thought to differ in logical form, even though they share a common syntactic and semant…Read more
  •  137
    Much of The Reason’s Proper Study is devoted to defending the claim that simply by stipulating an abstraction principle for the “number-of” functor, we can simultaneously fix a meaning for this functor and acquire epistemic entitlement to the stipulated principle. In this paper, I argue that the semantic and epistemological principles Hale and Wright offer in defense of this claim may be too strong for their purposes. For if these principles are correct, it is hard to see why they do not justify…Read more
  •  129
    Richard on truth and commitment (review)
    Philosophical Studies 160 (3). 2012.
    Richard on truth and commitment Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-9 DOI 10.1007/s11098-011-9795-1 Authors John MacFarlane, Department of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA Journal Philosophical Studies Online ISSN 1573-0883 Print ISSN 0031-8116
  •  103
    Vagueness and Thought (review)
    Philosophical Review 129 (1): 153-158. 2020.
  •  89
    Aristotle's definition of anagnorisis
    American Journal of Philology 121 (3): 367-383. 2000.
    I argue for a new construal of Aristotle’s definition of anagnorisis (recognition) in Poetics 11. Virtually all translators and interpreters of the definition have understood the phrase ton pros eutuchian e dustuchian horismenon as a subjective genitive characterizing the persons involved in the recognition. I argue that it should instead be taken as a partitive genitive characterizing the genus of changes (metabolon) of which recognitions are a species. In addition to being preferable on philog…Read more
  •  83
    Fuzzy Epistemicism
    In Richard Dietz & Sebastiano Moruzzi (eds.), Cuts and Clouds. Vaguenesss, its Nature and its Logic, Oxford University Press. 2010.
    It is taken for granted in much of the literature on vagueness that semantic and epistemic approaches to vagueness are fundamentally at odds. If we can analyze borderline cases and the sorites paradox in terms of degrees of truth, then we don’t need an epistemic explanation. Conversely, if an epistemic explanation suffices, then there is no reason to depart from the familiar simplicity of classical bivalent semantics. I question this assumption, showing that there is an intelligible motivation for…Read more
  •  81
    The Logic of Confusion (review)
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (3): 700-708. 2007.
    In Confusion: A Study in the Theory of Knowledge, Joseph Camp argues that the reasoning of a person who has confused two objects in her thought and talk ought to be appraised using a four-valued relevance logic. I discuss two key moves in Camp’s argument: the assumption that charity to the reasoner requires recognition of her arguments as valid, and the argument that validity for a truth-valueless discourse should not be defined in terms of truth preservation. I then question whether Camp’s four…Read more
  •  63
    Replies to Raffman, Stanley, and Wright
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 92 (1): 197-202. 2016.
  •  53
    Facing Facts (review)
    Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 200208. 2002.