Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Linguistics and Philosophy
PhD, 1990
Helmetta, New Jersey, United States of America
  •  7
    The mental representation of universal quantifiers
    with Tyler Knowlton, Justin Halberda, and Jeffrey Lidz
    Linguistics and Philosophy 1-31. forthcoming.
    A sentence like every circle is blue might be understood in terms of individuals and their properties or in terms of a relation between groups. Relatedly, theorists can specify the contents of universally quantified sentences in first-order or second-order terms. We offer new evidence that this logical first-order vs. second-order distinction corresponds to a psychologically robust individual vs. group distinction that has behavioral repercussions. Participants were shown displays of dots and as…Read more
  •  9
    Précis of Conjoining Meanings
    Croatian Journal of Philosophy 20 (3): 271-282. 2020.
    In Conjoining Meanings, I argue that meanings are composable instructions for how to build concepts of a special kind. In this summary of the main line of argument, I stress that proposals about what linguistic meanings are should make room for the phenomenon of lexical polysemy. On my internalist proposal, a single lexical item can be used to access various concepts on different occasions of use. And if lexical items are often “conceptually equivocal” in this way, then some familiar arguments f…Read more
  •  38
    A narrow path from meanings to contents
    Philosophical Studies 178 (9): 3027-3035. 2020.
    In this comment on Yli-Vakkuri and Hawthorne's illuminating book, Narrow Content, I address some issues related to externalist conceptions of linguistic meaning.
  •  23
    Responses to comments on Conjoining meanings
    Mind and Language 35 (2): 266-273. 2020.
  •  11
    Fostering Liars
    Topoi 40 (1): 5-25. 2021.
    Davidson conjectured that suitably formulated Tarski-style theories of truth can “do duty” as theories of meaning for the spoken languages that humans naturally acquire. But this conjecture faces a pair of old objections that are, in my view, fatal when combined. Foster noted that given any theory of the sort Davidson envisioned, for a language L, there will be many equally true theories whose theorems pair endlessly many sentences of L with very different specifications of whether or not those …Read more
  •  54
    Function and concatenation
    In Georg Peter & Gerhard Preyer (eds.), Logical Form and Language, Oxford University Press. pp. 91--117. 2002.
    Paul M. Pietroski, University of Maryland For any sentence of a natural language, we can ask the following questions: what is its meaning; what is its syntactic structure; and how is its meaning related to its syntactic structure? Attending to these questions, as they apply to sentences that provide evidence for Davidsonian event analyses, suggests that we reconsider some traditional views about how the syntax of a natural sentence is related to its meaning.
  •  12
    Describing I-junction
    ProtoSociology 31 121-137. 2014.
    The meaning of a noun phrase like ‘brown cow’, or ‘cow that ate grass’, is somehow conjunctive. But conjunctive in what sense? Are the meanings of other phrases—e.g, ‘ate quickly’, ‘ate grass’, and ‘at noon’—similarly conjunctive? I suggest a possible answer, in the context of a broader conception of natural language semantics. But my main aim is to highlight some underdiscussed questions and some implications of our ignorance.
  • Causing Actions
    Philosophy 78 (303): 128-132. 2000.
  •  223
    Intentionality and teleological error
    Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 73 (3): 267-82. 1992.
    Theories of content purport to explain, among other things, in virtue of what beliefs have the truth conditions they do have. The desire for such a theory has many sources, but prominent among them are two puzzling facts that are notoriously difficult to explain: beliefs can be false, and there are normative constraints on the formation of beliefs.2 If we knew in virtue of what beliefs had truth conditions, we would be better positioned to explain how it is possible for an agent to believe that …Read more
  •  250
    A Defense of Derangement
    Canadian Journal of Philosophy 24 (1). 1994.
    In a recent paper, Bar-On and Risjord (henceforth, 'B&R') contend that Davidson provides no 1 good argument for his (in)famous claim that "there is no such thing as a language." And according to B&R, if Davidson had established his "no language" thesis, he would thereby have provided a decisive reason for abandoning the project he has long advocated--viz., that of trying to provide theories of meaning for natural languages by providing recursive theories of truth for such languages. For he would…Read more
  •  54
    Semantic monadicity with conceptual polyadicity
    In Wolfram Hinzen, Edouard Machery & Markus Werning (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality, Oxford University Press. 2012.
    Many concepts, which can be constituents of thoughts, are somehow indicated with words that can be constituents of sentences. But this assumption is compatible with many hypotheses about the concepts lexicalized, linguistic meanings, and the relevant forms of composition. The lexical items simply label the concepts they lexicalize, and that composition of lexical meanings mirrors composition of the labeled concepts, which exhibit diverse adicities. If a phrase must be understood as an instructio…Read more
  •  162
    Why language acquisition is a snap
    Linguistic Review. 2002.
    Nativists inspired by Chomsky are apt to provide arguments with the following general form: languages exhibit interesting generalizations that are not suggested by casual (or even intensive) examination of what people actually say; correspondingly, adults (i.e., just about anyone above the age of four) know much more about language than they could plausibly have learned on the basis of their experience; so absent an alternative account of the relevant generalizations and speakers' (tacit) knowle…Read more
  •  83
    On explaining that
    Journal of Philosophy 97 (12): 655-662. 2000.
    How can a speaker can explain that P without explaining the fact that P, or explain the fact that P without explaining that P, even when it is true (and so a fact) that P? Or in formal mode: what is the semantic contribution of 'explain' such that 'She explained that P' can be true, while 'She explained the fact that P' is false (or vice versa), even when 'P' is true? The proposed answer is that 'explained' is a semantically monadic predicate, satisfied by events of explaining. But 'the fact tha…Read more
  •  16
    Logical Form and LF
    In Ernest Lepore & Barry C. Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language, Oxford University Press. pp. 822--841. 2006.
    We can use sentences to present arguments, some of which are valid. This suggests that premises and conclusions, like sentences, have structure. This in turn raises questions about how logical structure is related to grammar, and how grammatical structure is related to thought and truth.
  •  36
    Framing Event Variables
    Erkenntnis 80 (1): 31-60. 2015.
    Davidsonian analyses of action reports like ‘Alvin chased Theodore around a tree’ are often viewed as supporting the hypothesis that sentences of a human language H have truth conditions that can be specified by a Tarski-style theory of truth for H. But in my view, simple cases of adverbial modification add to the reasons for rejecting this hypothesis, even though Davidson rightly diagnosed many implications involving adverbs as cases of conjunct-reduction in the scope of an existential quantifi…Read more
  •  159
    I argue that linguistic meanings are instructions to build monadic concepts that lie between lexicalizable concepts and truth-evaluable judgments. In acquiring words, humans use concepts of various adicities to introduce concepts that can be fetched and systematically combined via certain conjunctive operations, which require monadic inputs. These concepts do not have Tarskian satisfaction conditions. But they provide bases for refinements and elaborations that can yield truth-evaluable judgment…Read more
  •  155
    Mental causation for dualists
    Mind and Language 9 (3): 336-366. 1994.
    The philosophical problem of mental causation concerns a clash between commonsense and scientific views about the causation of human behaviour. On the one hand, commonsense suggests that our actions are caused by our mental states—our thoughts, intentions, beliefs and so on. On the other hand, neuroscience assumes that all bodily movements are caused by neurochemical events. It is implausible to suppose that our actions are causally overdetermined in the same way that the ringing of a bell may b…Read more
  •  67
    Possible Worlds, Syntax, and Opacity
    Analysis 53 (4). 1993.
  •  121
    Brass tacks in linguistic theory: Innate grammatical principles
    with Stephen Grain and Andrea Gualmini
    In Peter Carruthers, Stephen Laurence & Stephen P. Stich (eds.), The Innate Mind: Structure and Contents, Oxford University Press New York. pp. 1--175. 2005.
    In the normal course of events, children manifest linguistic competence equivalent to that of adults in just a few years. Children can produce and understand novel sentences, they can judge that certain strings of words are true or false, and so on. Yet experience appears to dramatically underdetermine the com- petence children so rapidly achieve, even given optimistic assumptions about children’s nonlinguistic capacities to extract information and form generalizations on the basis of statistica…Read more
  •  23
    Knowledge by ignoring
    with Susan J. Dwyer
    Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (5): 781-781. 1999.
    Some cases of implicit knowledge involve representations of (implicitly) known propositions, but this is not the only important type of implicit knowledge. Chomskian linguistics suggests another model of how humans can know more than is accessible to consciousness. Innate capacities to focus on a small range of possibilities, thereby ignoring many others, need not be grounded by inner representations of any possibilities ignored. This model may apply to many domains where human cognition “fills …Read more
  •  366
    When Other Things Aren’t Equal: Saving Ceteris Paribus Laws from Vacuity
    with Georges Rey
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 46 (1): 81-110. 1995.
    A common view is that ceteris paribus clauses render lawlike statements vacuous, unless such clauses can be explicitly reformulated as antecedents of ?real? laws that face no counterinstances. But such reformulations are rare; and they are not, we argue, to be expected in general. So we defend an alternative sufficient condition for the non-vacuity of ceteris paribus laws: roughly, any counterinstance of the law must be independently explicable, in a sense we make explicit. Ceteris paribus laws …Read more
  •  111
    Experiencing the facts (critical notice of McDowell)
    Canadian Journal of Philosophy 26 (4): 613-36. 1996.
    The general topic of "Mind and World", the written version of John McDowell's 1991 John Locke Lectures, is how `concepts mediate the relation between minds and the world'. And one of the main aims is `to suggest that Kant should still have a central place in our discussion of the way thought bears on reality' (1).1 In particular, McDowell urges us to adopt a thesis that he finds in Kant, or perhaps in Strawson's Kant: the content of experience is conceptualized; _what_ we experience is always th…Read more
  •  34
    A “should” too many
    Behavioral and Brain Sciences 17 (1): 26-27. 1994.
  •  74
    Believing in language
    with Susan Dwyer
    Philosophy of Science 63 (3): 338-373. 1996.
    We propose that the generalizations of linguistic theory serve to ascribe beliefs to humans. Ordinary speakers would explicitly (and sincerely) deny having these rather esoteric beliefs about language--e.g., the belief that an anaphor must be bound in its governing category. Such ascriptions can also seem problematic in light of certain theoretical considerations having to do with concept possession, revisability, and so on. Nonetheless, we argue that ordinary speakers believe the propositions e…Read more
  •  19
    On Explaining That
    Journal of Philosophy 97 (12): 655. 2000.
  •  33
    LOT 2: The Language of Thought Revisited (review)
    Journal of Philosophy 107 (12): 653-658. 2010.