Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Linguistics and Philosophy
PhD, 1990
Helmetta, New Jersey, United States of America
  •  375
    Nature, nurture, and universal grammar
    Linguistics and Philosophy 24 (2): 139-186. 2001.
    In just a few years, children achieve a stable state of linguistic competence, making them effectively adults with respect to: understanding novel sentences, discerning relations of paraphrase and entailment, acceptability judgments, etc. One familiar account of the language acquisition process treats it as an induction problem of the sort that arises in any domain where the knowledge achieved is logically underdetermined by experience. This view highlights the cues that are available in the inp…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
  •  286
    Poverty of the Stimulus Revisited
    with Robert C. Berwick, Beracah Yankama, and Noam Chomsky
    Cognitive Science 35 (7): 1207-1242. 2011.
    A central goal of modern generative grammar has been to discover invariant properties of human languages that reflect “the innate schematism of mind that is applied to the data of experience” and that “might reasonably be attributed to the organism itself as its contribution to the task of the acquisition of knowledge” (Chomsky, 1971). Candidates for such invariances include the structure dependence of grammatical rules, and in particular, certain constraints on question formation. Various “pove…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
  •  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
  •  165
    Innate ideas
    In James A. McGilvray (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky, Cambridge University Press. pp. 164--181. 2005.
    Here's one way this chapter could go. After defining the terms 'innate' and 'idea', we say whether Chomsky thinks any ideas are innate -- and if so, which ones. Unfortunately, we don't have any theoretically interesting definitions to offer; and, so far as we know, Chomsky has never said that any ideas are innate. Since saying that would make for a very short chapter, we propose to do something else. Our aim is to locate Chomsky, as he locates himself, in a rationalist tradition where talk of in…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
  •  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
  •  140
    Fregean Innocence
    Mind and Language 11 (4): 338-370. 1996.
  •  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
  •  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
  •  103
    The meaning of 'most': Semantics, numerosity and psychology
    with Jeffrey Lidz, Tim Hunter, and Justin Halberda
    Mind and Language 24 (5): 554-585. 2009.
    The meaning of 'most' can be described in many ways. We offer a framework for distinguishing semantic descriptions, interpreted as psychological hypotheses that go beyond claims about sentential truth conditions, and an experiment that tells against an attractive idea: 'most' is understood in terms of one-to-one correspondence. Adults evaluated 'Most of the dots are yellow', as true or false, on many trials in which yellow dots and blue dots were displayed for 200 ms. Displays manipulated the ea…Read more
  •  84
    Executing the second best option
    Analysis 54 (4): 201-207. 1994.
  •  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
  •  80
    Actions, adjuncts, and agency
    Mind 107 (425): 73-111. 1998.
    The event analysis of action sentences seems to be at odds with plausible (Davidsonian) views about how to count actions. If Booth pulled a certain trigger, and thereby shot Lincoln, there is good reason for identifying Booths' action of pulling the trigger with his action of shooting Lincoln; but given truth conditions of certain sentences involving adjuncts, the event analysis requires that the pulling and the shooting be distinct events. So I propose that event sortals like 'shooting' and 'pu…Read more
  •  75
    Interface transparency and the psychosemantics of most
    with Jeffrey Lidz, Tim Hunter, and Justin Halberda
    Natural Language Semantics 19 (3): 227-256. 2011.
    This paper proposes an Interface Transparency Thesis concerning how linguistic meanings are related to the cognitive systems that are used to evaluate sentences for truth/falsity: a declarative sentence S is semantically associated with a canonical procedure for determining whether S is true; while this procedure need not be used as a verification strategy, competent speakers are biased towards strategies that directly reflect canonical specifications of truth conditions. Evidence in favor of th…Read more
  •  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
  •  68
    Systematicity via Monadicity
    Croatian Journal of Philosophy 7 (3): 343-374. 2007.
    Words indicate concepts, which have various adicities. But words do not, in general, inherit the adicities of the indicated concepts. Lots of evidence suggests that when a concept is lexicalized, it is linked to an analytically related monadic concept that can be conjoined with others. For example, the dyadic concept CHASE(_,_) might be linked to CHASE(_), a concept that applies to certain events. Drawing on a wide range of extant work, and familiar facts, I argue that the (open class) lexical i…Read more
  •  67
    Possible Worlds, Syntax, and Opacity
    Analysis 53 (4). 1993.
  •  62
    Think of the children
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 86 (4). 2008.
    Often, the deepest disagreements are about starting points, and which considerations are relevant.
  •  58
    Events and Semantic Architecture
    Oxford University Press. 2004.
    A study of how syntax relates to meaning by a leader of the new generation of philosopher-linguists.
  •  56
    Logical form
    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2008.
  •  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
  •  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.
  •  48
    Character before content
    In Judith Jarvis Thomson (ed.), Content and Modality: Themes From the Philosophy of Robert Stalnaker, Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 34--60. 2006.
    Speakers can use sentences to make assertions. Theorists who reflect on this truism often say that sentences have linguistic meanings, and that assertions have propositional contents. But how are meanings related to contents? Are meanings less dependent on the environment? Are contents more independent of language? These are large questions, which must be understood partly in terms of the phenomena that lead theorists to use words like ‘meaning’ and ‘content’, sometimes in nonstandard ways. Oppo…Read more
  •  45
    Euthyphro and the semantic
    Mind and Language 15 (2-3): 341-349. 2000.