‘A counterexample to variabilism’

Analysis, 76(1):26–29, 2016

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Abstract Recent literature contains influential arguments for variabilism, the view that we should understand proper names as analogues not of constants, but of variables. In particular, proper names are said to sometimes take semantic values that are not referential but purely general. I present a counterexample to this view.

Keywords proper names, semantics, donkey anaphora, discourse binding

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‘Objective truth in matters of taste’

Philosophical Studies, 173(7):1755–1777, 2016

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Abstract In matters of personal taste, faultless disagreement occurs between people who disagree over what is tasty, fun, etc., in those cases when each of these people seems equally far from the objective truth. Faultless disagreement is often taken as evidence that truth is relative. This article aims to help us avoid the truth-relativist conclusion. The article, however, does not argue directly against relativism; instead, the article defends non-relative truth constructively, aiming to explain faultless disagreement with the resources of semantic contextualism. To this end the article describes and advocates a contextualist solution inspired by supervaluationist truth-value gap approaches. The solution presented here, however, does not require truth value gaps; it preserves both logical bivalence and non-relative truth, even while it acknowledges and explains the possibility of faultless disagreement. The solution is motivated by the correlation between assertions’ being true and their being useful. This correlation, furthermore, is used not only to tell which assertions are true, but also to determine which linguistic intuitions are reliable.

Keywords disagreement, relativism, contextualism, natural language semantics, linguistic intuitions, truth values

‘A new source of data about singular thought’

Philosophia, 41(4):1159-1172, 2013

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Abstract Philosophers have justified extant theories of singular thought in at least three ways: they have invoked wide-ranging theories motivated by data from other philosophical areas, they have elicited direct intuitions about which thoughts are singular, and they have subjected propositional attitude reports to tests such as Russellian substitution and Quinean exportation. In these ways, however, we haven’t yet been able to tell what it takes to have singular thoughts, nor have we been able to tell which of our thoughts they are. I propose, therefore, a methodological contribution, a new source of data about singular thought. We can tell whether a thought is singular if we ask what we can coherently deny at the same time at which we agree with the thought. When we agree with a thought that is general, we cannot coherently deny about the thought’s subject a certain description, the one that occurs in the thought’s subject position. To show how to use this new data source, I develop a linguistic method for testing whether a speaker expresses a singular or a general thought.

Keywords Singular thought, Psychosemantics, Methodology, Agreement, Disagreement