Select works in progress and publications
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Book project on linguistic reality, still untitled
Abstract: At the most basic level of linguistic theorizing there are disagreements about the nature of language itself, what a linguistic entity is like, and where to mark the boundaries of those entities. Any set of assumptions about the nature of language drives the structure, methods, and conclusions about linguistic phenomena. This book lays bare these assumptions by theorists of language (philosophers, linguists, psychologists, anthropologists) at various points in history. Although the range in this book is historically broad, it is not meant to be comprehensive. Instead, it reveals argumentative patterns that have implicitly shaped what we take to be possible explanations in linguistic theorizing.
1. Origin Stories: Everybody has a story for the origin of human language: divine origins, family trees, early hominids manipulating political sympathies. We can learn about mother tongues and proto-languages from pidgins, child development, and linguistic universals. Each approach tells a different story about what we're looking for and what we think language is.
2. The Idiosyncrasy of Human Linguistic Competence: Is human language different in degree, but not in kind, from other natural forms of communication? Is human language integrated with, and should be understood in terms of, other psychological and cognitive capacities? Taking a stance on each of these questions has framed much of the study of language throughout history.
3. Empiricism and Rationalism in Linguistic Theory: There is a divergence in method in the study of language: On one hand, language is conceived as an abstract object idealized away from any facts about history, usage, or realization in a cognitive system. On the other hand, language has been conceived of as a natural phenomenon, subject to constant change through usage. Linguistic reality lies somewhere between these poles.
4. Language, Dialectic, Idiolect: Languages are political objects. Dialects are what makes language learning possible. Idiolects are what we end up actually knowing. But then we're faced with a fundamental insurmountable problem of normativity.
5. Realism and Idealism about Linguistic Entities: If the real instantiation of a language is the steady knowledge state of an individual idiolect, then is any language ever the language of a human population? Probably not. Then what should we study? If we just study idiolects we can't form general theories. If we just study the languages of populations then we're never studying anything real. It seems we're forced to study an idealization over idiolects and away from human populations.
6. Orthographic, Phonetic, and Gestural Conceptions of Language: The vast majority of human languages have never taken a written form. Yet, the history of philosophy has primarily conceived of language as a set of abstract entities. As such, they can be effectively studied in orthographic representations. Linguistic science has primarily conceived of language as a natural phenomenon that is best studied in its phonetic and signed modalities. Each modality -- orthographic, phonetic and signed -- makes unique and independent contributions to linguistic content.
7. The Ambiguity of Human Language: A fundamental property of human language is that signs are arbitrarily attached to objects and situations. This is contrast with other forms of natural communication that are concretely tied to particular situations. The (apparent) problem with this is that the signs of human language require additional cognitive effort to resolve ambiguities in reference and meaning. While it might seem that widespread ambiguities in a system of communication are defects of that system, we can also see that they are the very tools that enable combinatorial and computational power in human language.
8. Codes and Ostensive Inference: How are the ambiguities of human language resolved to make language learnable and expressively powerful? Two models of linguistic entities combine to do this: a model of language as a form of code transmission (where the codes themselves are re-combinable in infinite ways), and a model of ostension whereby ambiguities in the codes are resolvable through inferential processes, embodied cues, context, pragmatic expectations, and narrative structure.
1. Explanation in Linguistics: What is the evidential base of linguistics? Could anything count as evidence in a linguistic theory? Is linguistic theory obligated to account for anything in particular? It might be that the study of language requires us to remain agnostic about the structure of linguistic reality. After all, any view taken constrains the bounds of the evidential base.
2. Idiolectal Error: Is it possible to defend an idiolectal conception of human linguistic competence and still identify the conditions that make possible deviation and error for an individual speaker? Idiolectal conceptions of language face a problem of explaining normativity (or the correctness conditions for knowing a language), and of explaining the use of idiolectal judgments as evidence in linguistic theory. Whatever standards are selected to identify error cannot distinguish the phenomenon from novelty or purposeful linguistic agency.
3. Reports: Reports and quotations are used in natural language in many different ways. This makes them theoretically complicated. But they are central to an account of linguistic reality because it is in the act of quotation that ordinary speakers come closest to wrangling with meta-linguistics: language about language. The theoretical complexity multiplies when we consider reports across modalities (in writing, speech, and sign language). This makes it easy for theorists to get confused about the central quotational phenomenon in natural language, which is reporting speech in verbal conversational contexts. This central case is inter-personal, dynamic, embodied, and used for purposes of scene-setting and story-telling. Starting from this central case requires a novel theoretical framework.
4. Semantic Minimalism: in progress
5. What is (and can be) Meant by Sensitivity to Context: in progress
Conclusion: A Metaphysics of Language: in progress
Project on Storytelling and Quotation, tentatively titled either "Storytelling and Quotation" or
"Metalinguistic Acts in (and out of) Works of Fiction"
Abstract: The goal of this paper is two-fold. First, I develop a working analysis of how certain kinds of quotation ought to be analyzed in fictional discourse. The idea behind this goal is that there has been much analysis of truth and meaning in fictional worlds, analysis of the metaphysics of fictional entities themselves, and, moreover, one of the more interesting developments in philosophy in recent decades has been the borrowing from analyses of fictional entities into other areas of metaphysics—i.e., varieties of ‘fictionalism’ as well as analyses of pretense. But there has been little attention paid to the idiosyncrasies of quotation in fictional settings which contain a rich set of puzzles and problems. Second, I suggest ways in which we can borrow from this working analysis of quotation in fictional discourse and extend the lessons to quotation in ordinary discourse. The suggestion here is that quotation in ordinary discourse is often, if not principally, used in a storytelling function. As such, any analysis of it—semantic or pragmatic—would be improved if it incorporated an understanding of the structure and constraints of storytelling itself. The way of thinking about ordinary quotation defended here is that it functions as a prescriptive prop to imagine an earlier communicative event. It itself is not the earlier event, nor can it alone capture the earlier event in all of its specificity; with quotation the speaker calls on the hearer to engage in constrained imagination. Just as fictional storytelling asks readers to cross between fictional worlds and between fictional and non-fictional worlds, real-world storytelling asks hearers to move between communicative contexts. This takes us in a quite different direction from other analyses of the varieties of quotation. But it fits within a view of the nature and function of language itself, namely as something that has evolved with storytelling needs, is typically deployed with narrative goals, and that it is built on an ostensive-inferential foundation.
This paper is still a work in progress. Please email me if you'd like to see the latest partial draft or to talk me out of even attempting such a foolish plan.
"Agent and Object." (forthcoming, 2017) Social Theory & Practice.
Abstract: If a person has lost all or most of her capacities for agency, how can she be harmed? This paper begins by describing several ways in which a person loses, or never develops, significant capacities of agency. In contrast with other work in this area, the central analyses are not of fetuses, small children, or the cognitively disabled. The central analyses are of victims of mistreatment or oppressive social circumstances. These victims are denuded of their agential capacities, becoming, in an important sense, objects or pseudo-agents. In light of this, the concern of this paper is how further harm to ersatz agents should be understood.
Review of How to do Things with Pornography by Nancy Bauer in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. 2015.
Abstract: This is a review of Bauer's 2015 book on philosophical authority, speech act theory, and self-objectification, among other topics.
"Reporting Practices and Reported Entities." In Indirect Reports and Pragmatics: Interdisciplinary Studies, eds. A. Capone, F. Lo Piparo & M. Carapezza. Dordrecht: Springer, 2015. (link is to penultimate draft)
Abstract: This essay discusses speakers’ conceptions of reported entities as evident in reporting practices. Pragmatic analyses are offered to explain the diversity of permissible reporting practices. Several candidate theses on speakers’ conceptions of reported entities are introduced. The possibility that there can be a unified analysis of direct and indirect reporting practices is considered. Barriers to this unification are discussed with an emphasis on the cognitive abilities speakers use in discerning the entities referred to in reporting contexts.
"Indirect Reports and Pragmatics." Perspectives on Pragmatics and Philosophy (389-411), eds. A. Capone, F. Lo Piparo & M. Carapezza. Dordrecht: Springer, 2013. (link is to penultimate draft)
Abstract: An indirect report typically takes the form of a speaker using the locution “said that” to report an earlier utterance. In what follows, I introduce the principal philosophical and pragmatic points of interest in the study of indirect reports, including the extent to which context sensitivity affects the content of an indirect report, the constraints on the substitution of co-referential terms in reports, the extent of felicitous paraphrase and translation, the way in which indirect reports are opaque, and the use of indirect reports as pragmatic vehicles for other speech acts such as humor, insult, or irony. Throughout I develop several positions: (i) that a semantic analysis of indirect reports is insufficient, (ii) that the distinction between direct and indirect reports is not clear and that indirect reports are the predominate way of reporting while direct reports may be a para-linguistic variation on them, (iii) that most questions about the semantics and pragmatics of indirect reports will rely on a full understanding of the nature of what is reported and how it gets reported, (iv) that an analysis of reporting requires the pragmatic tools of metarepresentation and a social, inter-personal understanding of relevance and shared knowledge.
"Finding Love in the Kingdom of Ends." Jurisprudence 2: 417-423, 2011.
Abstract: This is an essay on Langton's 2009 Sexual Solipsism on Kant, objectification, love, and pornography, among other topics.
"Parental Obligation." Utilitas 23: 249-267, 2011.
Abstract: The contention of this article is that parents have an obligation to care for their children, but for reasons that are not typically offered. I argue that this obligation can be unfair to parents but not unjust. I do not provide an account of what our specific obligations are to our children. Rather, I focus on providing a justification for any obligation to care for them at all. My argument turns on providing an external description of the parent–child relationship in order to establish that parents are in a unique position among adults in their ability to help and harm their own children. Given that children are deserving of moral regard, I conclude that parents are obligated – in a way that is often unfair – to provide this care. I end by considering implications for social policy.
"Context Sensitivity and Indirect Reports." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 81: 40-48, 2010.
Abstract: In this paper, I argue that Contextualist theories of semantics are not undermined by their purported failure to explain the practice of indirect reporting. I adopt Cappelen & Lepore’s test for context sensitivity to show that the scope of context sensitivity is much broader than Semantic Minimalists are willing to accept. The failure of their arguments turns on their insistence that the content of indirect reports is semantically minimal.
"Minimal Propositions and Real World Utterances." Philosophical Studies 148: 401-412, 2010.
Abstract: Semantic Minimalists make a proprietary claim to explaining the possibility of utterances sharing content across contexts. Further, they claim that an inability to explain shared content dooms varieties of Contextualism. In what follows, I argue that there are a series of barriers to explaining shared content for the Minimalist, only some of which the Contextualist also faces, including: (i) how the type-identity of utterances is established, (ii) what counts as repetition of type-identical utterances, (iii) how it can be determined whether semantically minimal content has been repeated, and (iv) what the nature of such content is.
"Linguistic Authority and Convention in a Speech Act Analysis of Pornography." Australasian Journal of Philosophy 85: 435-436, 2007.
Abstract: Several philosophers have recast feminist arguments against pornography in terms of Speech Act Theory. In particular, they have considered the ways in which the illocutionary force of pornographic speech serves to set the conventions of sexual discourse while simultaneously silencing the speech of women, especially during unwanted sexual encounters. Yet, this raises serious questions as to how pornographers could (i) be authorities in the language game of sex, and (ii) set the conventions for sexual discourse—questions which these speech act-theoretic arguments against pornography have thus far failed to adequately answer. I fill in this gap of the argumentation by demonstrating that there are fairly weak standards for who counts as an authority or convention-setter in sexual discourse. With this analysis of the underpinnings of a speech act analysis of pornography in mind, I discuss a range of possible objections. I conclude that (i) the endorsement of censorship by a speech act analysis of pornography competes with its commitment to the conventionality of speech acts, and, more damningly, that (ii), recasting anti-pornography arguments in terms of linguistic conventions risks an unwitting defence of a rapist’s lack of mens rea—an intolerable result; and yet resisting this conclusion requires that one back away from the original claim to women’s voices being ‘silenced’.
Reviews: L. Antony & N. Hornstein's Chomsky and His Critics and N. Chomsky's On Nature and Language. Philosophical Psychology 17: 127-130, 2004.
Abstract: two reviews on books about and by Noam Chomsky.