My current research project connects the epistemology of testimony with theories of assertion and silencing. Specifically, I focus on how our theories of assertion and testimony relate to silencing, and how silencing arises in epistemic contexts more generally. This projects develops an original analysis of how assertion interacts with race and gender norms in testimonial exchanges, silencing speakers and generating epistemic injustices. Thus my project brings together developments in social epistemology, feminist philosophy, and philosophy of language, specifically speech act theory.
My research project addresses the way gender and race interact with testimonial exchanges that result in epistemic harms, ultimately silencing speakers. Although many scholars have argued that gender norms can silence women’s speech-acts when the audience does not recognize the speaker’s intentions; scholars have not yet adequately addressed how gender and racial norms silence speakers when hearers recognize speakers’ communicative intentions, as in extreme testimonial injustice. I argue that for a speaker to be effective, more than recognition of her intentions is required. In making this argument, I demonstrate that the only account of assertion that can accommodate this form of silencing characterizes assertion by deontic changes in the conversation. I also argue that although there may be a core harm resulting from silencing, different forms of silencing each result in different practical harms and require different responses. So, to rectify these harms we must know what the differences are among forms of silencing and have a satisfactory analysis of the linguistic mechanism that allows us to understand all forms of silencing across speech acts
Philosophy of Language
- Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction
- Norms of Assertion
- Feminist Philosophy of Language (specifically, Silencing)
- Proper names and reference
- Epistemic Injustice
- Epistemology of Testimony
- Feminist Epistemology
- Epistemology of Disagreement
(2017) “Understanding Assertion to Understand Silencing: Finding an Account of Assertion that Explains Silencing Arising from Testimonial Injustice,” Episteme. 14 (4): 423-440.
Abstract: Rae Langton and Jennifer Hornsby provide accounts of how pornography silences women by appealing to J.L. Austin’s account of speech-acts. Since their accounts focus only on instances of silencing where the hearer does not grasp the type of speech-act the speaker intends to perform, their accounts of silencing do not generalize to explain silencing that arises from what Miranda Fricker calls “testimonial injustice.” I argue that silencing arising from testimonial injustice can only be explained by what we shall call the dialectical account of assertion, according to which assertion is the undertaking of a commitment in reasoned discourse. In doing so, I show that accounts of assertion based on speakers’ intentions, proposals to common ground, and constitutive norms do not provide the necessary framework to explain silencing within the context of testimonial injustice. Having shown the strength of the dialectical account in explaining silencing, I conclude that the dialectical account also provides a way to remedy some instances of silencing arising from testimonial injustice providing further evidence that the dialectical account is the correct account of assertion.
(2016) “Getting Expression-based Semantics Right: Its Proper Objects of Evaluation and Limits,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy. 54 (3): 393-410.
Abstract: Often those attempting to resolve the answering machine paradox appeal to Kaplan’s claim that the objects of semantic evaluation are expression-types with respect to indices, instead of utterances, as part of their solution. This article argues that Dylan Dodd and Paula Sweeney exemplify the kind of mistakes theorists make in applying such expression-based semantic theories in that they (1) conflate what is asserted with semantic content, and (2) they take their approach to utterance interpretation as having semantic significance. In light of these mistakes, we learn two things. First, we learn how expression-based semantic theorists can avoid making these kinds of mistakes. Second, we learn how the limits of expression-based semantics can contribute to what we should expect a semantic theory to explain regarding how semantics fits into a more general theory of linguistic communication and linguistic understanding.
(2016) “A Modulation Account of Negative Existentials,” Philosophia. 44 (1): 227-245.
Abstract: Fictional characters present a problem for semantic theorists. One approach to this problem has been to maintain realism regarding fictional characters, that is to claim that fictional characters exist. In this way names originating from fiction have designata. On this approach the problem of negative existentials is more pressing than it might otherwise be since an explanation must be given as to why we judge them true when the names occurring within them designate existing objects. So, realists must explain the intuitive truth of such statements. Some realists have appealed to pragmatics to explain this, but have not developed these positions fully. What follows is an original account of negative existentials based on the pragmatic process of modulation. Modulation affects the meaning of ‘exists’ such that its extension is merely those things that exist physically. It is then argued that the modulation approach provides a more natural account of the intuitive truth of negative existentials involving fictional characters than an account based on conversational implicatures. Finally, the modulation account is defended against objections presented against similar accounts.
“On the Metaphysics of Semantic Tokens,” (under review)
“Unnecessary Norms” (preparing manuscript)
“Varieties of Silencing,” (early stages)
Semantics, Pragmatics, and The Nature of Semantic Theories