My research falls into two different research projects that converge on questions regarding the relationship between meaning and assertion. The first continues work that I began in my dissertation on the nature of semantic theories. The second focuses on how linguistic practices and credibility judgements result in injustice. In the former project I argue that expressions are the correct objects of a semantic theory.
My second research project sits at the intersection of philosophy of language, epistemology, and ethics. In this project I argue that only the commitment-based account of assertion explains silencing that arises from testimonial injustice and provides a means for rectifying the wrong in some contexts. I further argue that although the constitutive norm account of assertion can explain how testimonial injustice disrespects speakers, it does not explain how speakers are objectified by it. Finally, I argue that silencing takes on different forms in different contexts and only by examining how language interacts with gender and racial norms to disadvantage and silence women and minority groups can we have a clear path to remedy these injustices.
Philosophy of Language
- Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction
- Norms of Assertion
- Proper names and reference
- Medieval Supposition and Signification Theory
- Epistemology of Disagreement
- Epistemic Injustice
- Epistemology of Testimony
- Feminist Epistemology
“Understanding Assertion to Understand Silencing: Finding an Account of Assertion that Explains Silencing Arising from Testimonial Injustice,” Episteme. (ViewFirst)
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.
“Getting Expression-based Semantics Right: Its Proper Objects of Evaluation and Limits,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy. (Forthcoming)
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)
“Constitutive Norm of Assertion, Epistemic Harm, and Silencing,” (preparing manuscript)
“Keeping the Audience in Mind: Word Choice and Substitution of Co-Referring Terms,” (revising manuscript)
“Varieties of Silencing,” (early stages)
Semantics, Pragmatics, and The Nature of Semantic Theories