My areas of specialization are philosophy of language, logic, metaphysics, philosophy of science, and the history of analytic philosophy. My primary focus is the concept of truth and the paradoxes associated with it. In 2013, Oxford University Press published my book, Replacing Truth, in which I argue that the concept of truth is defective (as evidenced by the liar and other paradoxes) and should be replaced for certain purposes with a pair of concepts that, together, can play its role without generating any paradoxes whatsoever. This idea is also the focus of a paper published (July 2013) in The Philosophical Review entitled “Truth, the Liar, and Relativism.”
While my book and many of my papers are on philosophy of language and logic, I also work on philosophy of science (on applied mathematics, measurement theory, units of measurement, and scientific change), metaphysics (on pragmatism, fundamentality, truthmakers, and natural language metaphysics), and the history of philosophy (on Locke, James, Russell, Carnap, Sellars, Goodman, Quine, and Davidson). I am also engaged with philosophy of religion (by advocating a secular perspective on faith and the meaning of life in two recent public events with religious authorities and a sequence of public lectures on the relation between science and religion) and applied ethics (I have a paper in preparation with Alison Duncan Kerr on abortion and the vagueness of ‘person’).
The Study of Truth. Oxford University Press. Under contract.
Abstract: The book provides the reader with an inclusive understanding of the work on truth in the analytic tradition. It contains discussions of the major theories of the nature of truth (e.g., correspondence theories, epistemic theories, deflationist theories, and pluralist theories). The approaches to the liar and other paradoxes are divided into philosophical approaches, which focus on features of natural language truth predicates (e.g., contextualist theories, indeterminacy theories, and inconsistency theories), and logical approaches, which specify logical and aletheic principles for artificial languages that are intended to model natural language (e.g., inductive strong Kleene theories, inductive supervaluation theories, revision theories, paracomplete theories, and paraconsistent theories). The reader is led to a comprehensive view by considering combinations of philosophical and logical approaches and then to unified theories of truth, which have all three components. The goal is to give the reader a detailed background and the technical tools needed to understand all the major innovations in this vast literature.
Replacing Truth. Oxford University Press. 2013. 352pp. ISBN 13: 978-0-199-65385-0.
Abstract: I present and defend a theory of the nature and logic of truth on which truth is an inconsistent concept that should be replaced for certain theoretical purposes. The book opens with an overview of work on the nature of truth (e.g., correspondence, deflationism), work on the liar and related paradoxes, and a comprehensive scheme for combining these two literatures into a unified study of the concept of truth. Truth is best understood as an inconsistent concept, and I propose a detailed theory of inconsistent concepts that can be applied to the case of truth. Truth also happens to be a useful concept, but its inconsistency inhibits its utility; as such, it should be replaced with consistent concepts that can do truth’s job without giving rise to paradoxes. I offer a pair of replacements, which I dub ascending truth and descending truth, along with an axiomatic theory of them and a new kind of possible-worlds semantics for this theory. As for the nature of truth, I develop Davidson’s idea that it is best understood as the core of a measurement system for rational phenomena (e.g., belief, desire, meaning). The book finishes with a semantic theory that treats truth predicates as assessment-sensitive (i.e., their extension is relative to a context of assessment), and a demonstration of how this theory solves the problems posed by the liar and other paradoxes.
In the Space of Reasons: Selected Writings of Wilfrid Sellars. Editor (with Robert Brandom) and author of the introduction, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007. 525pp. ISBN 13: 978-0-674-02498-4.
Abstract: Wilfrid Sellars is widely regarded as a major figure in twentieth century analytic philosophy. However, most of his writings are scattered and difficult to find. This collection brings together sixteen of Sellars’ most important and influential papers. It promises to be the definitive collection of Sellars’ work.
Published and Forthcoming Papers
“Tolerance and the Multi-range View of Vagueness,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, forthcoming.
Abstract: Discussion of tolerance and Diana Raffman’s multi-range view of vagueness in her book Unruly Words.
“Pragmatism without Idealism,” (with Robert Kraut) in The Palgrave Handbook of Philosophical Methods. Edited by Christopher Daly. Palgrave. Forthcoming.
Abstract: Our goal is to examine three broadly pragmatist strategies which might be alleged to undermine realism by infecting it with unwanted subjectivism: one concerns "deflationist" views about properties, one concerns Carnap's pragmatism about ontology, and one concerns subjectivism about the notions of structure and structural similarity. In each case critics allege that the intrusion of pragmatic and/or subjective elements into our ways of thinking about the world have the unwanted result that the realists' cherished contrasts between subjective vs. objective, or what is real vs. what linguistic forms are pragmatically expedient, or what is discovered vs. what is projected, are undermined. We argue that these allegations are unfounded: the pragmatist strategies do not, in fact, threaten realism in the ways suggested.
“Revising Inconsistent Concepts,” (with Stewart Shapiro) in The Relevance of the Liar. Edited by Bradley Armour-Garb. Oxford University Press. Forthcoming.
Abstract: We provide several conditions on when it makes sense to replace a defective concept with one or more concepts for certain purposes. The focus is on truth and the liar paradox, but we also consider several examples from the history of science and mathematics.
“Truth, Revenge, and Internalizability,” Erkenntnis 79: 597-645, 2014.
Abstract: The vast majority of approaches to the liar paradox generate new paradoxes that are structurally similar to the liar (often called revenge paradoxes). There is a complex group of issues surrounding revenge paradoxes, the expressive powers of natural languages, and the adequacy of approaches to the liar. My goal is to provide a precise framework against which these issues can be formulated and discussed. The centerpiece of this framework is the notion of internalizability: a semantic theory is internalizable for a language if and only if there exists an extension of the language such that (i) the theory is expressible in that extended language, and (ii) the theory assigns meanings to all the relevant sentences of that extended language. The framework is applied to three examples from the literature: Reinhardt and McGee on theories that require expressively richer metalanguages, Field on revenge-immunity, and Gupta on semantic self-sufficiency.
“Truth, the Liar, and Relativism,” The Philosophical Review 122: 427-510, 2013.
Abstract: I propose a solution to the aletheic paradoxes on which truth predicates are assessment-sensitive. Truth is not an antecedently plausible topic for a semantic relativist treatment; nevertheless, the aletheic paradoxes give us good reason to think that truth is an inconsistent concept, and there are good reasons to think that semantic relativism is appropriate for inconsistent concepts, especially those that display what I call empirical inconsistency. Thus, I show that a promising version of the best approach to the paradoxes is an application of semantic relativism to truth itself—arguing from results about the paradoxes and general considerations about language use to aletheic assessment-sensitivity. The paper is divided into two parts, the first on the aletheic paradoxes, and the second on assessment-sensitivity with respect to truth predicates. The first contains an overview of my preferred approach to the paradoxes, which entails that truth is an inconsistent concept that that should be replaced (for certain purposes) by a team of consistent concepts that can do its work without causing troubling paradoxes. The second part considers which treatment is most appropriate for inconsistent concepts in general and truth in particular. In it, I propose an assessment-sensitivity view of truth, discuss some prominent objections to semantic relativism, and review some issues that arise for approaches to the aletheic paradoxes.
“On Richard’s When Truth Gives Out,” (with Stewart Shapiro) Philosophical Studies 160: 455-463, 2012.
Abstract: A discussion of Mark Richard’s When Truth Gives Out.
“Robert Brandom: Inference and Meaning,” in Philosophical Profiles in the Theory of Communication. Edited by Jason Hannon and Robert Rutland. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012.
Abstract: This chapter covers some of Robert Brandom’s contributions to our understanding of communication. Topics discussed include his theory of discursive practice, his inferential semantics, his scorekeeping pragmatics, his views on the “transmission” model of communication, and his semantic perspectivism. I compare his scorekeeping pragmatic theory to other kinds of pragmatic theories, and I argue that his semantic perspectivism can be understood as a global indexical relativism.
“Wilfrid Sellars’ Anti-Descriptivism,” in Categories of Being: Essays on Metaphysics and Logic. Edited by Heikki Koskinen. Oxford University Press, 2012.
Abstract: The work of Kripke, Putnam, Kaplan, and others initiated a tradition in philosophy that has come to be known as anti-descriptivism. I argue that when properly interpreted, Wilfrid Sellars is a staunch anti-descriptivist. Not only does he accept most of the conclusions drawn by the more famous anti-descriptivists, he goes beyond their critiques to reject the fundamental tenant of descriptivism—that understanding a linguistic expression consists in mentally grasping its meaning and associating that meaning with the expression. I show that Sellars’ alternative accounts of language and the mind provide novel justifications for the anti-descriptivists’ conclusions. Finally, I present what I take to be a Sellarsian analysis of an important anti-descriptivist issue: the relation between metaphysical modal notions (e.g., possibility) and epistemic modal notions (e.g., conceivability). The account I present involves extension of the strategy he uses to explain both the relation between physical object concepts (e.g., whiteness) and sensation concepts (e.g., the appearance of whiteness), and the relation between concepts that apply to linguistic activity (e.g., sentential meaning) and those that apply to conceptual activity (e.g., thought content).
“Xeno Semantics for Ascending and Descending Truth,” in Foundational Adventures: Essays in Honor of Harvey M. Friedman. Edited by Neil Tennant. Templeton Press (Online) and College Publications, London. 2011.
Abstract: As part of an approach to the liar paradox and the other paradoxes affecting truth, I have proposed replacing our concept of truth with two concepts: ascending truth and descending truth. I am not going to discuss why I think this is the best approach or how it solves the paradoxes; instead, I concentrate on the theory of ascending and descending truth. I formulate an axiomatic theory of ascending truth and descending truth (ADT) and provide a possible-worlds semantics for it (which I dub xeno semantics). Xeno semantics is a generalization of the familiar neighborhood semantics, which itself is a generalization of the standard relational semantics. Once the details of ADT have been presented, it is easy to show that neither relational semantics nor neighborhood semantics will work for it; thus, the move to a more general framework is required. The main result is a fixed point theorem that guarantees the existence of an acceptable first-order constant-domain xeno model. From this result it follows that ADT is sound with respect to the class of such models. The upshot is that ADT is consistent relative to the background set theory.
“Falsity,” in New Waves in Truth. Edited by Cory Wright and Nicolaj Pedersen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
Abstract: Although there is a massive amount of work on truth, there is very little work on falsity. Most philosophers probably think this is appropriate; after all, once we have a solid understanding of truth, falsity should not prove to be much of a challenge. However, there are several interesting and difficult issues associated with understanding falsity. After considering two prominent definitions of falsity and presenting objections to each one, I propose a definition that avoids their problems.
“Truth’s Savior? Critical Study of Field’s Saving Truth From Paradox,” The Philosophical Quarterly 60: 183-188, 2010.
Abstract: Hartry Field’s recent book Saving Truth From Paradox (OUP, 2008) offers an excellent survey of approaches to the liar paradox and a compelling defense of the paracomplete approach. In this critical study, I sketch Field’s approach and present several problems for it.
“Truth and Expressive Completeness,” in Reading Brandom. Edited by Bernhard Weiss and Jeremy Wanderer. Routledge, 2009.
Abstract: Robert Brandom claims that the theory of meaning he presents in Making It Explicit is expressively complete—i.e., it successfully applies to the language in which the theory of meaning is formulated. He also endorses a broadly Kripkean approach to the liar paradox. I show that these two commitments are incompatible, and I survey several options for resolving the problem.
“Locke’s Theory of Reflection,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 16.1, 2008.
Abstract: Those concerned with Locke’s Essay have largely ignored his account of reflection. I present and defend an interpretation of Locke’s theory of reflection on which reflection is not a variety of introspection; rather, for Locke, we acquire ideas of our mental operations indirectly. Furthermore, reflection is involuntary and distinct from consciousness. The interpretation I present also explains reflection’s role in the acquisition of non-sensory ideas (e.g., ideas of pleasure, existence, succession, etc.). I situate this reading within the secondary literature on reflection and discuss its consequences for interpretations of Locke’s views on empiricism, knowledge, and personal identity.
“Aletheic Vengeance,” in The Revenge of the Liar: New Essays on the Paradox. Edited by JC Beall. Oxford University Press, 2008.
Abstract: One of the most frustrating and ubiquitous features of approaches to the liar paradox is that they tend to give rise to new paradoxes, which are called revenge paradoxes. I argue that there are two distinct kinds of revenge paradoxes. Once one distinguishes between two kinds of revenge paradoxes affecting theories of truth that offer an approach to the liar paradox, one can argue that any theory of truth that offers an approach to the liar paradox on which some basic inference rules governing truth are valid is either inconsistent, self-refuting, or restricted to avoid a revenge paradox. That is, there are no revenge-immune theories of truth that validate these rules. Moreover, this fact can be used to justify theories of truth on which truth is an inconsistent concept, where an inconsistent concept has incompatible rules governing the way in which it should be employed. I offer three arguments for theories of truth that imply that truth is an inconsistent concept, and I present an overview of the theory I endorse (which is not a version of dialetheism).
“Replacing Truth,” Inquiry 50: 606-621, 2007
Abstract: Of the dozens of purported solutions to the liar paradox published in the past fifty years, the vast majority are “traditional” in the sense that they reject one of the premises or inference rules that are used to derive the paradoxical conclusion. Over the years, however, several philosophers have developed an alternative to the traditional approaches; according to them, our very competence with the concept of truth leads us to accept that the reasoning used to derive the paradox is sound. That is, our conceptual competence leads us into inconsistency. I call this alternative the inconsistency approach to the liar. Although this approach has many positive features, I argue that several of the well-developed versions of it that have appeared recently are unacceptable. In particular, they do not recognize that if truth is an inconsistent concept, then we should replace it with new concepts that do the work of truth without giving rise to paradoxes. I outline an inconsistency approach to the liar paradox that satisfies this condition.
“Scorekeeping in a Defective Language Game,” Pragmatics and Cognition 13: 203-226, 2005 (a special issue devoted to Robert Brandom’s Making It Explicit).
Abstract: One common criticism of deflationism is that it does not have the resources to explain defective discourse (e.g., vagueness, referential indeterminacy, confusion, etc.). This problem is especially pressing for someone like Robert Brandom, who not only endorses deflationist accounts of truth, reference, and predication, but also refuses to use representational relations to explain content and propositional attitudes. To address this problem, I suggest that Brandom should explain defective discourse in terms of what it is to treat some portion of discourse as defective. To illustrate this strategy, I present an extension of his theory of content and use it to provide an explanation of confusion. The result is a theory of confusion based on Joseph Camp’s recent treatment. The extension of Brandom’s theory of content involves additions to his account of scorekeeping that allow members of a discursive practice to accept different standards of inferential correctness.
“Communication and Content: Circumstances and Consequences of the Habermas-Brandom Debate,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 11: 43-61, 2003.
Abstract: The recent exchange between Robert Brandom and Jürgen Habermas provides an opportunity to compare and contrast some aspects of their systems. Both present broadly inferential accounts of meaning, according to which the content of an expression is determined by its role in an inferential network. Several problems confront such theories of meaning – one of which threatens the possibility of communication because content is relative to an individual’s set of beliefs. Brandom acknowledges this problem and provides a solution to it. The point of this paper is to argue that it arises for Habermas’s theory as well. I then present several solutions Habermas could adopt and evaluate their feasibility. The result is that Habermas must alter his theory of communicative action by contextualizing the standards for successful communication.
Review of Graham Priest, Doubt Truth to be a Liar, Bulletin of Symbolic Logic 13: 541-544, 2007.