I typically work on issues that are located at the intersection of the philosophy of language, epistemology, metaphysics, and meta-philosophy.
Topics of interest to me include predicates and rigidity, Kripkeanism, two-dimensional semantics, modal epistemology, thought experiments and conceptual analysis, metaphysical modality, armchair methods of philosophical enquiry, conceptual engineering and the like.
Much of my more recent work clusters around issues related to an externalist approach I call paradigm term semantics; see the section below.
More recently, I have developed an interest in conceptual engineering and its normative contentions that broadens my former work on conceptual analysis. See the section below.
Paradigm terms are expressions whose application is governed by a specific relation and anchored in specific actual items or ‘paradigm(s)’. For illustration, think of how ‘is one meter long’ was set to apply to anything bearing is of the same length as to the actual prototype du metre, a metal bar stored in Paris. The semantics of a paradigm predicate ‘F’ is captured by its value structure <R, O@>, combining a relation R and a set of actual paradigms O@. A paradigm term ‘F’ with the value structure <R, O@> will apply to anything x anywhere bearing R to the F-paradigms in O@.
The research programme systematically explores the role and import of paradigm terms and their deceptively simple (meta-)semantics for vernacular and scientific language. Paradigm term semantics devises a novel way to realize the externalist conviction that linguistic meaning is regularly fixed by the world. It provides a unifying scheme for expressions as diverse as ‘is one meter long’, ‘is gold’ , ‘is a star’, ‘has been Tom-Sawyered’, and ‘is a revolution’, and it thereby brings out that the proper linguistic taxon is the category of paradigm terms, rather than the usually consider class of natural kind expressions. At the same time, paradigm term semantics solves classic problems for externalism, and it avoids committing to metaphysical essentialism in its semantic format.
This research has far reaching implications for a variety of intersecting issues across multiple areas of philosophy such as e.g. the philosophy of language (predicate meaning, rigidity, Kripkeanism, what form a two-dimensional semantics should take), epistemology (modal knowledge, conceptual knowledge, the interplay of conceptual and worldy factors in inquiry), and the philosophy of science (natural kind terms, scientific essentialism, conceptual structure in scientific theories).
Conceptual analysis aims to solve philosophical problems by uncovering what key terms actually mean. Conceptual engineering rather focusses on ameliorating the meanings of these terms. Such an amelioration can concern diverse dimensions of evaluation – it can e.g. be representational, cognitive, practical, moral, and/or political.
Understood as a technique, conceptual engineering raises analytical issues, such as: What determines the meaning of a concept ‘F’, how can we tell how good ‘F’ fares along some pertinent dimension(s) of evaluation, how, if at all, can we intentionally change the meaning of a term already in use, and how can we justifiably balance representational goodness against political or moral aptness.
Understood as a methodology, conceptual engineering raises normative questions about the aims and methods of philosophy. Revisionist conceptual engineers insist that we move from philosophy understood as an essentially descriptivist venture inquiring “What is our concept of F?” to philosophy understood as a normative undertaking asking “What should our concept of F be?”.
My project explores the possibility, means and mechanisms of an intentional change in meaning. The main line of research, however, concerns the normative force and the methodological implications of conceptual engineering understood as a philosophical methodology, especially the ideas that theorists are obliged to ameliorate their concepts, and the revisionist idea that conceptual engineering supports a general shift from descriptive to normative questions when it comes to conceptual dealings in philosophy.
areas: metaphilosophy, normative methodology
status: One paper published with Inquiry. Presently, I'm working on a paper on conceptual engineering and linguistic relativity. More to come.
I will be taking part in the summer school organized by Kevin Reuter and Hanjo Glock (both UZH). Other people who will be there are Shaun Nichols (Cornell University), Rachel Sterken (University of Hongkong), Manuel Gustavo Isaac (UZH), Ethan Landes (UZH), Nicole Rathgeb (UZH), and Pascale Willemsen (UZH),
Here's the website.
The workshop has taken place from March 10th to March 12th at Bielefeld (Germany) time - that is, utc/gmt+1.
It was organized by Steffen Koch (Bochum, now Bielefeld) and me.
Speakers have been Katherine Ritchie, Jennifer Nado, Max Deutsch, Mona Simion, Matti Eklund - and Steffen and myself.
Bielefeld is an active and lively environment for theoretical philosophy. For other workshops and events, past and present, see the website of our "research group theoretical philosophy".