about classes research

Hello. My name is Matt. I write philosophy, teach classes, host a podcast, tinker with my computer, sing, skate, and make 16mm films.


email: teichman at uchicago dot edu
twitter: @ElucidationsPod
blog: http://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/elucidations/


Full-time Lecturer, University of Chicago,
Division of the Humanities


MS in Computer Science, University of Chicago expected 2018
PhD in Philosophy, University of Chicago 2015
Visiting Student, Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation 2011-12
MA in Philosophy, University of Chicago 2009
MA in Film Studies, University of Pittsburgh 2007
AB in Film and Linguistics, Cornell University 2002


I have been Full-time Lecturer in the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago since the Fall of 2015. I work in an area called the philosophy of language, which lies at the border between philosophy and linguistics and studies how linguistic meaning works.

Linguistic meaning may seem like something too obvious to have to be studied. Like everything that could be said about the meaning of the things we say is already in the dictionary. But although dictionaries are great tools, they don't tell us everything. They don't include things like: what are the rules for forming English sentences? If I have this kind of word followed by that kind of word, then what meaning do I get as a result? Think about everything you'd have to tell a computer in order to get it to understand English: you would have to do more than just type in some definitions. You'd have to tell it how to understand any random new made-up sentence you might throw at it—even one it hasn't ever seen before.

Before getting into natural language semantics (the study of how you would teach a computer to understand e.g. English or French), I was a student of cinema, with a particular focus on avant-garde film. If you're like most people, you probably haven't heard of avant-garde films, because they typically can't be found on Blu-Ray, DVD, or Netflix, and they don't play in regular movie theaters. They're all pretty different from one another, but for a first approximation, you can think of them as the movie version of instrumental music or abstract paintings. They may not be to everyone's taste, but those of us who enjoy them will go to great lengths to see them on the big screen.

One of the unfortunate facts about philosophy these days is that although basically everyone is interested in it, most people don't really know what it is. But not knowing what to call something you're worried about carries with it the risk of making you powerless. One goal I have in teaching, writing, and recording interviews is to bring more people back into touch with what's happening in professional philosophy. You can't really address a problem in your life until you acknowledge that it's there, give it a name, and start trying to understand how it came about. Professional philosophers in fact have tremendous resources to offer us when it comes to those big, burning questions that nag us throughout the day, whether we like it or not. They can help us seize control of our lives and make them into something fulfilling. Assuming we give them the chance.

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