about classes research

This page is intended for professional philosophers and assumes that you have some background in the subject. Even if you haven't studied philosophy before, you'll probably be able to glean some sense of what these papers are about. Nonetheless, the summaries below do help themselves to the standard jargon of the field—if you find yourself bewildered by it, drop me a line and I'll explain it to you. In the meanwhile, you can check out my About, Tutorials, and Podcast pages, which contain more introductory material.


My research focuses on the semantics of generic statements. Generic statements can be thought of as loose generalizations, like 'birds fly.' They're loose because, unlike strict generalizations, they can remain true even in the face of counterexamples. For instance, everyone agrees that birds fly, even though everyone also agrees that penguins are birds, and penguins don't fly. This raises an obvious question: what are you saying when you say that birds fly? You can't be saying that every last bird on the planet flies, without exception. It turns out that precisely specifying what you're saying when you say things like 'birds fly' is rather complicated. Even though we say that kind of thing all the time without giving it a second thought.

More specifically, I am interested in the logical form of generic sentences. In my work, I present linguistic evidence that favors a kind-theoretic semantics for generics over the standard alternative, which is a quantificational semantics. The kind theory understands generic statements as particular statements about kinds, as opposed to general statements about individual objects. My main reason for favoring a kind semantics is that the generic construction fails to exhibit a key feature of natural language quantifiers—namely, that they contextually domain restrict. In my dissertation, I take the reader through this and several other contrasts between generic sentences and sentences with quantifiers in them, then show how to give a kind semantics a natural and independently motivated philosophical interpretation. My semantics is an extension of the more sophisticated kind theory from Carlson (1977), chap. 5, which posits a logical operator mapping object predicates to kind predicates. I argue that a kind theory of that variety, though mostly ignored in the literature on generics, has all the expressive power of a quantificational theory, none of its disadvantages, and both empirical and philosophical advantages.

My work in the philosophy of language extends also into adjacent areas of philosophy, including metaphysics, aesthetics, applied ethics, feminist philosophy, and the philosophy of action. Developing a kind semantics for generic sentences leads naturally into metaphysical questions regarding what kinds are, and which philosophical conceptions of kindhood we might want to choose between. It also leads into metametaphysical questions regarding whether the grammar of a human language can itself presuppose a particular conception of kindhood.

Given that generic sentences are the primary linguistic means by which we express our commonsense beliefs, prejudices, and stereotypes about people, the study of their truth conditions also leads fairly directly to questions about their moral status. Is an offensive generalization about an ethnic or racial group offensive because it's false, or for some other reason? Can a generic statement be both true and offensive? Do we want to just say that generic statements about people are all false, on the grounds that generic statements are statements about what is normal, and the idea of normality is problematic in the human sphere in a way that it isn't in the biological sphere?


This is the text to look at, should you be curious to read the full story about how my preferred semantics for generic statements works, as well as how it fits into a broader philosophical story about what kinds are.

Characterizing Kinds
University of Chicago, © 2015


Included below are papers that I have worked on in the past and papers that I am working on presently. Given that the unpublished among them constitute work in progress, if you would like to cite one of these papers, please get in touch with me first. Papers that are either in a mature state or already published are available for you to download. If you'd like to read something that is still in its formative stages, contact me and I'll send it to you. Feedback is always appreciated!

The Sophisticated
Kind Theory
Forthcoming in Inquiry.

Linguistic Returns
(in progress)

Generic Logic and Abduction
with Anubav Vasudevan
(in progress)

Casting Slurs
(in progress)

The Germ of a Sense
Philosophy and Literature 30:2, pp. 567-579 (2006)

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