Research Interests

Research Interests

My main research interest today is the interface between natural language semantics and philosophy, in particular metaphysics, but also the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of mathematics. The overal aim of my research in this interface consists in [1] showing the importance of taking the empirical linguistic data and recent theoretical work in syntax and semantics seriously for addressing certain philosophical questions and [2] showing the importance and fruitfulness of exploring a broader range philosophical views and concerns for the linguistic analysis of natural language. In my 3am interview with Richard Marshall I elaborate this research interest a bit further.


Currently I am involved in two major research projects.

One of them is to develop a general theory of sentence meaning on which sentences do not stand for propositions that would act as the objects of attitudes or speech acts, but rather semantically act as predicates of various sorts of attitudinal and modal objects, entities such as beliefs, judgments, intentions, claims, requests, obligations, and permissions. This approach has a range of linguistic and philosophical motivations and allows for a novel semantics of attitude reports, modal sentences, as well as quotation. In this research not only semantic data are taken into account, but also recent syntactic research (in the generative tradition) regarding complement clauses, attitudinal and modal predicates, and quotation.

Here are the most important papers that belong to the project:

Predecessors of this research are my 2003 paper ''Propositional Attitudes without Propositions' and Chapter 4 Propositions and Attitudinal Objects of my 2013 book Abstract Objects and the Semantics of Natural Language. Forthcoming publications will include contributions to the Routledge Handbook of Propositions, edited by C. Tillman and the volume Unstructured Content (Oxford UP) edited by A. Egan, P. van Elswyck, and D. Kinderman, as well as invited contributions to two planned edited volumes currently under review.

In connection with this research, I (co-)organized a number of workshops in Paris, at NYU and at Rutgers, in part together with Kit Fine (NYU) and with Jane Grimshaw (Rutgers), with whom I also co-taught a tutorial on clausal complements at SPE 2015 (see under Events). Moreover, I gave a series of lectures 'Acts Objects, and Attitudes' on the topic at NYU in the fall of 2015 and taught a related course Act-based Conceptions of Propositional Content at ESSLLI in 2015. My 2014/5 France-Berkeley Fund Project with John Searle and the forthcoming volume Act-Based Conceptions of Propositional Content also form part of this research project.


The other line of research is natural language metaphysics (or ontology). The aim of this research is [1] to clarify the goals and the methodology of this fairly new discipline, [2] to relate it to contemporary and historical pursuits in metaphysics as well as to (generative) linguistics,  and [3] to develop some further important applications. Here are two papers that are part of that project:

A lot of my work falls within natural language metaphysics, in particular my books Parts and Wholes in Semantics and Abstract Objects and the Semantics of Natural Language, but so does work by other semanticists, and so do particular types of philosophical analyses throughout the history of philosophy. My 42hrs course 'Language and Ontology' at the University of Padua in the spring 2016 covered a lot of topics within this project. I will give a compact seminar in Paris (IHPST) in May / June 2017 that focuses on the methodology of natural language metaphysics, in relation to other branches of metaphysics. Finally, SPE9 is devoted to the topic.


Another recent research project concerns plural reference and the mass-count distinction. While in earlier work such as my book Parts and Wholes in Semantics, I adhered to the view (which is still standard in linguistic semantics) that plurals involve reference to a collection (sum or set), I am now exploring the view that plurals involve reference to several things at once (plural reference). In my paper Plural Reference and Reference to a Plurality. Linguistic Facts and Semantic Analyses, in Unity and Plurality. Logic Philosophy and Linguistics (OUP 2016, co-edited with M. Carrara),  I argue in favor of plural reference and propose ways of reformulating some crucial insights of Parts and Whole in Semantics in terms of plural reference. In a forthcoming book Plural Reference and Syntactic Three-Dimensionality (under contract with OUP), I will resume that work and also apply plural reference to the interpretation of three-dimensional syntactic structures that have been proposed for coordination (as in my 1992 MIT Ph D thesis Coordination and Comparatives). Furthermore I am interested in approaches to mass nouns that take mass NPs to involve reference to neither one nor many, but something more primitive. This research interest is also illustrated in our OUP blog about Unity and Plurality.


An older research project concerns the semantics of parts and wholes. This research is centered on the notion of an integrated whole, which is taken to be central to the mass-count distinction, a notion that was important already in Aristotelian metaphyics (where it was taken to be essential for the individual of objects). In this research, I argued that the notion of an itegrated whole plays a central role also at a level of situated part structures, set up by the use of mass nouns and plurals and part-structures modifiers such as whole and individual. In addition I developed the view that events may have multidimensional part structures, which explains the various readings that part-related expressions such as completely and partially may exhibit. This project lead to the book Parts and Whole in Semantics (OUP, 1997). But in fact it dates back to my MA thesis of 1987 (expanded edition published as Individuation und Lokalitaet in 1992 by Fink Verlag). A more recent developments of this project involves the use of inetgrity conditions for the semantics of plurals based on plural reference rather than reference to a plural entity, making use of integrated pluralities, in my paper Plural Reference and Reference to a Plurality. Linguistic Facts and Semantic Analyses (In Unity and Plurality, OUP, 2016). Furthermore, I resumed this research in a recent paper on partial content 'Partial Content and Expressions of Part and Whole. Discussion of Stephen Yablo: Aboutness'. Philosophical Studies 174(3), 2017.


My website also contains a section 'Art'. I enjoy enormously looking at art and connecting with artists. I believe it inspires my work, but I also suspect that at some point in the future I will work on topics relating to art and language.


I am the founder and general coordinator of the annual colloquium 'Semantics and Philosophy in Europe' (SPE).  The purpose of the Semantics and Philosophy in Europe colloquia is to enhance the dialogue between linguists and philosophers by providing a forum for presenting research in the interface between linguistic semantics and various areas of philosophy (philosophy of language, philosophy of mind/cognition, metaphysics etc.). Editions of SPE so far:

SPE1: Paris (2008)

SPE2: London (2009)

SPE3: Paris (2010)

SPE4: Bochum (2011)

SPE5: Turin (2012)

SPE6: Saint Petersburg (2013) (Bobrinsky Palace)

SPE7: Berlin (2014)

SPE8: Cambridge (2015)

SPE9: Padua (2017)



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