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.

My 3am interview with Richard Marshall elaborates this research interest further.

 

Currently I am involved in two major research projects.

[1] The project is the development of 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.

These are the most important forthcoming publications within that project:

  • Objects and Attitudes. Monograph, Oxford University Press, New York, under contract.  TOC  .
  • 'Attitudinal Objects and Propositions'. C. Tillman (ed.): Routledge Handbook of Propositions. Routledge, New York, under contract.
  • 'A Truthmaker Semantics for Modals and Attitude Reports'. In A. Egan / P. van Elswyck / D. Kinderman (eds.): Unstructured Content. Oxford UP, under contract.
  • 'A Truthmaker Theory for Modals'. Invited contribution, Philosophical Issues 'Philosophy of Logic and Inferential Reasoning', edited by C.F. Juhl and J. Schechter.

And these are the most important papers within that project that have already appeared:

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.

In connection with this research, I gave a series of lectures 'Acts Objects, and Attitudes' on the topic at NYUin the fall of 2015 for both philosophers and linguists 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 volume Act-Based Conceptions of Propositional Content also form part of this research project.

Moreover, I (co-)organized six workshops in the Philosophy Department at NYU, in part together with Kit Fine (NYU), with Jane Grimshaw (Rutgers) and the NY Philosophy of Language Workshop, in part sponsored by the New York Institute of Philosophy. With Jane Grimshaw, I also co-taught a tutorial on clausal complements at SPE 2015. I also (co-)oerganized two related workshops in Paris (IHPST). The workshops are listed under Events. Another workshop at Rutgers, together with the NY Philosophy of Language Workshop, is envisaged for spring 2018.

 

[2] The second project concerns natural language metaphysics (or ontology). The aim of this research is first to clarify the goals and the methodology of this fairly new discipline, second to relate it to contemporary and historical pursuits in metaphysics as well as to (generative) linguistics,  and third to develop some further important applications. Here are the main, in part forthcoming, publications:

  • 'Natural Language Ontology'. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Oxford UP, New York, March 2017, online.
  • 'Natural Language and its Ontology'. Forthcoming in A. Goldman / B. McLaughlin (eds): Metaphysics and Cognitive Science, Oxford UP, Oxford.
  • 'Natural Language Ontology'. Invited entry, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. E. Zalta.

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 gave a series of compact seminars in Paris (IHPST) on natural language ontology (May and September 2017) and well as a tutorial at the colloquium Semantics and Philosophy in Europe in Padua (September 4-9, 2017).

 

In addition, there are several research projects that I have pursued the past and that are still part of my ongoing research:

[1] One 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.

 

[2] 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 (and which is a notion that was important already in Aristotelian metaphyics). In this research, I argued that the notion of an integrated whole plays a central role also at a level of situated part structures, set up by the use of mass nouns and plurals as well as 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). Here are the mots important papers within the project of the semantics of parts and wholes:

The project itself dates back to my MA thesis of 1987 (expanded edition published as Individuation und Lokalitaet in 1992 by Fink Verlag). A more recent development of the view involves the use of integrity conditions for the semantics of plurals based on plural reference rather than reference to a plural entity, making use of integrated pluralities. This is outlined 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.

 

[3] Another older research project concerns the notion of a trope (or particularized property) and its role in the semantics of natural language. In this research I have argued that in natural language reference to tropes is pervasive and unlike reference to abstract objects such as properties, numbers, degrees, and (abstract) states, forms part of the core of language. Reference to tropes is involved not only in the semnatics of terms like Socrates' wisdom, which have traditionally been recognized as trope-referring terms, and the number of planets (a number trope-referring term), but also, implicitly, in the semantics of comparatives and in identificational sentences such as This is Mary. Besides my 2013 OUP book Abstract Objects and the Semantics of Natural Language, these are the most important publications that belong the project:

 

[4] Yet another older, but still ongoing project centers on the role of generic simulation in the semantics of natural language, in particular in sentences expressing first-person-oriented genericity. In several papers, I have argued that generic one involves generic simulation, generlizing by projecting oneself onto everyone (in a relevant group). This is an important feature of certain types of generic sentences, including statements of personal taste, as  well as aesthetic and moral judgments, statements. It underlies, on my view, the phenomenon of 'faultless disagreement'. These are the papers on the topic (another joint paper with Robert Gordon is planned):

 

[5] A research project of mine in the past involved dynamic semantics and the notion of a proposition. In two papers, I argued that unbound anaphora and presuppositions, including the lesser know, but related phenomenon of domain presuppositions, do not require giving up the notion of a proposition as the truth-conditionally complete meaning of sentences (in a context), but can be handled in terms of local discourse-driven context together with double-indexing. The first paper below also gives an overview of dynamic semantics meant to be particularly accessible to philosophers; the second paper gives a (still novel) non-dynamic treatment of presuppositions including the domain presupposition of strong quantifiers based on a pre-identification condition that can be satisfied in two distinct ways:

 

My website also contains a section Art. I enjoy enormously looking at art and connecting with artists, in New York City and elsewhere. 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. The Oxford University Press blog entries where I introduce the themes of books that I have written or edited give a glimpse of what may become a research project in the more distant future: blog entry for Unity and Plurality (November 2016), blog entry for Abstract Objects and the Semantics of Natural Language (June 2017), blog entry for Parts and Wholes in Semantics (July 2017), and blog entry for Act-Based Conceptions on Propositional Content (August 2017).

 

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)

 

 

Back to Top