Overview

To date my work has been primarily in the philosophy of language, which I construe broadly so as to intersect meaningfully with generative linguistics, the philosophy of mind, cognitive science, philosophical logic, metaphysics, theory of legal interpretation, and literary theory. Much of my writing, research and lecturing has been on interlaced questions about meaning, interpretation, context, structure, and representation. My major project at the moment is a book I am calling “Linguistic Pragmatism” in which I am trying to unmask the concept of interpretation and set out a philosophically viable theory of understanding. The net result is intentionalist (in the sense that its core is influenced by Grice’s intention-based theory of meaning) and pragmatist (in several related senses). Traditional accounts of interpretation and understanding, even those in the Gricean tradition, seem to me to be marred by (1) a failure to engage correctly with the epistemic asymmetry of the situations producers and consumers of language find themselves in; (2) a consequent failure to distinguish adequately the metaphysical question of what determines what a speaker or writer means on a given occasion from the epistemological question of how that particular meaning is identified; (3) a failure to appreciate the severity of constraints on the formation of linguistic intentions; (4) failures to appreciate pervasive forms of underdeterminaton; (5) failures to recognize that genuine indeterminacy of the sort associated with what speakers and writers imply (or conversationally implicate in Grice’s sense) may also affect what they say (for example, when they use incomplete definite descriptions); (6) inappropriate reliance on formal notions of context deriving from indexical logics, (7) unwarranted faith in transcendent notions of “what is said”, “what is implied” and “what is referred to”; and (8) a quite general overestimation of the role traditional compositional semantics can play in explanations of how humans use language to represent the world and communicate. Snippets of Linguistic Pragmatism have appeared in recent publications such as “On Location”, “Pragmatism and Binding”, and “Colouring and Composition.” I have a working interest in Ancient Greek philosophy and poetry. These are not really areas of serious research, but I regularly teach an undergraduate course on Plato, and from time to time an honors seminar on the expression of moral and political concepts in drama and dialogue.

Selected Work in Progress

1. Textualism with Intent.

A highly qualified defence of Justice Antonin Scalia’s “textualist” theory of statutory interpretation. I argue that Scalia’s position is saved from collapse only by (a) construing it as based on an important intentionalist principle in the Gricean tradition, (b) embracing a sharp distinction betwen what a sentence means and what that sentence is being used by its author to state on a given occasion, and (c) embracing many other distinctions familiar to philosophers of language but not, apparently, to many legal scholars and judges. After distinguishing two different notions of statutory interpretation, I then argue that in one sense the correctness of the neo-textualist theory must actually be assumed by those who proffer non-textualist theories of statutory interpretation, and that this drains textualism of much of its value as a theory relevant to judicial practice. (I hope to have this paper up on the Web quite soon.)

2. Term Limits. Oxford University Press

Introduction; 9 previously published articles; postscripts; 3 new articles. This volume was originally to be called “Semantic Structures”, but the name change made a great deal of sense in view of the inclusion of “Term Limits” and new papers pushing the same general line, which in fact unify the papers in an important respect.

3. Linguistic Pragmatism. Oxford University Press

Part I concerns the case for what I call Linguistic Pragmatism, as sketched in the overview and in “Pragmaism and Binding”. Part II concerns debates in legal theory about the interpretation of statutes and regulations. Part III concerns debates in literary theory about the meanings of texts. Part IV provides a highly technical defence of Pragmatism in the face of criticisms engendered by work at the interface of linguistics and contemporary philosophy of language. The defence draws on parts of Descriptions and parts of papers such as “Pragmatism and Binding”, “On Location”, “Coloring and Composition”, “On Referring Directly”, and “Meaning, Grammar and Indeterminacy”.