1997: Review of E. Corazza, Référence, Contexte et Attitudes, Bellarmin-Vrin. Solicited by
Dialogue, Vol. XXXVII, No 1 (5 ms. pages).
2002: Conventions, Convergence and the Metaphysics of Words: It's Shirt-Buttoning All the Way Down, Ruth! (23 ms. pages).
2002: Analyticity, Intentionality and Necessity: The Case about Gay Marriage (39 ms. pages)
2002: What is a Word? (26 ms. pages)
2001: Expert witness for petitioners in Egalev.Canada (A.G.)
Affidavit on the notion of word-meaning: Filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia
In the matter of Applications for Licences by Persons of the Same Sex who Intend to Marry; and in the matter of The Marriage Act and The Judicial Review Procedure Act (Vancouver Registry No. L001944; L002698; L003197), August (60 pages).
2001: Expert witness for applicants in Halpern v. Canada (A.G.)
Perspectives on Philosophy: Modernism and Post-modernism in Philosophy (for advanced Honours students)
Introduction to philosophy:
Great Works of Philosophy: Selections from Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Frege, Kripke
As Teaching Fellow/Assistant
+ Mathematical Backgrounds for Linguists
Symbolic Logic I
Introduction to Linguistics
Historical Introduction to Ethics
Philosophy in Literature
Scepticism and Rationality
Philosophy of Mind
Philosophy of Psychology
Philosophy of Religion
Contemporary Moral Issues
DISSERTATION Committee: Keith Donnellan, Dept. of Philosophy, UCLA, Chair
David Kaplan, Dept. of Philosophy, UCLA
Edward Stabler, Dept. of Linguistics, UCLA
Nina Hyams, Dept. of Linguistics, UCLA
Paul Schachter, Dept. of Linguistics, UCLA
Tyler Burge, Dept. of Philosophy, UCLA
Abstract My dissertation was inspired by two so-called revolutions in conceptions of language that have occurred in the latter half of the twentieth century (actually, each have historical antecedents dating as far back as Plato). One originates in the new theory of grammar initiated by Chomsky. The other results from the new theory of reference now well-established in Anglo-American philosophy, prominent contributors to which include Burge, Donnellan, Kaplan, Kripke and Putnam. Both are of capital importance to our understanding of the mental. However, both appear to yield conclusions about the mental that are mutually inconsistent.
The revolutionary import of the new theory of reference is the supplanting of (subjectively individuated) ideational and behavioral theories of meaning (for example, those of Cartesians and of Locke) by theories of objective reference. This, in turn, has been interpreted by some as leading to the replacement of individualist theories of conceptual content by externalist theories of mind.
Two central tenets of externalist theories of word (or concept) individuation are: the claim that some terms (or concepts) derive their meaning (or content) from causal connections to the world (natural kind terms); and the claim that some terms (or concepts) derive them from intentional commitments to a linguistic community (social kind terms and other terms).
In my dissertation, I try to show that these claims are fundamentally different, and to spell out the normativist conception of language underlying the latter claim -- the more properly communalist claim. I argue that it is ultimately this normativism (the idea that learning a language is plugging oneself into a network of social norms) which motivates reliance on a principle of literal interpretation in interpreting ascriptions of belief and other intentional states.
However, neither normativism nor literal interpretation find any articulation under a Chomskian conception of language. While most current discussions of the mental in philosophy are dominated by anti-individualism (the view that an individual's mental states cannot be characterized in isolation from the linguistic community to which the individual belongs), the Chomskian program in linguistics, I contend, has moved towards a radically individualistic conception of language and of mind. The revolutionary essence of the Chomskian program consists in providing the groundwork for a more-than-nominal distinction between the idiolect and the social language, and in establishing the ontological reality of the former and the pure ideality of the latter. In doing so, the Chomskian paradigm has all but done away with the notion of literal interpretation (at least as standardly understood).
Language identifiability is a necessary condition for the feasibility of the principle of literal interpretation postulated by normativist theories. This condition grounds an important distinction between cases of deference to science (to a communal enterprise seeking knowledge of the world) and cases of deference to communal norms. For while our shared commitments to science are a function of our sharing the same world, and thus transcend language communities, commitments to linguistic norms differ essentially across language communities. Thus we must distinguish crucially between those thought-experiments whose anti-individualist conclusions are due to causal interaction with the world and those whose conclusions derive from an individual's commitment to (arbitrary, linguistic) communal norms. The problem of concept individuation, which communalism seeks to solve by appeal to a commitment to norms, merely resurfaces as the problem of individuating linguistic communities. What makes a community mean what it means, or have the concepts it has? What are the criteria of individuation of equivalence classes for norms?
The relevance of the Chomskian program to philosophical views has been, I believe, underestimated. Chomskian theory has contributed much to the imposition of constraints which must be satisfied by all language centered approaches to the mental. These constraints include a responsibility to provide theories that are at least consistent with explanatory models of language acquisition and of language change. In my dissertation, I argue that the conception of language acquisition implicit in the normativist approach to language leaves unexplained (and inexplicable) the most distinguishing characteristic of natural (as opposed to formal) languages, namely the fact that they are constantly changing. I argue that a subjectivist account such as that derivable from Chomskian assumptions fares better in this regard.
The subjectivist view is more explanatory in other ways also. It is potentially capable of accounting for the fact that while most words naturally undergo semantic shifts, proper names typically do not. In accounting for this difference in diachronic behaviour, the subjectivist position affords an important insight into the theoretical success of the historical chain picture of the reference of names.
I attempt to show that the view that humans are innately endowed with concepts is problematic for an externalist theory of concept-individuation. Such a theory yields at best a phylogenetic theory of the inheritance of concepts (it explains at best the concepts that we have inherited from our human ancestors). But it falls short of a properly metaphysical interpretation of the innateness hypothesis (of the sort envisioned by Descartes, according to which even our human ancestors were endowed with concepts that preceded any and all experience).
I conclude that a relational theory of concept-individuation is inconsistent with Chomskian premises about the innateness of concepts, and that a social relational theory of concept-individuation is separately inconsistent with other Chomskian premises.