Well, okay, I haven’t published any books yet. But I do have a manuscript in progress and a dissertation.
Assessment Sensitivity: Relative Truth and Its Applications
Here’s a recent draft of the book. This is a snapshot of a work in progress that is still being heavily revised, so you should not cite or quote it without permission. Comments are welcome.
Synopsis of chapters:
Chapter 1, A Taste of Relativism, provides some prima facie motivation for the project by considering what we should say about the meaning of “tasty”. Some desiderata for a satisfactory accounta are developed, and it is argued that none of the standard approaches—objectivism, contextualism, and classical expressivism—can meet them. A relativist approach is sketched that could meet the desiderata, but much work will be required to state it clearly and show it to be coherent.
Part I - Foundations
Chapter 2, The Standard Objections, sets out some standard objections to relativism about truth—objections whose currency among philosophers has largely kept relativism out of analytic semantics. We extract from these standard objections some key problems for relativism that will be addressed in Chapters 2-5.
Chapter 3, Assessment Sensitivity, argues that relativism about truth should be understood as the view that truth is assessment-sensitive. (Though there are other things one might mean by “relativism about truth,” this is the one that is philosophically interesting and relevant to our motivating concerns.) Assessment sensitivity is understood by analogy with ordinary context sensitivity, or, as it is called here, use-sensitivity. Just as the truth of uses of ordinary context-sensitive sentences and depends on features of the context in which they are used, so the truth of uses of assessment-sensitive sentences depends on features of the context in which they are assessed. Building on ideas of Lewis and Kaplan, we develop a framework that makes room for assessment-sensitivity.
Chapter 4, Propositions, shows how propositions can fit into this framework, and extends the notion of assessment sensitivity from sentences to propositions. This allows us to draw an important distinction between relativism about truth (which involves a commitment to assessment sensitivity) and nonindexical contextualism (which does not), and shows that taking propositional truth to be relevant to parameters besides possible worlds (and possibly times) is neither necessary nor sufficient for relativism about truth, in the sense articulated here.
Chapter 5, Making Sense of Relative Truth, addresses the substantive philosophical question that remains: what does it mean to talk of truth relative to a context of assessment? It does this by explaining the theoretical role of assessment-relative truth in a truth-conditional semantic theory. The combined theory of Chapters 2-4 allows us to formulate “relativist” semantic theories and derive from them substantive predictions about language use, so that they can be compared and evaluated against non-relativist alternatives. This is sufficient to have “made sense of relative truth” and warded off apriori objections to its intelligibility.
Chapter 6, Disagreement, is devoted to the topic of disagreement, a central crux in the debate between relativists, indexical and nonindexical contextualists, classical expressivists, and objectivists. We distinguish several varieties or “levels” of disagreement and show how the issue between the different semantic approaches we have considered can be reduced to an issue about what kind of disagreement there is about matters of taste (or any other domain under discussion).
Part II - Applications
Once the framework of chapters 3-6 is in place, it becomes a broadly empirical question whether any of our thought and talk is best understood in terms of a relativist semantics. Chapters 7-11 make the case for an affirmative answer.
Chapter 7, Tasty, returns to the example considered in Chapter 1, the thin evaluative term “tasty.” We argue that a view on which “tasty” is assessment-sensitive is better than the standard views (objectivism, contextualism, and expressivism), each of which is motivated by a genuine insight that it accommodates in a one-sided way. We develop a simple relativist semantics for “tasty” and consider what the relativist can and should say about the interaction of “tasty” with tense, modality, quantifiers, attitude verbs, and factive verbs and adjectives. This view is also compared to a sophisticated form of expressivism inspired by Gibbard’s work.
Chapter 8, Will, considers classical approaches to giving truth values to contingent statements about the future in an objectively indeterministic world. We argue that the two main approaches—the “thin red line” approach and the “no truth value” approach—are both motivated by genuine insights, which can be held together only in a relativist account.
Chapter 9, Knows, considers how a relativist account of knowledge attributions might steer a middle course between contextualist and invariantist accounts—breaking a deadlock in the contemporary debate.
Chapter 10, Might, makes a case for a relativist treatment of epistemic modal claims, like Joe might be in Boston, over the standard contextualist and expressivist alternatives.
Chapter 11, Ought (based on joint work with Niko Kolodny) takes on the view, widespread in the literature on ethics and practical reason, that “ought” is ambiguous between objective and subjective senses. We argue that a relativist treatment better accounts for our use of “ought,” and better fits the purposes for which we use “ought.”
Chapter 12, The Rationality of Relativism, rebuts an objection to the rationality of assessment-sensitive practices, and asks why we should expect to find assessment sensitivity in certain domains (for example, knowledge attributions or epistemic modals). We argue that, given our purposes in using these expressions, it is better that they be assessment-sensitive.
What Does it Mean to Say that Logic is Formal?
PhD Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 2000. You can download a PDF.
Much philosophy of logic is shaped, explicitly or implicitly, by the thought that logic is distinctively formal and abstracts from material content. The distinction between formal and material does not appear to coincide with the more familiar distinctions between a priori and empirical, necessary and contingent, analytic and synthetic—indeed, it is often invoked to explain these. And although there are clear notions of formality that advert to schematic inference patterns, syntactic rules, and grammar, none of these is capable of demarcating logic. What does it mean, then, to say that logic is distinctively formal?
Three things: logic is said to be formal (or "topic-neutral’’)…
in the sense that it provides constitutive norms for thought as such,
in the sense that it is indifferent to the particular identities of objects, and
in the sense that it abstracts entirely from the semantic content of thought.
Though these three notions of formality are by no means equivalent, they are frequently run together. The reason, I argue, is that modern talk of the formality of logic has its source in Kant, and these three notions come together in the context of Kant’s transcendental philosophy. Outside of this context (e.g., in Frege), they can come apart. Attending to this history can help us to see the sources of our disparate intuitions about logicality, and more importantly to sort these intuitions into central and adventitious ones. I argue that we have largely lost sight of the notion of formality (1) by which logic was demarcated in a central tradition from Leibniz through Frege—the intellectual home of most of the philosophical projects for which it matters how logic is demarcated.
This historical perspective is especially useful in evaluating contemporary debates about the demarcation of logic, which often seem to turn on opposing but equally brute intuitions about logicality. As an illustration, I examine the popular permutation-invariance account of logicality, which is commonly motivated by appeal to sense (2) of formality. I present the account in a way that reveals a hidden lacuna, and I show how this lacuna might be filled by appealing to formality in sense (1).