Courses

Spring 2016

PHIL 142: Philosophical Logic

“Philosophical logic” includes both (a) the philosophical investigation of the fundamental concepts of logic and (b) the deployment of logical methods in the service of philosophical ends. We’ll tackle five interconnecting topics in philosophical logic:

  1. Quantifiers: You may think you learned everything there is to know about quantifiers in Philosophy 12A. But in fact, there are quite a few quantificational idioms that we can’t understand in terms of the quantification theory you learned. We’ll look at the logic of identity, numerical quantifiers, generalized quantifiers, definite descriptions, substitutional quantifiers, and plural quantifiers.

  2. Modal logic: In addition to talking about what is the case, we talk about what might have been the case and what could not have been otherwise. Modal logic gives us tools to analyze reasoning involving these notions. We’ll get a basic grasp on some of the fundamentals of propositional modal logic, and then delve into some hairy conceptual problems surrounding quantified modal logic, explored by Quine, Kripke, and others. We’ll also look at the famous “slingshot argument,” which was used by Quine and Davidson to reject modal logic and correspondence theories of truth. At this point our work on definite descriptions will come in handy!

  3. Logical consequence: If you ask what logic is about, a reasonable (though not completely satisfactory) answer is that it’s the study of what follows from what, that is, of logical consequence. But how should we think of this relation? We’ll start by looking at Tarski’s account of logical consequence, which has become the orthodox account. On this account, logical consequence is a matter of truth preservation: P follows from Q if there is no model on which P is true and Q false. We’ll talk about how this account relates to the older idea that P follows from Q if it is impossible for P to be true and Q false. Then we’ll consider some alternatives. One alternative is to define consequence in terms of proof. We’ll look at a version of this idea by Dag Prawitz, which yields a nonclassical logic called “intuitionistic logic.” We’ll then look at the suggestion that relevance in addition to truth preservation is required for logical consequence. We’ll see how one might develop a nonclassical “relevance logic,” and we’ll consider some technical and philosophical issues that speak for and against a requirement of relevance. Finally, we’ll consider how, exactly, logic relates to reasoning.

  4. Conditionals: In Philosophy 12A you were taught to translate English conditionals using the “material conditional,” a truth-functional connective. This leads to some odd results: for example, “If I am currently on Mars, then I am a hippopotamus” comes out true (since the antecedent is false). We’ll start by considering some attempts to defend the material-conditional analysis of indicative conditionals in English. Then we’ll consider some alternatives, inculding Edgington’s view that indicative conditionals have no truth-conditions, Stalnaker’s elegant modal account, and the view that indicative conditionals should be understood as conditional assertions. Finally, we’ll look at McGee’s “counterexample to modus ponens,” and consider whether this sacrosanct inference rule is actually invalid!

  5. Vagueness: Finally we’ll turn to the “sorites paradox,” or paradox of the heap, which argues: five thousand grains of sand make a heap; taking one grain away from a heap still leaves you with a heap; so…one grain of sand makes a heap. Philosophical logicians have suggested that it is a mistake to use classical logic and semantics in analyzing this argument, and they have proposed a number of alternatives. We’ll consider three of them: (a) a three-valued logic, (b) a continuum-valued (or fuzzy) logic, and (c) a supervaluational approach that preserves classical logic (mostly) but not classical semantics. If there’s time, we’ll also look at a short argument by Gareth Evans that purports to show that vagueness must be a semantic phenomenon: that is, that there is no vagueness “in the world.”

Requirements will include both papers and problem sets.

Prerequisites: Philosophy 12A or equivalent, and at least one other course in philosophy. The course covers some technical material, but knowledge of logic beyond 12A will not be assumed.

Books: Course Reader.

Spring 2015

PHIL 135: Theory of Meaning

An examination of some philosophical problems about the intentionality of language and thought. By virtue of what are some things in the world (for example, sentences and thoughts) about others? Is meaning always a matter of interpretation, or do some things have meaning independently of interpretation? Is conceptual thought prior to language? What would it take for a computer to have thoughts? Are the meanings of our words and the contents of our mental states determined by what’s going on inside our brains, or do they depend also on features of our physical and social environments? Could there be facts about meaning we could only discover by looking in someone’s brain? Are there objective facts about meaning at all? In exploring these and related questions, we will read the work of Quine, Davidson, Grice, Putnam, Dennett, Searle, Burge, Block, Fodor, Dretske, and others.

Fall 2013

PHIL 290: Graduate Seminar: Assessment Sensitivity

The seminar will focus on the issues discussed in my forthcoming book, Assessment Sensitivity: Relative Truth and Its Applications (PDF). The book attempts to make solid philosophical sense of the fraught idea that truth might be “relative,” an idea with a long philosophical history and few adherents in the analytic tradition. It describes a novel way in which thoughts and linguistic expressions can be contextually sensitive. Familiar context-sensitive words like “here” and “I” are semantically sensitive to features of the context of use. Thus, “here” denotes the location at which the word is being used, “I” denotes the person using it. Similarly, the truth of a tensed sentence like “Obama is president” depends on the time of use. Call this familiar kind of context sensitivity use sensitivity. Assessment sensitivity, by contrast, is semantic sensitivity to features of the context in which a use of the expression is being assessed (in my lingo, a context of assessment). Because a particular use of an expression can be assessed from indefinitely many different contexts, it does not make sense to talk of “the context of assessment” associated with a particular such use. Rather, truth must be relativized to contexts of assessment. Thus, making sense of semantic assessment sensitivity requires making sense of (a certain kind of) “relative truth” – a notion often held to be incoherent.

Part of the work, then, is devoted to explaining how we can make room for assessment sensitivity within existing formal semantic frameworks, and to making an empirical case for the assessment sensitivity of several kinds of discourse that have been puzzled philosophers and linguists, including future contingents, predicates of personal taste, knowledge ascriptions, epistemic modals, deontic claims, and indicative conditionals. And part of the work is devoted to the more philosophical task of fending off principled worries about the kind of “relative truth” that the proposals countenance, and giving us a solid grip on what it means to say that an expression is assessment-sensitive.

The aim is to read and discuss the whole book, which will be the main text for the seminar. Supplementary readings will be suggested for each chapter.

Spring 2013

PHIL 135: Theory of Meaning

An examination of some philosophical problems about the intentionality of language and thought. By virtue of what are some things in the world (for example, sentences and thoughts) about others? Is meaning always a matter of interpretation, or do some things have meaning independently of interpretation? Is conceptual thought prior to language? What would it take for a computer to have thoughts? Are the meanings of our words and the contents of our mental states determined by what’s going on inside our brains, or do they depend also on features of our physical and social environments? Could there be facts about meaning we could only discover by looking in someone’s brain? Are there objective facts about meaning at all? In exploring these and related questions, we will read the work of Quine, Davidson, Grice, Putnam, Dennett, Searle, Burge, Block, Fodor, Dretske, and others.

PHIL 190: Proseminar: Fact, value, and meaning

Many philosophers have thought that there is an important difference between factual and evaluative language. When we say that Jim is being cruel, or that he should not pull the cat’s tail, they hold, we are not saying how things are, but expressing our disapproval and trying to influence others. This view has major consequences for how we think about moral and aesthetic argument and disagreements. In this seminar, we will consider the motivations for thinking that evaluative language is nonfactual, and we will look at some difficulties that arise in working out the idea. Readings will be drawn mostly from twentieth century analytic philosophers.

This is a proseminar, which means that the format of the class will be different from most classes in our department. I will not lecture. Instead, we will try to come to grips with the texts by discussing them collaboratively. Participation and occasional presentations are expected. It is essential that you do the reading and think hard about it before each class.

This is an upper-level philosophy course. Students should be philosophy majors and must have taken at least two prior philosophy courses.

Fall 2012

PHIL 200: First-Year Graduate Seminar

(with Hannah Ginsborg)

Seminar for first-year graduate students in Philosophy.

Spring 2011

PHIL 142: Philosophical Logic

“Philosophical logic” includes both (a) the philosophical investigation of the fundamental concepts of logic and (b) the deployment of logical methods in the service of philosophical ends. We’ll tackle five interconnecting topics in philosophical logic:

  1. Quantifiers: You may think you learned everything there is to know about quantifiers in Philosophy 12A. But in fact, there are quite a few quantificational idioms that we can’t understand in terms of the quantification theory you learned. We’ll look at the logic of identity, numerical quantifiers, generalized quantifiers, definite descriptions, substitutional quantifiers, and plural quantifiers.

  2. Modal logic: In addition to talking about what is the case, we talk about what might have been the case and what could not have been otherwise. Modal logic gives us tools to analyze reasoning involving these notions. We’ll get a basic grasp on some of the fundamentals of propositional modal logic, and then delve into some hairy conceptual problems surrounding quantified modal logic, explored by Quine, Kripke, and others. We’ll also look at the famous “slingshot argument,” which was used by Quine and Davidson to reject modal logic and correspondence theories of truth. At this point our work on definite descriptions will come in handy!

  3. Logical consequence: If you ask what logic is about, a reasonable (though not completely satisfactory) answer is that it’s the study of what follows from what, that is, of logical consequence. But how should we think of this relation? We’ll start by looking at Tarski’s account of logical consequence, which has become the orthodox account. On this account, logical consequence is a matter of truth preservation: P follows from Q if there is no model on which P is true and Q false. We’ll talk about how this account relates to the older idea that P follows from Q if it is impossible for P to be true and Q false. Then we’ll consider some alternatives. One alternative is to define consequence in terms of proof. We’ll look at a version of this idea by Dag Prawitz, which yields a nonclassical logic called “intuitionistic logic.” We’ll then look at the suggestion that relevance in addition to truth preservation is required for logical consequence. We’ll see how one might develop a nonclassical “relevance logic,” and we’ll consider some technical and philosophical issues that speak for and against a requirement of relevance. Finally, we’ll consider how, exactly, logic relates to reasoning.

  4. Conditionals: In Philosophy 12A you were taught to translate English conditionals using the “material conditional,” a truth-functional connective. This leads to some odd results: for example, “If I am currently on Mars, then I am a hippopotamus” comes out true (since the antecedent is false). We’ll start by considering some attempts to defend the material-conditional analysis of indicative conditionals in English. Then we’ll consider some alternatives, inculding Edgington’s view that indicative conditionals have no truth-conditions, Stalnaker’s elegant modal account, and the view that indicative conditionals should be understood as conditional assertions. Finally, we’ll look at McGee’s “counterexample to modus ponens,” and consider whether this sacrosanct inference rule is actually invalid!

  5. Vagueness: Finally we’ll turn to the “sorites paradox,” or paradox of the heap, which argues: five thousand grains of sand make a heap; taking one grain away from a heap still leaves you with a heap; so…one grain of sand makes a heap. Philosophical logicians have suggested that it is a mistake to use classical logic and semantics in analyzing this argument, and they have proposed a number of alternatives. We’ll consider three of them: (a) a three-valued logic, (b) a continuum-valued (or fuzzy) logic, and (c) a supervaluational approach that preserves classical logic (mostly) but not classical semantics. If there’s time, we’ll also look at a short argument by Gareth Evans that purports to show that vagueness must be a semantic phenomenon: that is, that there is no vagueness “in the world.”

Requirements will include both papers and problem sets.

Prerequisites: Philosophy 12A or equivalent, and at least one other course in philosophy. The course covers some technical material, but knowledge of logic beyond 12A will not be assumed.

Books: Course Reader.

PHIL 290-4: Graduate Seminar: Expressivism and Relativism

My judgments that a certain dish is tasty and that it is likely to rain tomorrow do not seem to be judgments about an objective domain of reality, independent of my own tastes and information. Yet they seem to be more than mere reports of my own tastes and information; for example, they can serve as loci of interpersonal disagreements. So how should we understand them? Both expressivism and relativism advertise themselves as ways of steering between the Scylla of excessive subjectivism and the Charybdis of excessive objectivism. In this seminar we will look at both approaches, with a focus on expressivism. We will be particularly concerned with understanding just how the two approaches differ, when both are fully developed, and how each differs from the subjectivist and objectivist views they are seeking to avoid. For concreteness and to ease comparison, we will focus on claims of taste and likelihood, even though much of the discussion concerns normative judgment. Readings will be drawn from A. J. Ayer, C. L. Stevenson, Peter Geach, Simon Blackburn, Allan Gibbard, Huw Price, Mark Schroeder, Frank Jackson, Jamie Dreier, Gideon Rosen, and others (including some unpublished work of my own).

Spring 2010

PHIL 290-4: Graduate Seminar: Content without Structure

(with Seth Yalcin)

Our standard ways of representing and attributing mental states and speech acts involves two components, which Frege called force and content. Believing that snow is white and imagining that snow is white are attitudes that share a content but differ in force; similarly, believing that snow is white and believing that mud is red share a force but differ in content. This approach gives us the efficiencies of a division of labor. A single account of content can be combined with accounts of various kinds of forces to yield accounts of various kinds of attitudes and speech acts.

We will focus on the question: What should we take contents to be, given their roles in our psychological and linguistic theories? The classic accounts given by Frege and Russell take contents to be structured complexes of senses (on the Fregean view) or objects and properties (on the Russellian view). We will be primarily interested, however, in unstructured conceptions, which take contents to be functions from circumstances, possibilities, or conditions to truth values.

We will begin by looking at Stalnaker’s development of such a conception in Inquiry. We will ask what motivates Stalnaker’s conception of content, as against structured alternatives, and what explanatory work it does. We will then look at several objections to unstructured conceptions:

  • The problem of logical omniscience. Intuitively, one need not believe all of the necessary consequences of one’s beliefs, but the unstructured conception seems to entail that one does. Relatedly, there are plausible psychological generalizations – for example, that if one believes a conjunction, one must believe both conjuncts, but need not believe all of the necessary consequences of the conjunction – that it seems cannot be stated in a framework that takes contents to be unstructured.

  • Aboutness. Intuitively, beliefs are individuated in part by what they are about (by their topics or subject matters), but it is not clear how a notion of aboutness can be defined that makes sense for unstructured propositions.

  • Frege’s puzzle. Intuitively, believing that Hesperus is visible is not the same as believing that Phosphorus is visible, but on an unstructured conception, the contents would seem to be the same.

  • De se attitudes. Intuitively, I could be omniscient, in the sense of knowing which world is actual, without knowing which object in that world I am. So standard unstructured views do not seem to provide resources for describing de se attitudes.

Although some of these objections have been taken to motivate structured theories of contents, we will be particularly interested in seeing how unstructured theories can evolve to meet them. In addition to classic treatments of these problems, we will look at some very recent (and in some cases, future) work on them.

Fall 2009

PHIL 25A: Introduction to Ancient Philosophy

This course is an introduction to ancient Greek philosophy–and, for the uninitiated, to philosophy itself. We will spend almost all of our time on the three most important Greek philosophers–Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle–with a passing glance at pre-Socratic and Hellenistic philosophers. Our primary goal will be to understand these philosophers’ characteristic methods and views, and (more importantly) their reasons for holding these views. It is often said that we should study ancient Greek philosophy because it is the intellectual basis for all later western philosophy and natural science. That is true, but it is only half the story. We should also study ancient Greek philosophy to become familiar with a worldview so alien that it throws our own into sharp relief. As you are outraged by some of the things these philosophers say, you will come to see more clearly what your own views are, and you will be forced to ask what justifies them. You will not just be studying the history of philosophy; you will be doing philosophy. Prerequisite: None.

PHIL 200: First-Year Graduate Seminar

(with Niko Kolodny)

Seminar for first-year graduate students in Philosophy.

Spring 2009

PHIL 290: Graduate Seminar: Assessment Sensitivity

In this seminar we will investigate how we might make sense of the idea that truth is relative, and how we might use this idea to give satisfying accounts of parts of our thought and talk that have resisted traditional methods of analysis. Although there is a substantial philosophical literature on relativism about truth, this literature (both pro and con) has tended to focus on refutations of the doctrine, or refutations of these refutations, at the expense of saying clearly what the doctrine is. The approach here will be to try to give a clear account of the view, and then to use the view to solve some problems that have concerned philosophers and semanticists. The main aim is to put relativist solutions to these problems on the table, so that they may be compared with non-relativist solutions and accepted or rejected on their merits.

The main text of the seminar will be a book manuscript I am working on, entitled Assessment Sensitivity: Relative Truth and Its Applications. We will tentatively aim to get through about one chapter each week, with the aim of covering much, though not all, of the book. (Some chapters still need to be written!) Each week there will also be quite a bit of supplemental reading by other philosophers.

The book falls into three main parts, and so will the seminar. In the first part, we will consider how a relativist view might be motivated, by reviewing the difficulties faced by various non-relativist views about the meanings of words like “tasty.” We will also survey some of the standard objections to relativism about truth, with a view to clarifying a relativist’s philosophical obligations. In the second part, we will attempt to give a clear statement of the truth relativist position and try to make some philosophical sense of it. In the third part, we will consider how the machinery developed in the second part can be applied to some real problems in semantics and philosophy (involving future contingents, knowledge attributions, epistemic and deontic modals, and indicative conditionals). If time permits, we may also consider how the view I am developing compares with other views in the vicinity.

This seminar is intended primarily for Berkeley graduate students in philosophy and in logic and the methodology of science. Others need to seek my permission before enrolling in the course. A background in philosophy of language, with some exposure to truth-conditional semantics, will be very helpful.

Spring 2008

PHIL 142: Philosophical Logic

“Philosophical logic” includes both (a) the philosophical investigation of the fundamental concepts of logic and (b) the deployment of logical methods in the service of philosophical ends. We’ll tackle five interconnecting topics in philosophical logic:

  1. Quantifiers: You may think you learned everything there is to know about quantifiers in Philosophy 12A. But in fact, there are quite a few quantificational idioms that we can’t understand in terms of the quantification theory you learned. We’ll look at the logic of identity, numerical quantifiers, generalized quantifiers, definite descriptions, substitutional quantifiers, and plural quantifiers.

  2. Modal logic: In addition to talking about what is the case, we talk about what might have been the case and what could not have been otherwise. Modal logic gives us tools to analyze reasoning involving these notions. We’ll get a basic grasp on some of the fundamentals of propositional modal logic, and then delve into some hairy conceptual problems surrounding quantified modal logic, explored by Quine, Kripke, and others. We’ll also look at the famous “slingshot argument,” which was used by Quine and Davidson to reject modal logic and correspondence theories of truth. At this point our work on definite descriptions will come in handy!

  3. Logical consequence: If you ask what logic is about, a reasonable (though not completely satisfactory) answer is that it’s the study of what follows from what, that is, of logical consequence. But how should we think of this relation? We’ll start by looking at Tarski’s account of logical consequence, which has become the orthodox account. On this account, logical consequence is a matter of truth preservation: P follows from Q if there is no model on which P is true and Q false. We’ll talk about how this account relates to the older idea that P follows from Q if it is impossible for P to be true and Q false. Then we’ll consider some alternatives. One alternative is to define consequence in terms of proof. We’ll look at a version of this idea by Dag Prawitz, which yields a nonclassical logic called “intuitionistic logic.” We’ll then look at the suggestion that relevance in addition to truth preservation is required for logical consequence. We’ll see how one might develop a nonclassical “relevance logic,” and we’ll consider some technical and philosophical issues that speak for and against a requirement of relevance. Finally, we’ll consider how, exactly, logic relates to reasoning.

  4. Conditionals: In Philosophy 12A you were taught to translate English conditionals using the “material conditional,” a truth-functional connective. This leads to some odd results: for example, “If I am currently on Mars, then I am a hippopotamus” comes out true (since the antecedent is false). We’ll start by considering some attempts to defend the material-conditional analysis of indicative conditionals in English. Then we’ll consider some alternatives, inculding Edgington’s view that indicative conditionals have no truth-conditions, Stalnaker’s elegant modal account, and the view that indicative conditionals should be understood as conditional assertions. Finally, we’ll look at McGee’s “counterexample to modus ponens,” and consider whether this sacrosanct inference rule is actually invalid!

  5. Vagueness: Finally we’ll turn to the “sorites paradox,” or paradox of the heap, which argues: five thousand grains of sand make a heap; taking one grain away from a heap still leaves you with a heap; so…one grain of sand makes a heap. Philosophical logicians have suggested that it is a mistake to use classical logic and semantics in analyzing this argument, and they have proposed a number of alternatives. We’ll consider three of them: (a) a three-valued logic, (b) a continuum-valued (or fuzzy) logic, and (c) a supervaluational approach that preserves classical logic (mostly) but not classical semantics. If there’s time, we’ll also look at a short argument by Gareth Evans that purports to show that vagueness must be a semantic phenomenon: that is, that there is no vagueness “in the world.”

Requirements will include both papers and problem sets.

Prerequisites: Philosophy 12A or equivalent, and at least one other course in philosophy. The course covers some technical material, but knowledge of logic beyond 12A will not be assumed.

Books: Course Reader.

PHIL 290: Graduate Seminar: Assessment Sensitivity

We will examine the idea that some of the things we think and say are assessment-sensitive—that is, true or false only relative to a “context of assessment.” We will be concerned with three main issues:

  1. How can we make room for assessment sensitivity in existing semantic frameworks? To what extent is provision for assessment sensitivity a natural extension of these frameworks?

  2. How can we make philosophical sense of assessment sensitivity? What does it mean to say that what is asserted or believed is true or false only relative to a context of assessment? What are the costs of saying this? To what extent is this form of relativism subject to the usual philosophical objections?

  3. What is the motivation for positing assessment sensitivity? What phenomena can we explain by doing so? What are the prospects for alternative (and perhaps less radical) explanations of these phenomena?

For the sake of concreteness, we will focus first on “predicates of personal taste” (paradigmatically, “tasty”), and then on epistemic and deontic modals. In addition to newer literature that directly concerns assessment sensitivity, we will read some classic literature (both on semantics and on evaluative concepts, obligations, and possibility) that the newer work builds on.

Prerequisites: This seminar is primarily intended for graduate students in Philosophy and Logic and the Methodology of Science. Other students should seek my permission before continuing. I will not presuppose much background in the philosophy of language, but it would be good if everyone were familiar with the following three articles: Gottlob Frege, “The Thought: A Logical Inquiry” (English translation in Mind 65, 1956, pp. 289-311); H. P. Grice, “Logic and Conversation” (in Studies in the Way of Words, Harvard University Press, 1986); Richard Cartwright, “Propositions,” in Philosophical Essays (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 33-53.

Fall 2007

PHIL 25A: Introduction to Ancient Philosophy

This course is an introduction to ancient Greek philosophy–and, for the uninitiated, to philosophy itself. We will spend almost all of our time on the three most important Greek philosophers–Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle–with a passing glance at pre-Socratic and Hellenistic philosophers. Our primary goal will be to understand these philosophers’ characteristic methods and views, and (more importantly) their reasons for holding these views. It is often said that we should study ancient Greek philosophy because it is the intellectual basis for all later western philosophy and natural science. That is true, but it is only half the story. We should also study ancient Greek philosophy to become familiar with a worldview so alien that it throws our own into sharp relief. As you are outraged by some of the things these philosophers say, you will come to see more clearly what your own views are, and you will be forced to ask what justifies them. You will not just be studying the history of philosophy; you will be doing philosophy. Prerequisite: None.

Spring 2007

PHIL 135: Theory of Meaning

I can’t see the planet Pluto, but just by uttering the words “Pluto is very cold,” I can say something about Pluto, something whose truth or falsity depends on how things are millions of miles from Earth. How is this possible? What gives our words and sentences semantic properties (meaning, reference, truth)? Clearly, the semantic properties of words depend somehow on our thoughts and intentions: but how? And what gives our mental states their semantic properties? Are the meanings of our words and the contents of our mental states determined by what’s going on inside our brains, or do they depend on features of our physical environments of which we may be unaware? Are they determined by how things are now, or do they depend on facts about our history (or even our futures)? Could there be facts about meaning we could only discover by looking in someone’s brain? Are there objective facts about meaning at all? In exploring these and related questions, we will read the work of Quine, Davidson, Grice, Putnam, Dennett, Searle, Burge, Fodor, Dretske, and others. Prerequisite: two previous courses in philosophy.

PHIL 295: Dissertation Seminar

Presentations by graduate students of dissertation research in progress. Restricted to graduate students who are writing dissertations in philosophy.

Fall 2006

PHIL 25A: Introduction to Ancient Philosophy

This course is an introduction to ancient Greek philosophy–and, for the uninitiated, to philosophy itself. We will spend almost all of our time on the three most important Greek philosophers–Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle–with a passing glance at pre-Socratic and Hellenistic philosophers. Our primary goal will be to understand these philosophers’ characteristic methods and views, and (more importantly) their reasons for holding these views. It is often said that we should study ancient Greek philosophy because it is the intellectual basis for all later western philosophy and natural science. That is true, but it is only half the story. We should also study ancient Greek philosophy to become familiar with a worldview so alien that it throws our own into sharp relief. As you are outraged by some of the things these philosophers say, you will come to see more clearly what your own views are, and you will be forced to ask what justifies them. You will not just be studying the history of philosophy; you will be doing philosophy. Prerequisite: None.

PHIL 200: First-Year Graduate Seminar

(with John Searle)

Seminar for first-year graduate students in Philosophy.

Spring 2006

PHIL 142: Philosophical Logic

An introduction to the philosophy of logic and to philosophical applications of logic. The bulk of the course will be devoted to discussion of two notions that play a central role in logical theory: truth and logical consequence. We will pay special attention to the philosophical significance of Tarski’s formal definitions of both notions. At the end of the course we will consider how logical theory can be brought to bear on philosophical problems, focusing on the sorites paradox (or “paradox of the heap”). Topics to be covered include theories of truth, facts and propositions, the slingshot argument, Tarski’s truth definitions, objectual and substitutional quantification, proof-theoretic and model-theoretic definitions of logical consequence, relevance logics, dialetheism, the sorites paradox, many-valued logics, and supervaluations.

Prerequisites: Philosophy 12A (or equivalent) and at least one other course in philosophy. The course covers some technical material, but knowledge of logic beyond what is taught in 12A will not be presupposed.

Requirements will include both papers and occasional problem sets.

Books: John Etchemendy, The Concept of Logical Consequence (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990); course reader.

PHIL 290: Graduate Seminar: Brandom’s Making It Explicit

We will read Bob Brandom’s 1994 book Making It Explicit: Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment, with the aim of understanding and evaluating its sophisticated version of a “use theory of meaning.”

Books: Robert Brandom, Making It Explicit: Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994).

Spring 2005

PHIL 142: Philosophical Logic

An introduction to the philosophy of logic and to philosophical applications of logic. In the first part of the course (“Fundamentals”) we will discuss two notions that play a central role in logical theory: truth and validity. We will pay special attention to the philosophical significance of Tarski’s formal definitions of both notions. In the second part (“Applications”) we will look at applications of logical theory to two philosophical problems: the sorites paradox (or “paradox of the heap”) and the problem of future contingents. In grappling with these problems we will learn about many-valued logics, modal operators, supervaluations, and the logic of indexicals, and we will bring to bear our earlier, more abstract discussions of truth and validity.

Prerequisites: I will not presuppose any knowledge of logic beyond what is taught in Philosophy 12A. In addition to 12A, you must have taken at least one other course in philosophy.

Requirements will include both papers and occasional problem sets.

Books: John Etchemendy, The Concept of Logical Consequence; Timothy Williamson, Vagueness; course reader.

PHIL 290: Graduate Seminar: Context Sensitivity in Semantics

Words like ‘I’, ‘here’, ‘now’, ‘this’, and ‘yesterday’ are generally recognized to be context-sensitive in a way that ‘cow’, ‘table’, and ‘fifteen’ are not. Their contribution to what is expressed by sentences containing them depends systematically on features of the context in which they are used. In the wake of David Kaplan’s seminal work on the logic and semantics of indexicals in the 1970s, it has become popular to represent this context sensitivity formally by relativizing sentence truth to a “context of use.”

Kaplan’s work was focused fairly narrowly on standard indexicals and demonstratives. Recently, however, philosophers and semanticists have been busily extending the bounds of semantic context sensitivity to other kinds of expressions, including gradable adjectives like ‘tall’ and ‘flat’, counterfactual and indicative conditionals, epistemic modals like ‘might’ and ‘possibly’, propositional attitude verbs, and terms of epistemic assessment like ‘know’ and ‘justify’. Accompanying the first-order discussion of these expressions (which is often motivated by philosophical as well as semantic concerns) has been considerable methodological discussion about just where to draw the line between semantic and pragmatic sources of context sensitivity. In addition to various moderate positions that draw the line in different places, two extreme positions have been defended: conservatives have argued that semantic context sensitivity is limited to the canonical indexicals, while radicals have argued that it infects all language to such an extent that formal semantics is impossible. In the first part of the seminar, we will try to sort out what is at stake in these debates.

In the second part of the seminar, I will argue for a generalization of Kaplan’s framework, in which truth is relativized not just to a context of use but also to what I call a “context of assessment.” I will argue that this generalization is needed in order to make good semantic and philosophical sense of epistemic modals, terms of epistemic assessment (like ‘know’), predicates of personal taste (like ‘fun’), tense (in an indeterministic framework), indicative conditionals, and possibly other bits of language. These expressions, I will argue, are context-sensitive, but not in the familiar way. Instead of being “use-sensitive,” they are “assessment-sensitive.” In addition to working out a formal framework for the description of assessment sensitivity, we will grapple head-on with the philosophical difficulties raised by assessment sensitivity and the kind of “relative truth” it requires.

Fall 2004

PHIL 25A: Introduction to Ancient Philosophy

This course is an introduction to ancient Greek philosophy–and, for the uninitiated, to philosophy itself. We will spend almost all of our time on the three most important Greek philosophers–Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle–with a passing glance at pre-Socratic and Hellenistic philosophers. Our primary goal will be to understand these philosophers’ characteristic methods and views, and (more importantly) their reasons for holding these views. It is often said that we should study ancient Greek philosophy because it is the intellectual basis for all later western philosophy and natural science. That is true, but it is only half the story. We should also study ancient Greek philosophy to become familiar with a worldview so alien that it throws our own into sharp relief. As you are outraged by some of the things these philosophers say, you will come to see more clearly what your own views are, and you will be forced to ask what justifies them. You will not just be studying the history of philosophy; you will be doing philosophy. Prerequisite: None.

Summer 2003

PHIL 135: Theory of Meaning

I can’t see the planet Pluto, but just by uttering the words “Pluto is very cold,” I can say something about Pluto, something whose truth or falsity depends on how things are millions of miles from Earth. How is this possible? What gives our words and sentences semantic properties (meaning, reference, truth)? Clearly, the semantic properties of words depend somehow on our thoughts and intentions: but how? And what gives our mental states their semantic properties? Are the meanings of our words and the contents of our mental states determined by what’s going on inside our brains, or do they depend on features of our physical environments of which we may be unaware? Are they determined by how things are now, or do they depend on facts about our history (or even our futures)? Could there be facts about meaning we could only discover by looking in someone’s brain? Are there objective facts about meaning at all? In exploring these and related questions, we will read the work of Quine, Davidson, Grice, Putnam, Dennett, Searle, Burge, Fodor, Dretske, and others. Prerequisite: two previous courses in philosophy.

Spring 2003

PHIL 135: Theory of Meaning

I can’t see the planet Pluto, but just by uttering the words “Pluto is very cold,” I can say something about Pluto, something whose truth or falsity depends on how things are millions of miles from Earth. How is this possible? What gives our words and sentences semantic properties (meaning, reference, truth)? Clearly, the semantic properties of words depend somehow on our thoughts and intentions: but how? And what gives our mental states their semantic properties? Are the meanings of our words and the contents of our mental states determined by what’s going on inside our brains, or do they depend on features of our physical environments of which we may be unaware? Are they determined by how things are now, or do they depend on facts about our history (or even our futures)? Could there be facts about meaning we could only discover by looking in someone’s brain? Are there objective facts about meaning at all? In exploring these and related questions, we will read the work of Quine, Davidson, Grice, Putnam, Dennett, Searle, Burge, Fodor, Dretske, and others. Prerequisite: two previous courses in philosophy.

PHIL 135: Aristotle

We will study Aristotle’s logic, theory of explanation, natural philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. Prerequisite: two previous courses in philosophy.

Fall 2002

PHIL 25A: Introduction to Ancient Philosophy

This course is an introduction to ancient Greek philosophy–and, for the uninitiated, to philosophy itself. We will spend almost all of our time on the three most important Greek philosophers–Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle–with a passing glance at pre-Socratic and Hellenistic philosophers. Our primary goal will be to understand these philosophers’ characteristic methods and views, and (more importantly) their reasons for holding these views. It is often said that we should study ancient Greek philosophy because it is the intellectual basis for all later western philosophy and natural science. That is true, but it is only half the story. We should also study ancient Greek philosophy to become familiar with a worldview so alien that it throws our own into sharp relief. As you are outraged by some of the things these philosophers say, you will come to see more clearly what your own views are, and you will be forced to ask what justifies them. You will not just be studying the history of philosophy; you will be doing philosophy. Prerequisite: None.

PHIL 290: Graduate Seminar: Logicism and Neologicism

(with Paolo Mancosu)

Frege was a platonist: he held that our knowledge of arithmetic is knowledge about a special domain of mind-independent, non-spatiotemporal objects–the natural numbers–and their characteristic properties and relations. Platonism raises two serious problems. The first problem is semantic: how can we refer to numbers, if they are not mental or spatiotemporal objects? The second problem is epistemological: how can we know anything about numbers? Frege’s answer to both these problems was his logicism. Arithmetic, he held, is definitionally reducible to logic, and numbers are logical objects: the extensions of concepts.

In the first part of the seminar, we will look at the philosophical underpinnings and technical elaboration of Frege’s logicism. We will see how Frege motivated his logicism against rival empiricist, formalist, and Kantian views of arithmetic, and how he took his logicism to answer the semantic and epistemological problems raised by platonism. We will look at some of the details of his technical theory. And we will see how Russell showed Frege’s theory of extensions to be inconsistent, causing Frege to abandon the project.

In the second part of the seminar, we will look at recent work by Boolos, Wright, and Heck that shows how little the technical development of Frege’s logicism actually depends on the theory of extensions shown inconsistent by Russell. There has been much debate about the significance of this work. Wright and Hale have argued that it shows that Frege’s logicist program can be salvaged, with slight modifications, into a philosophically satisfying account of arithmetic. Boolos, Heck, Dummett, and others have argued the contrary position. We will immerse ourselves in this debate.

Note: Although some of the literature is fairly technical, a good course in first-order logic should be sufficient background. The seminar should be of interest to students of philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of language, metaphysics and epistemology, logic, and the history of analytic philosophy.

Spring 2002

PHIL 135: Theory of Meaning

I can’t see the planet Pluto, but just by uttering the words “Pluto is very cold,” I can say something about Pluto, something whose truth or falsity depends on how things are millions of miles from Earth. How is this possible? What gives our words and sentences semantic properties (meaning, reference, truth)? Clearly, the semantic properties of words depend somehow on our thoughts and intentions: but how? And what gives our mental states their semantic properties? Are the meanings of our words and the contents of our mental states determined by what’s going on inside our brains, or do they depend on features of our physical environments of which we may be unaware? Are they determined by how things are now, or do they depend on facts about our history (or even our futures)? Could there be facts about meaning we could only discover by looking in someone’s brain? Are there objective facts about meaning at all? In exploring these and related questions, we will read the work of Quine, Davidson, Grice, Putnam, Dennett, Searle, Burge, Fodor, Dretske, and others. Prerequisite: two previous courses in philosophy.

PHIL 290: Graduate Seminar: Vagueness

We will discuss the main approaches to the sorites paradox:

1 grain of sand does not make a heap.

If 1 grain of sand does not make a heap, then 2 grains of sand do not make a heap.

If 2 grains of sand do not make a heap, then 3 grains of sand do not make a heap.

(…lots of steps deleted…)

If 99,999 grains of sand do not make a heap, then 100,000 grains of sand do not make a heap.

Therefore, 100,000 grains of sand do not make a heap.

The epistemic approach takes the problem to lie with one of the conditional premises. On this approach, it is possible to turn a non-heap into a heap by adding a single grain of sand: it’s just that we do not (and cannot) know the cutoff point between a heap and a non-heap. This approach preserves classical semantics and classical logic, but requires fancy footwork in epistemology and the philosophy of language. The degree-theoretic approach revises classical semantics: instead of the usual two truth values, infinitely many degrees of truth are assigned to sentences. This revision in classical semantics yields a revision in classical logic: for example, modus ponens becomes unreliable (when replied repeatedly), so that even though all the premises are almost perfectly true, the conclusion is almost perfectly false. The supervaluational approach preserves classical logic (subject to some qualifications), but rejects classical semantics: some sentences (including some of the premises of the sorites ) come out neither true nor false, and a disjunction can be true even though neither disjunct is. Assessing these approaches will involve us in deep questions in philosophical logic (about truth, validity, and the role of formal semantics and logic), philosophy of language (about the relation between use and meaning), and epistemology (about inexact knowledge). If time allows, we will look at some other approaches as well, including one of my own. Prerequisite: The Williamson book does an admirable job of being rigorous without being overly technical. A basic familiarity with formal logic should be adequate, if coupled with a willingness to learn.

Fall 2001

PHIL 25A: Introduction to Ancient Philosophy

This course is an introduction to ancient Greek philosophy–and, for the uninitiated, to philosophy itself. We will spend almost all of our time on the three most important Greek philosophers–Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle–with a passing glance at pre-Socratic and Hellenistic philosophers. Our primary goal will be to understand these philosophers’ characteristic methods and views, and (more importantly) their reasons for holding these views. It is often said that we should study ancient Greek philosophy because it is the intellectual basis for all later western philosophy and natural science. That is true, but it is only half the story. We should also study ancient Greek philosophy to become familiar with a worldview so alien that it throws our own into sharp relief. As you are outraged by some of the things these philosophers say, you will come to see more clearly what your own views are, and you will be forced to ask what justifies them. You will not just be studying the history of philosophy; you will be doing philosophy. Prerequisite: None.

Spring 2001

PHIL 135: Theory of Meaning

In this course we will pursue some connected philosophical questions about meaning. How are the meanings of words related to the uses we make of them? What is the relation between meaning and speakers’ intentions? Are meanings “in the head”? Is meaning essentially social? In what sense (if any) is meaning a normative notion? Is it a mistake to think that our words have determinate meanings? Are there facts about meaning at all? Under what conditions should we say that a dispute is “merely semantic”? What can our practices of translation and interpretation tell us about meaning? If you think that these questions are merely academic, consider their relevance to the debates that have raged about the meaning of the following sentence (in its context): “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Fall 2000

PHIL 290: Graduate Seminar: Confused Reference

We will study the semantic interpretation of terms with “confused reference.” A simple example: Bill is introduced separately to two different women, both named Sharon. So similar are they in appearance that Bill thinks he has been introduced to the same woman twice. “Sharon was sure nice to compliment me on my shoes,” he tells us. “And she’s against gun control, too. I haven’t met many nice women who are against gun control. I should call her.” How are we to interpret these and similar utterances? How are we to evaluate them for truth and falsity, and how are we to assess the cogency of Bill’s deliberation? Symmetry suggests that we ought not take Bill’s word ‘Sharon’ to refer to just one of the Sharons. Here are some other options:

  1. We might take Bill’s word ‘Sharon’ to be a non-referring term, so that Bill’s claims come out false or truth-valueless.

  2. We might take Bill’s word ‘Sharon’ to be ambiguous, referring sometimes to one Sharon and sometimes to the other, so that most of Bill’s beliefs about “Sharon” come out true, while his reasoning stands guilty of massive equivocation.

  3. Conversely, we might save Bill’s reasoning by adopting a non-truth-conditional semantics for his discourse about “Sharon,” at the cost of denying that any of his claims about “Sharon” are properly assessable as true or false.

  4. We might take ‘Sharon’ to refer multiply to both women, using a supervaluational semantics to assign “truth” conditions, and allowing truth-value gaps.

  5. We might even take Bill’s word ‘Sharon’ to refer to a kind of fictional character, a notional amalgam of the two Sharons.

Choosing between these options (and the others that have been proposed) requires engagement with some fundamental issues in the philosophy of language.

A more significant example (due to Mark Wilson): did the word ‘weight’, as uttered by physicists in 1600, refer to mass or impressed gravitational force? The physical theories of the time did not distinguish between the two properties, nor did any of the (earth-bound) devices used to measure “weight.” Such cases are common in the history of science and mathematics, and even in the history of philosophy (think how common it is to claim that some philosopher is running together two distinct concepts).

My plan is (a) to survey the various kinds of “confused reference” (along with related phenomena, like vagueness), with a view to developing a helpful taxonomy, (b) to survey and evaluate the approaches that have been proposed in the literature, and (c) to consider general morals for the philosophy of language. Readings will be taken from recent analytic philosophy. We will focus especially on work by Hartry Field, Anil Gupta, Mark Wilson, and Joe Camp.