Current Research Activities

Most of my work at the moment is spread across four main projects: one concerning the technical semantics of generics, one concerning the use and in particular the troubling use to which generics are often put, one concerning the nature of meaning change and strategies we can use to effect it, and one concerning how to understand the traditional categories of philosophy of language in light of the revolution in ways and means of communicating offered by information and communication technologies

1. The Semantics Of Generics

I argue in my 2015 'Generics In Context' that generics are context-sensitive. One main aim of my research is spelling out exactly how they are context-sensitive. Can we think of them using anything like the simple Kaplanian-model of context-sensitivity, or should we appeal to more recent innovations, such as the notion of supplementation King (2012) appeals to to account for demonstratives? I aim to chart the logical space of options, and find out the best model for generics, and thereby obliquely increase our understanding of context-sensitivity.

2. The Problems With Generics

Both common sense and research in psychology and allied fields seem to show that generics are one of the main means we have for making essentialising judgements: judgements which give voice to the idea that members of a given kind share some hidden and enduring internal property that causally grounds their behaviour. And such judgements are frequently problematic.

A second central research interest of mine is to explore this area. In Hoicka, Saul, and Sterken (under review), building on, but dissenting with, a range of empirical work, we show that generics aren't special as far as essentialising is concerned. In future work, Hoicka, Saul, Williams, and Sterken will attempt to probe this question further by trying to find features of individuals that make them prone to essentialising.

3. Meaning Change

One of the central questions at the ConceptLab, where I am a researcher, concerns the possibility and desirability of meaning change. Work such as Cappelen (2018) shows that philosophy, for a long time, was in the business of not just describing what we meant by a certain term, but prescribing what we should mean by it. I am particularly interested in strategies we can adopt for this business of prescriptive meaning change, as well as ethical questions arising from it. Insert example?

4. Philosophy of Language In The Age of Social Media

We spend a lot of our time communicating in ways that even our recent predecessors, such as Saul Kripke, David Kaplan, and David Lewis, couldn't have foreseen when writing their seminal works. We can send messages to anywhere at any time; if we have a facebook or twitter account, every day we address audiences greater than any pretty much anybody prior to 2010 did. Do the ways of philosophising about language we have inherited apply to our new world? Moreover, given the many social ills that arise from such use, from trolling to targeted political advertising to fake news, what are the moral effects of communicating as we do now? These two questions form the heart of my fourth current research interest.