Falsifying generic stereotypes (Advanced progress, email me for draft)

Generic stereotypes are sentences like “Mexican immigrants are rapists”, “Muslims are terrorists”, and “Black people are criminals”. These are offensive statements that no one ought to utter. Why are they so offensive though, and how should one respond? I hold the view that these generic stereotypes are offensive due to their semantics; they express offensive propositions. As such, different theories about the truth-conditions of generics also result in different views about the objectionable nature of generic stereotypes. In this paper, I first argue that focusing on generic stereotypes reveals several problems with these semantic theories. I respond with my own view on the semantics of generics and explain why this theory does a better job of accounting for the offensiveness of generic stereotypes. In the final part of the paper, I put this theory to work in outlining different strategies for falsifying stereotypes.

Constructing kinds with normative generics (Early progress, email me for early draft)

Normative generics are sentences like “Boys don’t cry” and “Women are submissive”. Generics like these support a very effective way of constructing human kinds since uttering them conveys both a descriptive and a normative message.  On the one hand a normative generic can be interpreted as describing the behavior of a group of people and providing an explanation for that behavior (e.g. it is due to the nature of boys that they tend not to cry). On the other hand a generic can also be interpreted as providing a norm about how members of a kind ought to behave (e.g. boys ought not to cry). How are we able to convey such complex messages with what seem to be very simple sentences? In this paper, I discuss Leslie’s proposal that the dual meaning of normative generics is due to semantic polysemy, and Haslanger’s proposal that it is due to pragmatics. I argue against both views in defending a semantic view of generics according to which their semantics themselves are disjunctive.

The causal structure of natural kinds (Final draft here)

According to the causal ground hypothesis, only a causal theory of natural kinds allows us to understand their epistemic usefulness. Cluster theorists challenge this hypothesis and argue that the epistemic fertility of natural kinds is to be explained simply by the stable clustering of properties. In this paper, I defend a version of the causal ground hypothesis that avoids the challenge of cluster theorists. I argue that cluster theories can indeed account for the projectibility of natural kinds but not for the other ways in which kinds can be epistemically useful. To understand the explanatory and categorizing usefulness of natural kinds, a theory is required that analyzes their causal structure.

The history of natural kinds (Full text here)

This is the first chapter of my PhD dissertation on ‘The scientific classification of natural and human kinds’. This chapter provides an overview of the history of the philosophical concept of ‘natural kinds’, and develops a particular interpretation of the debate between Whewell and Mill on natural classification. Perhaps this will some day be rewritten as a journal article.