A) Generics

The strong meaning of generics (Draft available upon request)

Generics are generalizations like “Tigers are striped” and “Birds can fly.” There is a puzzling and unexplained discrepancy at the heart of the meaning of these generalizations. By default, generics like these have stronger meaning than what is required for a generic sentence to be true. “Tigers are striped” conveys that one can expect a particular tiger to be striped and that when a tiger is striped, it is by virtue of being a tiger. Other generic sentences, however, are true even though there is no such inferential or explanatory relation between the kind and the property. This paper develops a new integrated semantic-pragmatic theory that accounts for the strong meaning of many generics, and explains the difference in meaning with other generic sentences. According to this theory, all generics have weak disjunctive truth conditions, saying that at least one of three conditions is fulfilled. People are cognitively biased, however, and assume these three conditions will co-occur, provided this is compatible with the nature of the kind and the property. As a result of this commonly shared assumption, many generics conversationally implicate that several conditions hold.

How to deny prejudiced generics (Latest draft here, under review)

Generic stereotypes are generic generalizations that express a stereotype, like “Mexican immigrants are rapists” and “Muslims are terrorists.” These are offensive statements that no one ought to assert. When they are asserted in a conversation, however, they are particularly hard to falsify. The semantics of generics are such that these generalizations can be true in different ways. Hence when challenged on a generic stereotype, the original speaker can often continue to maintain that the stereotype is true in a way that is compatible with the challenger’s initial objection. In this paper, I present a semantic theory for generics that accounts for this defensive shifting but also reveals two efficient strategies in responding to generic stereotypes. The first strategy is to immediately deny that either of the two possible ways in which a generic can be true obtains. The second strategy is to deny the satisfaction of an additional necessary condition for true generics.

Generics with normative force (Latest draft here)

Some generic generalizations have normative meaning. One aspect of the meaning of “Boys don’t cry” is that boys ought not to cry. Similarly, “Women are submissive” conveys that women ought to be submissive. According the standard view, these normative generics are ambiguous between a descriptive and a normative generalization. In this paper, I argue against this ambiguity view of normative generics, focusing in particular on Leslie’s most recent articulation of it. I develop an alternative view in response.

B) Natural kinds

In what sense are mental disorders natural kinds? (Latest draft here)

Whether psychiatric disorders are natural kinds remains a hotly debated topic, with new papers on the subject being published regularly. Though interesting, these papers also invite confusion. That is because the phrase ‘natural kind’ is ambiguous and is currently being used in three different ways. By asking whether psychiatric disorders are natural kinds, one can therefore also be asking three different questions. In this paper, I argue for this view that the phrase ‘natural kind’ is three-way ambiguous and I disambiguate the three questions one can intend to ask based on this phrase. I distinguish the kindhood question, the objectivity question, and the biology question. An answer to one of these questions, or so I argue, does not commit one to a particular answer to either of the other two questions. The goal of this conceptual ambiguation is to provide the resources for a more fruitful philosophical debate about psychiatric classification.

The causal structure of natural kinds (Latest draft here, under review)

One primary goal for metaphysical theories of natural kinds is to account for their epistemic fruitfulness. According to cluster theories of natural kinds, this epistemic fruitfulness is grounded in the regular and stable co-occurrence of a broad set of properties. In this paper, I defend the view that such a cluster theory is insufficient to account for the epistemic fruitfulness of kinds. I argue that cluster theories can indeed account for the projectibility of natural kinds, but not for several other epistemic operations that natural kinds support. Natural kinds also play a role in scientific explanations and categorizations. To account for these additional kind-based epistemic practices, a metaphysical theory is required that analyzes the causal structure of natural kinds.

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.