The multiple meanings of gender generics (Latest draft here)

With an utterance of a generic about gender, like “Boys don’t cry” or “Women are submissive,” a speaker is able to communicate a variety of propositions about gender. By default, gender generics like these communicate that the members of the kind tend to instantiate the predicated property, that they do so by virtue of belonging to the kind, and that they ought to have the property. How is a speaker able to convey such a complex message with what seems to be a very simple sentence? In this paper, I respond to Leslie’s proposal that the multiple meanings of gender generics are due to the polysemy of gender terms, and to Haslanger’s proposal that it is due to two consecutive conversational implicatures. I argue against both proposals and defend the view that generics have disjunctive semantics so that they can be true based on three different conditions, but that generics about gender implicate a conjunction of these conditions.

Falsifying generic stereotypes (Latest draft here)

Generic stereotypes are generic sentences that express a stereotype, like “Mexican immigrants are rapists” and “Muslims are terrorists”. These are offensive statements that no one ought to utter. When they are uttered in a conversation, however, they are particularly hard to falsify. Not only is it hard to explicate what exactly they mean, they also allow for the original speaker to shift the intended meaning of the sentence when attacked on one of its possible interpretations. In this paper, I present a semantic theory about the disjunctive truth-conditions of generics and the two presuppositions they trigger. This theory is put to work in arguing that as a result of their semantics, there are two different strategies for objecting to utterances of generic stereotypes. The first strategy is to deny that any of the possible ways in which a generic can be true obtains. The second strategy is to argue that utterances of generic stereotypes suffer from a presupposition failure.

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

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.