A) Generics

The multiple meanings of gender generics (Finished, email me for a draft)

There are many generics about gender that by default convey a complex message containing statistical, causal and normative information. By asserting a gender generic like “Boys don’t cry,” for example, a speaker appears to say not only that most boys do not cry, but also that boys ought not to cry, and that it is because they are boys that they do not cry. Other generics about gender, like “Women are submissive” and “Girls are caring,” have a similar complex meaning. This paper presents a new semantic-pragmatic theory about generics that explains why many, although not all, generics about gender have such a complex meaning. It is argued that generic generalizations have disjunctive semantics so that they can be true based on three different relations between a kind and a property. Due to a content-dependent assumption about these relations in the common ground, however, uttering a generic can also pragmatically convey that all three relations obtain. This view is defended in response to Leslie’s proposal that the multiple meanings of gender generics are due to the polysemy of gender terms, and Haslanger’s proposal that they are the result of two conversational implicatures.

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 utter. When they are uttered in a conversation, however, they are particularly hard to falsify. Not only is it hard to explicate what a generic generalization means, there also appear to be various ways in which they can be true, and so different ways in which they can be defended. 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 either of the two 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.

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)

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.