Drafts

Generics with normative force (Draft available upon request, under review)

Some generic generalizations have both a descriptive and a normative reading. The generic sentence “Philosophers care about the truth,” for instance, can be read as describing what philosophers in fact care about, but can also be read as prescribing philosophers to care about the truth. Similarly, the generic stereotype “Men are tough” can also be understood in a normative way, saying that men ought to be tough. According to one prominent view, these descriptive/normative generics are ambiguous between expressing a descriptive generalization and a normative generalization. This paper first argues against this ambiguity thesis, focusing on Leslie’s most recent articulation of it. In response, a new contextualist semantic theory for generics is introduced. On this theory, generics express context-dependent kindhood generalizations. Generics with both a descriptive and a normative reading are contextually underspecified rather than ambiguous.

The strong but deniable meaning of generic stereotypes (Draft available upon request, under review)

Generic stereotypes are sentences like “Muslims are terrorists” and “Black people are lazy.” The meaning of these sentences combines two features. First, generic stereotypes have strong double-sided meaning. An utterance of “Muslims are terrorists,” for instance, conveys both that any Muslim is likely to be a terrorist and that when a Muslim is a terrorist, it is in virtue of their being a Muslim. Second, generic stereotypes offer plausible speaker deniability. When a speaker who has uttered a generic stereotype is challenged on its strong double-sided meaning, the speaker can plausibly deny their utterance had this strong meaning, arguing that they were misunderstood. This paper provides a semantic theory that explains the strong yet deniable meaning of generic stereotypes. According to this theory, generic sentences express context-dependent kindhood generalizations. I argue that this contextualist account does better in explaining the strong yet deniable meaning of generic stereotypes than an alternative implicature account.

The public relevance of philosophy (With Stijn Conix and Pei-Shan Chi, draft available upon request, under review)

Various authors have recently expressed doubts about the public relevance of philosophy. These doubts target both academic philosophy in general and particular subfields of philosophy. This paper investigates whether these doubts are justified through two tests in which the lack of public relevance of a philosophical paper is operationalized as the degree to which that paper is isolated. Both tests suggest that academic philosophy in general is more isolated from the broader public than it should be, and confirm the hypothesis that some subfields of philosophy are more isolated than others. We argue that this lack of public relevance is caused by the incentive structure of academic philosophy and discuss a range of individual-level and incentive-level solutions.

A kindhood theory for scientific generics (In preparation)

Generics are generalizations that are formulated without the use of a quantifier, like “Ravens are black.”  In this paper, I argue that generics are of special interest to philosophers of science. To do so, I defend two theories. First, I defend a relational theory of kindhood. According to this theory, a category is a kind for a set of epistemic targets and practices when several properties of the category’s members accommodate these epistemic targets and practices. Second, I defend a novel semantic theory for generic sentences, focusing on scientific generics. According to this theory, generic sentences express kindhood generalizations. Very roughly, a generic sentence says that the generalized property (e.g., being black) is partly constitutive of the kindhood of the denoted category (e.g., ravens), that is, one part of what makes the category a kind.  Taken together, the relational theory of kindhood and the kindhood semantics for generic sentences explain several  phenomena, including how the truth-conditions of generic sentences can vary depending on the disciplinary context. Furthermore,  these theories also support the conclusion that studying scientific generics is a distinct way for studying scientists’ reasoning about the nature of the kinds in their domain.

Philosophy of psychiatry without ‘natural kinds’ (Draft available upon request)

Philosophers of psychiatry often argue for or against the position that psychiatric disorders are ‘natural kinds,’ borrowing this notion from earlier philosophical disputes about kinds in natural sciences like chemistry and biology. In this paper, I argue that this is a mistake. Using the notion ‘natural kind’ in debates about psychiatric disorders leads to confusion. In earlier philosophical debates, this notion was mostly used to ask what I call the ‘mind-independence question,’ namely to what extent the distinctions and similarities in kind that we recognize in science exist independently of our theoretical perspectives and practical concerns.  In philosophy of psychiatry, however, there are two other questions on the table as well, namely to what extent psychiatric disorders are kind-like in the first place and to what extent psychiatric disorders are (reducible to) natural phenomena. Since besides the ‘mind-independence question,’ both the ‘kindhood question’ and the ‘naturalness question’ are on the table as well, arguments over whether psychiatric disorders are natural kinds lead to confusion. This one notion is used to argue for and against several different positions in response to several different questions. In this paper, I introduce these different questions, explain the confusion surrounding ‘natural kinds’ in psychiatry, and argue that the best way to avoid this confusion is for philosophers of psychiatry to simply stop using the notion of a ‘natural kind’.

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.