In progress

Someone shares a news report on Twitter, adding the message: ‘Police arrested four “young teens” for looting’. The speaker who shares this news report adds scare quotes to the phrase “young teens” that was used in the original news report. In this paper, I argue that this use of scare quotes implies two things. First, that the young teens were Black. Second, that the journalist knew this but wanted to hide it. More importantly, however, I argue that the real goal of using scare quotes around the phrase “young teens” is to establish the conversational norm that in reporting about looting events (or assault, rape, etc.), the perpetrator’s race is relevant and so ought to be mentioned in the news report. The pernicious effect of trying to establish this norm among one’s (Twitter) audience, is that people will interpret future news reports that fail to mention a suspect’s race as intentionally hiding something. In this way, I argue, the real effect of using scare quotes when sharing news reports, is to make others (i.e., news reporters) dog whistle racial messages that they do not intend to convey.

With Jan Heylen and Leander Vignero.

Generics are generalizing sentences that contain no overt quantifier, such as ‘ravens are black’. Bernhard Nickel has defended a semantic theory for generics that radically departs from all other theories, claiming that generics express existentially quantified generalizations. According to Nickel, ‘ravens are black’ roughly says that there is a way to be a normally colored raven, which is to be black. In this paper, we respond to Nickel’s arguments for this semantic analysis. Doing so is important because if his arguments are successful, they overturn much of the literature on the semantics of generics. We argue, however, that Nickel’s theory makes several wrong predictions and that the phenomena he points to in support of his theory can also be explained by our competing theory that generics express universally quantified normality generalizations. We conclude that there is no reason to drastically revise our understanding of the semantics of generic sentences.

With Stijn Conix, Leander Vignero, Pei-Shan Chi, and Li Lin

This is an empirical study in which we measure to what extent currently published research in the humanities (i.e., philosophy, linguistics, history, literature, theology) is societally relevant.

Abstract: Generic stereotypes standardly convey the combination of both a majority generalization and an explanatory generalization. The prejudiced stereotype “Women are irrational,” for instance, standardly conveys both that most women are irrational and that this is the case in virtue of their being women. A speaker who asserts this generic stereotype, however, can often plausibly deny that their utterance had this two-sided meaning. This paper describes and explains this deniability, based on a contextualist semantic theory for generic sentences. According to this theory, the prejudiced stereotype “Women are irrational” roughly says that being irrational is one of the properties that makes the category woman into a kind. In a standard context, this kindhood generalization entails that most women are irrational in virtue of their being women. However, a speaker can later argue for a contextual reconstruction according to which their utterance did not entail this two-sided message.

Draft available upon request.

Abstract: 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’.

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.