DEON 2016 Special Issue

Our DEON 2016 special issue of the Journal of Logic and Computation is now forthcoming. As always it was a pleasure working with Olivier Roy and Allard Tamminga, and we got some great papers together. A brief editorial is here and the list of contributions is as follows:

Can at the Central

Next week I will present my "Two Puzzles about Agentive Can" at the Central APA in Chicago (Thursday February 22, 12:10-2:10). David Boylan and Paul Portner have kindly agreed to comment. Here is the abstract:

I discuss two puzzling observations about how agentive can differs from other existential modals, most prominently epistemic might and deontic may: (i) the former, but not the latter, exhibit a tendency to resist distribution over disjunction; (ii) the negation of the latter, but not of the former, brings in its wake a commitment to the corresponding necessity of a negation. These observations call for an explanation by a modal analysis that satisfies two methodological constraints: (i) existential modals of all flavors (deontic, epistemic, agentive, telic, and so on) should receive a uniform semantic analysis; (ii) features that all existential modals have in common, such as their tendency to license free choice effects, should receive a uniform semantic or pragmatic explanation. I provide such an analysis in a framework that combines tools and techniques from dynamic and inquisitive semantics with insights from the literature on the role of agency in deontic logic.

Free Choice in Amsterdam

This year's Amsterdam Colloquium will see me present my paper "Widening Free Choice." Here is the abstract:

Disjunctions scoping under possibility modals give rise to the free choice effect. The effect also arises if the disjunction takes wide scope over possibility modals; it is independent of the modal flavor at play (deontic, epistemic, and so on); and it arises even if disjunctions scope under or over necessity modals. At the same time, free choice effects disappear in the scope of negation or if the speaker signals ignorance or unwillingness to cooperate. I show how we can account for this wide variety of free choice observations without unwelcome side-effects in an update-based framework whose key innovations consist in (i) a refined test semantics for necessity modals and (ii) a generalized conception of narrow and wide scope free choice effects as arising from lexically or pragmatically generated prohibitions against the absurd state (an inconsistent information carrier) serving as an update relatum. The fact that some of these prohibitions are defeasible together with a binary semantics that distinguishes between positive and negative update relata accounts for free choice cancellation effects.

Subjectivity in Berlin

Next stop will be Berlin, where I will be presenting joint work with Chris Kennedy on counterstance contingency and subjective meaning at the ZAS (November 13–14). More info here, and all of this courtesy of Hazel Pearson. I look forward to exchanging ideas with what looks like a fantastic group of local and invited participants.

InqBnB Workshop

I will be presenting some new work on free choice and its failures at the Inquisitiveness Below and Beyond the Sentence Boundary Workshop in Broek in Waterland (June 26-29, 2017), courtesy of Floris Roelefson. I look forward to exchanging ideas with what looks like a fantastic group of local and invited participants.

Subjectivity in Language and Thought

This coming Friday and Saturday, Chris Kennedy and I will be hosting a two-day workshop on subjectivity in language and thought here at the University of Chicago. Check out the program here. The workshop is funded by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and will take place at the Franke Institute for the Humanities.

Simplifying with Free Choice

My “Simplifying with Free Choice” is now forthcoming in Topoi as a contribution to a selection of papers presented at the 20th Amsterdam Colloquium. I will post the doi as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, here is the abstract:

This paper offers a unified semantic explanation of two observations that prove to be problematic for classical analyses of modals, conditionals, and disjunctions: (i) the fact that disjunctions scoping under possibility modals give rise to the free choice effect and (ii) the fact that counterfactuals license simplification of disjunctive antecedents. It shows that the data are well explained by a dynamic semantic analysis of modals and conditionals that uses ideas from the inquisitive semantic tradition in its treatment of disjunction. The analysis explains why embedding a disjunctive possibility under negation reverts disjunction to its classical behavior, is general enough to predict less studied simplification patterns, and also makes progress toward a unified perspective on the distinction between informative, inquisitive, and attentive content.

Lessons from Sobel Sequences

My “Lessons from Sobel Sequences” is now forthcoming in Semantics and Pragmatics. I will post the doi as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, here is the abstract:

Folklore has it that Sobel sequences favor a variably strict analysis of conditionals over its plainly strict alternative. While recent discussions for or against the lore have focussed on Sobel sequences involving counterfactuals, this paper draws attention to the fact that indicative Sobel sequences are just as felicitous as are their counterfactual cousins. The fact, or so I shall argue here, disrupts the folklore: given minimal assumptions about the semantics and pragmatics of indicative conditionals, a textbook variably strict analysis fails to predict that indicative Sobel sequences are felicitous. The correct lesson to draw from Sobel sequences is that their felicity challenges classical implementations of the variably strict and of the plainly strict analysis alike. In response to this challenge I develop a dynamic strict analysis of conditionals that handles indicative Sobel sequences with grace while preserving intuitive constraints on the semantics and pragmatics of their members. A discussion of how such an analysis may handle the challenge from reverse Sobel sequences is provided.

Honoring Josef Stern

The Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago is organizing a conference in honor of Josef Stern, William H. Colvin Professor Emeritus in the Department of Philosophy and in the College, and Inaugural Director of the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies. The conference will be an occasion to honor Josef Stern’s work and his contributions to the University, where he retired in the Spring quarter 2016 after having taught almost continuously since 1979.

The conference will be held at the Franke Institute for the Humanities on December 4–5, 2016. More info here.

Advice for Noncognitivists

My unsolicited advice to noncognitivsts is forthcoming in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (available online here). Here is the abstract:

Metaethical noncognitivists have trouble arriving at a respectable semantic theory for moral language. The goal of this paper is to make substantial progress toward demonstrating that these problems may be overcome. Replacing the predominant expressivist semantic agenda in metaethics with a dynamic perspective on meaning and communication allows noncognitivists to provide a satisfying analysis of negation and other constructions that have been argued to be problematic for metaethical noncognitivism, including disjunctions. The resulting proposal preserves some of the key insights from recent work on the semantics of expressivism while highlighting the widely neglected early noncognitivists’ sympathies to the kind of dynamic story I intend to tell here. A comparison between the advertised dynamic semantic story and current proposals that treat expressivism as a pragmatic rather than semantic theory about moral language is provided.