Philosophy of language is practiced in many different styles. The philosophers and linguists at the University of Michigan all believe in the style that pays close and serious attention to language, and therefore we believe in close and serious interaction with linguistics and with linguists. We work on the semantics and pragmatics of (for example) intensionality, conditionals and modals as well as on more traditional topics such as implicature and reference.
Since 2002, we have organized annual workshops that bring philosophers and linguists together to discuss specific research topics of mutual interest. Information about the workshops is available here.
- Ezra Keshet
Ezra Keshet is Assistant Professor of Linguistics. He completed his PhD in semantics at MIT, but his work also touches on syntax, pragmatics and discourse. His dissertation argues that possible worlds and times must be explicitly represented in the syntax of natural language and explains several constraints such representations must obey. He has also done research on scalar implicature, anaphora, and conditionals. Prof. Keshet regularly teaches the graduate-level Introduction to Semantics in the linguistics department and has taught seminars on discourse anaphora and focus/information structure.
- David Manley
David Manley works primarily in areas where the philosophy of language meets metaphysics and epistemology. His recent papers have explored, among other things, the semantics of dispositional expressions, the nature of verbal disputes, and the effect of semantic externalism on a priori knowledge. He has just co-authored (with John Hawthorne) a monograph on the nature of reference and singular thought, entitled The Reference Book (forthcoming with Oxford University Press). The first chapter of the book, along with many papers, can be found here.
- Sarah Moss
Sarah Moss is currently developing a semantics for epistemic modals embedded in intensional contexts. Her recent work concerns questions connecting philosophy of language and formal epistemology: what semantic theories accommodate intuitive norms governing credences in counterfactuals, how updating de se credences resembles communicating de se beliefs, and how we can know non-propositional contents of assertion. She has also published on event-related readings of counting sentences, on the pragmatics of subjunctive conditionals, and on the role of linguistics in the philosophy of language. Some representative recent papers include “On the Pragmatics of Counterfactuals” (Nous), “Subjunctive Credences and Semantic Humility” (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research), “Four-Dimensionalist Theories of Persistence” (Australasian Journal of Philosophy), and “Updating as Communication“ (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research). These papers are all available at her web page.
- Eric Swanson
Eric Swanson likes to think hard about common words, especially ‘might,’ ‘may,’ ‘could,’ ‘should,’ ‘must,’ ‘cause,’ ‘believes,’ ‘suspects,’ ‘if,’ ‘would,’ and ‘knows.’ His recent work has focused on the language of subjective uncertainty and on generalizations of supervaluationism, but he has also worked on propositional attitude ascriptions, conversational implicature, and context sensitivity in causal talk.
He regularly teaches courses attended by graduate students in linguistics and in philosophy who are interested in formal semantics, formal pragmatics, or philosophy of language. Some representative papers include “Constraint Semantics and its Application to the Language of Subjective Uncertainty” (forthcoming in the Journal of Philosophical Logic), “Ordering Supervaluationism, Counterpart Theory, and Ersatz Fundamentality” (forthcoming in the Journal of Philosophy), “Conditional Excluded Middle without the Limit Assumption” (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research), “On the Treatment of Incomparability in Ordering Semantics and Premise Semantics” (Journal of Philosophical Logic), “Lessons from the Context Sensitivity of Causal Talk” (Journal of Philosophy), “On Scope Relations between Quantifiers and Epistemic Modals” (Journal of Semantics), “Structurally Defined Alternatives and Lexicalizations of XOR” (Linguistics and Philosophy), and “Subjunctive Biscuit and Stand-Off Conditionals” (Philosophical Studies). These papers are all available at his web site.
- Richmond Thomason
Rich Thomason is a logician with long-term research interests in philosophical logic, philosophy of language, natural language semantics and pragmatics, knowledge representation, and computational linguistics. A strong and continuing interest in linguistics, and especially in semantics and pragmatics grew out of his early work in Montague Grammar. He has published and taught in Linguistics as well as Philosophy since the 1970s, and more recently in Computer Science. If you ask him, he will tell you that these fields overlap and work together well in attacking problems having to do with meaning and its emergence from language and communicative interaction. Philosophy and Philosophical Logic provide pure theory, whereas Linguistics and Artificial Intelligence provide theories that are adapted to specific applications, as well as methods for dealing with linguistic and pragmatic evidence.
At Michigan, Thomason has appointments in Linguistics and Computer Science, and for several years taught courses in those departments. More recently, his teaching has been concentrated in Philosophy. His current research interests and research projects in linguistics and philosophy of language include projects on conditionals and modality, the semantics of derived words, and computational theories of pragmatic reasoning.