|1. Distinguishing W.V. Quine and Donald Davidson Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy, 1, 1 (2011): 1-22.
Given W.V. Quine’s and Donald Davidson’s extensive agreement about much of the philosophy of language and mind, and the obvious methodological parallels between Quine’s radical translation and Davidson’s radical interpretation, many—including Quine and Davidson—are puzzled by their occasional disagreements. I argue for the importance of attending to these disagreements, not just because doing so deepens our understanding of these influential thinkers, but because they are the shadows thrown from two distinct conceptions of philosophical inquiry: Quine’s “naturalism” and what I call Davidson’s “humanism.” Beyond surfacing the contemporary appeal of each perspective, I show how the clash between Quine and Davidson yields valuable insight into the history of analytic naturalism and its malcontents.
2. Interpreting Disturbed Minds: Donald Davidson and The White Ribbon Film-Philosophy, 16, 1 (2012): 1-15.
In this paper, I contribute to the growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship connecting philosophy and film by bringing Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon together with Donald Davidson’s radical interpreter thought experiment. I argue that the focus on charity in Davidson’s account of the conditions under which an interpreter is able to find a foreign community intelligible illuminates the exquisite discomfort experienced by the spectator as she begins to understand the disturbed community portrayed by the film. But the film also suggests that Davidson’s transcendental argument that language is a condition of mindedness ought to be extended in line with what elsewhere I call his “humanist” conception of philosophy. We should not only hold that every rational mind is a language-user, but that every rational mind is a language-user whose utterances abide by emotional and moral norms. Doing so allows us to account for the existence of minds that have true, justified beliefs, but which are nevertheless disturbed, since our perception of the way in which what is said is said is crucial to our evaluation of our interlocutor as possessing a mind relevantly like our own.
3. Asking Students What Philosophers Teach Teaching Philosophy, 36, 1 (2013): 31-49.
This essay argues for the value of teaching a unit that questions what it is that philosophers teach as a way of encouraging students to reflect on the nature of philosophy. I show how using ancient philosophy to frame this unit makes it especially urgent, since an important (and often overlooked) consequence of Socrates’ demarcation of philosophy from oratory is that philosophers are not in a position to teach anything. I have found that students are eager to engage the challenge that this seems to pose for the contemporary philosophy classroom. Further, they can self-reflectively employ philosophical analysis to identify and critique ways of justifying what they learn from teachers of philosophy.
4. Caring for Quine’s Don’t-Cares. The Monist, 100, 2 (2017): 266-287.
In Word and Object, W.V. Quine dismisses connotations that result from the work of explicating expressions as “don’t-cares.” This paper traces the history of this phrase to an algorithm that Quine developed in the 1950s, which became important in early computer engineering. Computer programmers eventually came to realize that it was in their best interests to abandon the “don’t-care” attitude. Similarly, I argue that naturalists who properly appreciate the communal nature of their inquiries have reason to adopt a more careful approach when they propose and evaluate explications.
5. Carnap, Explication, and Social History. Social Theory and Practice, 43, 4 (2017): 741-774.
A.W. Carus champions Rudolf Carnap’s ideal of explication as a model for liberal political deliberation. Constructing a linguistic framework for discussing social problems, he argues, promotes the resolution of our disputes. To flesh out and assess this proposal, I examine debate about the social institutions of marriage and adoption. Against Carus, I argue that not all citizens would accept the pragmatic principles underlying Carnap’s ideal. Nevertheless, explication may facilitate inquiry in the social sciences and be used to create models that help us to understand past disputes. This latter application reveals explication’s potential for refining the social histories that inform contemporary political discourse
In Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016), Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist endeavoring to find a way to communicate with an alien species whose ships have landed across Earth. Assessing her interpretive efforts to understand the heptapod form of life in both the movie and the novella from which it was adapted (Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”) teach us how our understanding of selfhood shapes our conception of agency. The film’s reflexive commentary on the cinematic experience is also an argument for the value of learning to communicate in cinematic language, thereby allowing movies to challenge the limits of our concepts and, ultimately, to transform us.
1. Benjamin Schnieder and Moritz Schulz (eds.) Themes from Early Analytic Philosophy. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, (2012). http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/28321/
2. William Demopoulos, Logicism and its Philosophical Legacy. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, (2013). http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/40917/
3. Bryan Frances, Disagreement. Philosophy East and West, 66, 1 (2016): 357-359. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/607662
4. Gilbert Harman and Ernie Lepore (eds.) A Companion to W.V.O. Quine. Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy, 4, 2 (2016): 1-16. https://jhaponline.org/jhap/article/view/2840/2547
5. James McElvenny. Language and Meaning in the Age of Modernism. The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science. (forthcoming) https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/701858