Find drafts and abstracts for some of my current projects. Contact me for drafts not linked to below. Comments are appreciated!
Plural and Collective Noun Phrases (forthcoming in the Routledge Handbook on Collective Intentionality)
This chapter examines the semantic behavior and treatments of plural terms and collective noun phrases. The chapter begins with a discussion of kinds of plural and collective nouns and data a semantic treatment must capture. I set out major treatments of plural expressions--focusing on the differences between so-called Singularist and Pluralist treatments. I offer arguments that have been given to favor each. Finally I argue that semantic data involving collective nouns should be captured by a semantics that posits a polysemy between a group-as-one and group-as-may meaning.
Abstract: Since the linguistic turn, many have taken semantics to guide ontology. Here, I argue that semantics can, at best, serve as a partial guide to ontological commitment. If semantics were to be our guide, semantic data and semantic treatments would need to be taken seriously. Through an examination of plurals and their treatments, I argue that there can be multiple equally semantically adequate treatments of a natural language theory. Further, such treatments can attribute different ontological commitments to a theory. Given this I argue that semantics can fail to deliver determinate ontological commitments and determinate answers to ontological questions more generally.
Abstract: Social groups, including racial and gender groups and teams and committees, seem to play an important role in our world. This article examines key metaphysical questions regarding groups. I examine answers to the question “Do groups exist?” I argue that worries about puzzles of composition, motivations to accept methodological individualism and a rejection of Racialism support a negative answer to the question. An affirmative answer is supported by arguments that groups are efficacious, indispensible to our best theories and accepted given common sense. Then, I turn to an examination of the features of social groups. I argue that social groups can be divided into (at least) two sorts. Groups of Type 1 are organized social groups like courts and clubs. Groups of Type 2 are groups like Blacks, women, and lesbians. While groups of both sorts have some features in common, they also have marked differences in features. Finally, I turn to views of the nature of social groups. I argue that the difference in features provides evidence that social groups do not have a uniform nature. Teams and committees are structured wholes, while race and gender groups are social kinds.
Abstract: In this paper I argue for a view of things like teams, committees and courts, which I call groups. I begin by examining the features all groups seem to have in common. I formulate a list of six criteria that any adequate theory of groups must capture. I then examine four of the most prominent views of groups currently on offer—that groups are fusions, aggregates, non-singular pluralities and sets. I argue that each fails to capture one or more of the criteria. Last, I develop the view that groups are realized structures. Such a view has two components. First, groups are entities with structure. Second, groups are concreta, so they exist only when a group structure is realized. I show how the view captures the six criteria while offering a substantive answer to the question, “What are groups?”
Abstract: Predicates can apply to collective nouns, expressions like team, committee and court, in multiple ways. It has been noticed that collective nouns, like plural expressions, allow for distributive and collective predication. I argue that they also allow for a distinct sort of predication that takes a group-as-one as argument. I argue that the data is best explained by the view that collective nouns are polysemous rather than ambiguous. I then turn to a metaphysics of groups that will be employed by my semantics. I argue that groups-as-one are structured wholes––material entities that include a structural-functional element that features in their identity conditions. The identity conditions of groups-as-many, in contrast, rely only on material parts. Finally I sketch a semantic theory that accounts for the variety of predication of collective nouns and can handle some worrying cases involving entailment.
Social Creationism and Social Groups
Abstract: Social groups seem to be things that are dependent on us. Given this, it might seem that Social Creationism—the view that social practices, interactions, intentions and beliefs can create objects—holds for social groups. Here I argue that not all social groups are created equally. In particular I examine two categories of social groups—Feature Groups (e.g., racial and gender groups) and Organized Group (e.g., teams and committees). I argue that Feature and Organized Groups have distinct natures and creation conditions. Feature Groups are social kinds. While they depend on socially constructed properties, whether the groups themselves are created depends on one’s view of kinds. Even if they are created, however, it is in a “cheap” and easy way that follows from ascribing properties to already existent individuals. I argue that Organized Groups are structured wholes. Further, I argue that they are entities that are socially created in a robust sense. We are able to socially create, but not all social objects are socially created.
No Easy Answers to Ontological Category Questions (with Vera Flocke)
Abstract: Easy ontologists, such as Schiffer (2003) and Thomasson (2015), argue that ontological questions have determinate answers, but are trivial. They think that we can answer these questions by using our ordinary conceptual skills, perhaps together with some empirical investigations or pragmatic decisions. Ontology thus is “easy”, requiring no distinctively metaphysical investigation. However, we argue that (what we call) Distinctness Category Questions form a central part of ontology and are not answered by easy arguments, leaving room for hard ontological inquiry.
Varieties of Social Structures and the Ontology of Social Groups
Abstract: I argue for a social ontology that utilizes social structures (i.e., complex relational properties that are socially constructed). The view delivers a picture that encompasses a wide range of social groups, while maintaining important metaphysical, epistemic, and normative distinctions between groups of different kinds (e.g., teams and committees, racial groups and gender groups). Further, I show how a social ontology based on social structures can capture why not every arbitrary collection of people is a social group.
Social Position and the Reclamation of Slurs
Abstract: Almost all treatments of slurs—expressions that derogate and dehumanize based on membership in a social group—posit that slurs express derogatory content of some sort or other. Yet, slurs also seem to allow for appropriation or reclamation by target groups (e.g., bitch might be reclaimed and used without derogatory content by women). Theorists have tended to posit an ambiguity or polysemy to account for reclamation. Positing multiple meanings does not, however, explain why only target group members can use a slur in a reclaimed non-derogatory way. If content based accounts cannot explain this, their supposed solution to reclamation fails. Here, I argue that content based theories can account for the phenomena of reclamation through positing a content that is sensitive to a speaker’s social position through a plural first-person pronoun. I motivate the position by examining the nature of reclamation and the nature of plural first-person expressions.
DISSERTATION: Groups––A Semantic and Metaphysical Examination
Short Dissertation Abstract: This manuscript is focused on the extent to which semantics can guide metaphysics. I argue that, at best, semantics can serve as a partial guide to metaphysics. Sometimes there will be indeterminate answers to questions of the form 'Does theory T carry a commitment to Fs?' Further, semantics will never answer questions regarding the nature of Fs.
In it I apply this methodology to plurals (e.g., 'the girls,' 'Tom, Luke and George') and collective nouns (e.g., 'the team,' 'a committee'). I argue that plurals are indeterminately committed to sums (or other singular entities) while collective nouns are determinately committed to groups. The semantics of collective nouns delivers the minimal verdict that groups exist, but says nothing about their nature. I also undertake an examination of the metaphysics of groups which goes beyond semantics to offer a substantive view of the metaphysics of groups.