Papers

Below are abstracts and, where available, electronic copies and links to some of my published papers.

The Normative and the Natural (with Jeremy Randel Koons). London: Palgrave, 2016.

(available at Amazon and probably elsewhere, too – you might also visit my author page for other works)

“Wilfrid Sellars on the Nature of Normativity” (Oxford University Press Philosophy Blog, )

(external link)

“Rigid Designation and Natural Kind Terms, Pittsburgh Style” Social Epistemology (Review and Reply Collective) 2 (1): 133-142, 2013.

This paper addresses recent literature on rigid designation and natural kind terms that draws on the inferentialist approaches of Sellars and Brandom, among others. Much of the orthodox literature on rigidity may be seen as appealing, more or less explicitly, to a semantic form of “the given” in Sellars’s terms. However, the important insights of that literature may be reconstructed and articulated in terms more congenial to the Pittsburgh school of normative functionalism.
(external link)

 

“Boundaries, Reasons and Relativism” Journal of Philosophical Research 37:205-220, 2012.

A paper making the case that there is a deep misunderstanding of the problem of relativism, at least when it comes to social pragmatism.  Social pragmatist accounts make extensive use of appeals to practices, and have thus been accused by many authors of falling prey to some form of conceptual relativism and thus undermining the possibility of objectivity.  I argue that there is an equivocation between different senses of relativism, and that the real danger lies in granting agents a type of rational immunity.  Some forms of relativism and appeal to practice do establish this, but not all, and social pragmatists need not adopt the forms that do.
(external link | pdf:08BRR-Wolf)

 

“Could I Just Be A Very Epistemically Responsible Zombie?” Southwest Philosophy Review  25(2): 69-72, 2009.

Comments on a paper by David Beisecker in which he does indeed claim that I (and he, and you) might be very epistemically repsonsible zombies.  That is, we might be beings that do not have a special set of internal states with phenomenal properties as described by David Chalmers.  Short but fun.

(external link | pdf:07CIJBaVERZ-Wolf)

 

“Philosophy of Language.” Oxford Bibliographies Online (external link).

“Wilfrid Sellars.” Oxford Bibliographies Online (external link).

These are both extended reference works covering the major areas and works on their subjects.  Both are now available through Oxford’s site, though I believe you need a subscription (presumably through a college or university) to see the whole thing.

 

“Langauge, Mind and World: Can’t We All Just Get Along?” Metaphilosophy 39(3): 363-380, 2008.

This paper addresses recent claims made by Richard Rorty about anti-representationalist theories of meaning.  Rorty asserts that a faithful rendering of the core anti-representationalist assumptions precludes even revised pieces of representationalist semantics like “refers” or “true” and epistemological correlates like “answering to the facts.”  Rorty even asserts that such notions invite reactionary authoritarian elements that would impede the development of a democratic humanism.  I reject this claim and assert that such notions (suitably constructed) pose no greater threat to democratic humanism than the alternatives and in fact are crucial to its maintenance and continuing success. These notions (suitably constructed) reflect a meta-theoretical stance that I call “openness” that I beleive lies at the heart of both democratic humanism and the pragmatism from which Rorty claims to take his inspiration.

(external link | pdf:06LMWCWAJGA-Wolf)

 

“Reference and Incommensurability: What Rigid Designation Won’t Get You.” Acta Analytica 22(3): 207-222, 2007.

Causal theories of reference in the philosophy of language and philosophy of science have suggested that it could resolve lingering worries about incommensurability between theoretical claims in different paradigms, to borrow Kuhn’s terms. If we co-refer throughout different paradigms, then the problems of incommensurability are greatly diminished, according to causal theorists. I argue that assuring ourselves of that sort of constancy of reference will require comparable sorts of cross-paradigm affinities, and thus provides us with no special relief on this problem. Suggestions on how to think about rigid designation across paradigms are included.

(external link |pdf: Wolf-RIWRDWGY)

 

“Rigid Designation and Anaphoric Theories of Reference.” Philosophical Studies 130 (2): 351-375, 2006.

Few philosophers today doubt the importance of some notion of rigid designation, as suggested by Kripke and Putnam for names and natural kind terms.  At the very least, most of us want our theories to be compatible with the most plausible elements of that account.  Anaphoric theories of reference have gained some attention lately, but little attention has been given to how they square with rigid designation.  Although the differences between anaphoric theories and many interpretations of the New Theory of reference are substantial, I argue that rigid designation and anaphoric theories can be reconciled with one another and in fact complement one another in important ways.

(external link | pdf: 05RDATR-Wolf)

 

“Philosophy of Language.”  The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (First appeared August, 2006, approx. 11,500 words.) 

<Link to the article>

An extensive exegesis of the major figures, movements and works in analytical philosophy of langauge, stretching from Frege to the present.

 

“Sellars and the Revision of Theoretical Commitments.”  In The Self-Correcting Enterprise:Essays on Wilfrid Sellars, pp. 231-252.

This paper addresses some of Sellars’s views on conceptual change and revision, spread across several books and articles.  It begins with Sellars’s distinction between rules of criticism and rules of action  I argue that Sellars’s distinction here actually sheds light on the epistemology of theoretical revision.  Many (if not all) revisions of theoretical commitments can be motivated by the force of rules of action that govern the maintenance of our theories.  I offer a partial account of this, positing two rules of action. A rule of maximizing explanatory strength compels us to refine and revise theories to improve their performance, while a rule of conservatism puts boundaries on the acceptable pursuit of those goals.  The dynamic between these two guides revision, narrowing the range of acceptable options.  Sellars’s conception of the roles of analogy and affinity are considered, as well as an elaboration of a Sellarsian point about meaning change.

(external link | pdf: 04SotRoTC-Wolf)

 

Co-editor (with Mark Lance) of The Self-Correcting Enterprise:Essays on Wilfrid Sellars (Poznan Studies in Philosophy of the Sciences and Humanities, Vol. 92).  New York: Rodopi Press, 2006. (Including sole authorship of an historical introduction, pp. 9-20.)

The book is available from Amazon and the introduction is available free from the publishers.  (Yes, I know I misspelled “casual” in the second sentence.  Yes, I know I was the editor of the book.  Thanks for reminding me.)

 

“The Curious Role of Natural Kind Terms,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 83:81-101, 2002.

The semantics of natural kind terms has traditionally been seen as a problem of reference.  This has led to some to worry over the ontological commitments we might take up by using them.  Kripke and Putnam have suggested that their meaning begins with rigid designation, with any further implications emerging after much empirical study.  I part ways with this assumption about reference and instead offer an account that focuses on the contribution  that these terms make to the inferential roles of different sorts of sentences, in keeping with the work of Brandom and Sellars.  I note that natural kind terms play an odd array of grammatical roles, both as subject and as parts of predicates, and explain why this dual role contributes something pragmatically significant to explanations of natural phenomena.

(external link | pdf: 03CRNKT-Wolf)

 

“Kripke, Putnam and the Introduction of Natural Kind Terms,” Acta Analytica 17(1): 151-70, 2002.

In this paper, I will outline some of the important points made by Kripke and Putnam on the meaning of natural kind terms. Their notion of the baptism of natural kinds– the process by which kind terms are initially introduced into the language – is of special concern here. I argue that their accounts leave some ambiguities that suggest a baptism of objects and kinds that is free of additional theoretical commitments. Both authors suggest that we name the stuff and then let the scientists tell us what properties it really has, and hence what the real meaning is. I contend that such a barren baptism, taken at face value, cannot succeed in the semantic roles it has been assigned and that softening the stance on baptism suggests a more subtle and complex relation between reference and theoretical commitment than has emerged thus far.

(external link | pdf: 02KPINKT-Wolf)
[The external link issue here is a bit odd. Acta has put the last few years online with Springer, but stops just short of this date and seems to be numbering issues and editions differently.  So, contact me if you want a hard copy with pagination.]

 

“A Grasshopper Walks Into a Bar: Humor as a Tool of Normativity.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 32:3, pp. 331-44, 2002. 

 

This paper presents a position on the pragmatic significance of humor.  Setting aside questions of the aesthetic and phenomenal qualities of the experience of humor, I focus on its role in correcting and enforcing adherence to the norms of other social practices.  I emphasize that humor can come in two forms, a congenial and a denunciatory one.  In the former, we correct and reaffirm the status of other agents within the practice, while in the latter we excoriate others and make no amends.  Though this makes even good clean fun sound cruel, I argue that when looked upon in the right light, most forms of humor can be reconciled with our moral and political obligations. 

(external link | pdf: 01grasshopper-Wolf)

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