SEMINAR (Winter 2018):

TOpics in Philosophy of language: language and natural reasoning

In this seminar, we will explore the relation between language and higher-cognition through the lens of one of its most fascinating and increasingly well-understood interfaces: that between language and `natural logic', i.e., the component of the mind that governs reason and inference. Recently, some linguists have argued that key properties of natural languages--e.g., the distributions of determiners, quanticational phrases (Fox 2000, Fox & Hackl 2006, Gajewski 2002, 2009, Chierchia 2006, 2013) and verbs expressing mental attitudes (Abrusan 2015, Fox 2016), certain kinds of pragmatic inferences (Fox 2006, Chierchia 2013), and the intuitive truth-conditions of generic sentences (Leslie 2007, 2008)--can only or best be explained if we hold that the language system has access to an automatic, unconscious system of reasoning. In this seminar, we will examine this work as a gateway to explore foundational issues about the interface between language and reasoning. We will also explore the consequences of the view that language includes a system of unconscious reasoning for the psychology of bias, judgment and decision-making. The questions we will discuss include: (i) Is there such a thing as a `natural logic'? (ii) Is this system domain general or does it consist of modular subsystems? (iii) Does the inferential system of language have access to general beliefs/information? (iv) What, if any, components of this system are innate? (v) Is the view that language includes a system of natural reasoning a conservative development of Chomsky's Minimalist Program? (vi) Is the natural logic used by language normatively acceptable, or does it generate some systematic patterns of biased or incorrect reasoning? (vii) Does this view of language shed new light on alleged biases of reasoning such as the Conjunction Fallacy and the various biases manifested in the use of generic sentences?

  • Class syllabus here 

SEMINAR (Winter 2015):

TOpics in Philosophy of Cognitive science: linguistics MEETS NEUROLINGUISTICS

One goal of semantics and philosophy of language is to explain how we use natural languages. This requires building models of how we represent and compute the meanings of various types of complex expressions. Yet it is often hard to come up with empirical evidence to discriminate between competing models. However, recent advances in neuroscience allow us to consider a richer array of data. Some claim that neuroscientific data is crucial for the advancement of the cognitive sciences in general. The aim of this course is to explore various competing models of natural language phenomena that have played an important role in philosophy and linguistics, and critically examine recent neuroscientific experiments that aim to discriminate amongst them. The class will be divided into case studies. At each stage, we will critically examine the conditions under which neuroscientific data can be usefully applied to advance the cognitive science of language. Along the way, we will discuss methodological topics such as reductionism and multiple-realizability. 

  • Class syllabus here 

SEMINAR (summer 2015):

Topics in Philosophy of language: SEMANTICS AS COGNITIVE SCIENCE

The main goal of this course is to introduce graduate students in philosophy and cognitive science to the field of Natural Language Semantics. This course can be used as a preparation for further research for students who want to specialize in Semantics and related fields such as Philosophy of Language and the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language. To achieve basic semantic literacy, we cover the tools and concepts of logic and mathematics currently used in formal semantic research, e.g., basic set theory and lambda calculus. To learn how to apply these tools, we examine particular natural language constructions such as quantification and adjectival/adverbial modification. We will also discuss some controversial foundational and empirical issues regarding the semantic structure of lexical items and the combinatorial operations which determine the meaning of phrases.