Research


Some things I’ve written, with links to external archives for preprints.

Semantic supervenience
Inquiry
| in press

It is common belief that semantic properties supervene on non-semantic properties: no two possible worlds can be non-semantic duplicates and fail to be semantic duplicates. The view enjoys somewhat of an orthodoxy status in contemporary philosophy of language and metaphysics, and is often assumed without argument. Yet, work by Stephen Kearns and Ofra Magidor has claimed that it is vulnerable to a variant of the classical arguments against the supervenience of the phenomenal on the physical. This paper does three things: it clarifies what semantic supervenience is about, it responds to the objections that have been leveled against it, and provides a new battery of arguments in its favor. I argue that the thesis of semantic supervenience is safe from classical anti-supervenience arguments, and show that its rejection generates unwelcome consequences. I conclude that there are substantial reasons to embrace the received wisdom: semantic properties supervene.

Lexical innovation and the periphery of language
Linguistics and Philosophy
| preprint | in press

Lexical innovations (e.g., zero-derivations coined on the fly by a speaker) seem to bear semantic content. Yet, such expressions cannot bear semantic content as a function of the conventions of meaning in force in the language, since they are not part of its lexicon. This is in tension with the commonplace view that the semantic content of lexical expressions is constituted by semantic conventions. The conventionalist has two immediate ways out of the tension. The first is to preserve the conventionalist assumption and deny that lexical innovations bear semantic content. The second is to dynamize the conventionalist assumption, that is, argue that presentations of unattested expressions trigger an augmentation of the standing semantic resources of the language and instantiate semantic content as a result of this underlying update. Building on a comparison with the production of novel onomatopoeic words, iconic pseudowords and pro-speech gestures, the paper argues that the issue is best addressed by suspending the conventionalist assumption, and describes the immediate metasemantic implications of the claim.

Hearing meanings: the revenge of context
Synthese (with Michael Murez)
| preprint | doi

According to the perceptual view of language comprehension, listeners typically recover high-level linguistic properties such as utterance meaning without inferential work. The perceptual view is subject to the Objection from Context: since utterance meaning is massively context-sensitive, and context-sensitivity requires cognitive inference, the perceptual view is false. In recent work, Berit Brogaard provides a challenging reply to this objection. She argues that in language comprehension context-sensitivity is typically exercised not through inferences, but rather through top-down perceptual modulations or perceptual learning. This paper provides a complete formulation of the Objection from Context and evaluates Brogaard’s reply to it. Drawing on conceptual considerations and empirical examples, we argue that the exercise of context-sensitivity in language comprehension does, in fact, typically involve inference.

A pluralistic theory of wordhood
Mind & Language
| preprint | doi

What are words and how should we individuate them? There are two main answers on the philosophical market. For some, words are bundles of structural-functional features defining a unique performance profile. For others, words are noneternal continuants individuated by their causal-historical ancestry. These conceptions offer competing views of the nature of words, and it seems natural to assume that at most one of them can capture the essence of wordhood. This paper makes a case for pluralism about wordhood: the view that there is a plurality of acceptable conceptions of the nature of words, none of which is uniquely entitled to inform us as to what wordhood consists in.

A numeral oddity
Journal of Semantics
| preprint | doi

Natural language appears to allow the ascription of properties of numeral symbols to the denotation of number referring phrases. The paper describes the phenomenon and presents two alternative explanations for why it obtains. One combining an intuitive semantics for number referring phrases and a predicate-shifting mechanism, the other assigning number referring phrases a structured denotation consisting of two parts: a mathematical object (the number) and a contextually determined numeral symbol. Some preliminary observations in favor of the second analysis are offered.

Pronominal anaphora, coreference, and closed quotation marks
Mind & Language
| preprint | doi

Consider the following sentence: “Mary meditated on the sentence ‘Bill is a good friend’ and concluded that he was a good friend”. It is standardly assumed that in sentences of this sort, containing so‐called “closed” quotations, the expressions occurring between quotation marks are mentioned and do not take their ordinary referents. The quoted NP “Bill” refers, if anything, to the name ‘Bill’, not to the individual Bill. At the same time, the pronoun “he”, apparently anaphoric on quoted “Bill”, refers to the individual Bill. The case seems to invalidate the intuitive principle that pronouns anaphoric on referential expressions inherit their reference from their antecedents. The paper formulates the argument, argues that sentences exhibiting the described pattern do not constitute evidence against the intuitive principle, and proposes an alternative account of the anaphoric relation involved.

Phonetic segments and the organization of speech
Philosophy of Science
| preprint | doi

According to mainstream linguistic phonetics, speech can be modeled as a string of discrete sound segments or “phones” drawn from a universal phonetic inventory. Recent work has argued that a mature phonetics should refrain from theorizing about speech and speech processing using sound segments, and that the phone concept should be eliminated from linguistic theory. The paper lays out the tenets of the phone methodology and evaluates its prospects in light of the eliminativist arguments. I claim that the eliminativist arguments fail to show that the phone concept should be eliminated from linguistic theory.

Priority cosmopsychism and the Advaita Vedānta
Philosophy East and West
| preprint | doi

The combination of panpsychism and priority monism leads to priority cosmopsychism, the view that the consciousness of individual sentient creatures is derivative of an underlying cosmic consciousness. It has been suggested that contemporary priority cosmopsychism parallels central ideas in the Advaita Vedānta tradition. The paper offers a critical evaluation of this claim. It argues that the Advaitic account of consciousness cannot be characterized as an instance of priority cosmopsychism, points out the differences between the two views, and suggests an alternative positioning of the Advaitic canon within the contemporary debate on monism and panpsychism.

Originalism about word types
Thought
| preprint | doi

According to Originalism, word types are non-eternal continuants which are individuated by their causal-historical lineage and have a unique possible time of origination. This view collides with the intuition that individual words can be added to the lexicon of a language at different times, and generates other problematic consequences. The paper shows that such undesired results can be accommodated without abandoning Originalism.

Word meaning
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (with Diego Marconi)
| link

The entry provides an overview of the way the issues surrounding the nature of lexical meaning have been explored in analytic philosophy, and a summary of relevant research on the subject in neighboring scientific domains. Though the main focus of the entry is on philosophical problems, contributions from linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence are also considered.

Mental files and the lexicon
Review of Philosophy and Psychology
| doi

This paper presents the hypothesis that the representational repertoire underpinning our ability to process the lexical items of a natural language can be modeled as a system of mental files. To start, I clarify the basic phenomena that an account of lexical knowledge should be able to elucidate. Then, I propose to evaluate whether the mental files theory can be brought to bear on an account of the representational format of lexical knowledge by modeling mental words as recognitional files.

Minimal semantics and word sense disambiguation
Disputatio
| link

Emma Borg defines semantic minimalism as the thesis that the literal content of well-formed declarative sentences is truth-evaluable, fully determined by their lexico-syntactic features, and recoverable by language users with no need to access non-linguistic information. The task of this article is threefold. First, I shall raise a criticism to Borg's minimalism based on how speakers disambiguate homonymy. Second, I will explore some ways Borg might respond to my argument and maintain that none of them offers a conclusive reply to my case. Third, I shall suggest that in order for Borg’s minimalism to accommodate the problem discussed in this paper, it should allow for semantically incomplete content and be converted into a claim about linguistic competence.

Lactantius, De Ira Dei
Bompiani [book]
| link

[Italian title: “La Collera di Dio”; edited volume]. The De ira Dei was written at the beginning of the 4th century by Lactantius (ca. 240-320), a pupil of Arnobius who converted to Christianity and went on to become a prominent intellectual at the court of Constantine. The text tackles the problem of divine anger. Stoics and Epicureans would have it that anger is unworthy of a divine being and can affect only irrational or malevolent creatures. Yet, the scriptures repeatedly describe God as irate. How can these two things be reconciled? According to Lactantius, we should reject the “pagan” doctrine that anger is unworthy of a divine being, and consider God's capacity to become irate as an expression of her moral and ontological perfection. In other words, God's anger is not a failure of rationality or a sign of malevolence: it is the manifestation of a merciful pedagogy tirelessly laboring to foster the moral progress of mankind. Tough love, as they say. I wrote an introduction, translated the text from Latin, and compiled a commentary based on existing critical editions.

Filosofia dell’Illusione
Mimesis [book]
| link

A concise history (with many gaps) of the idea of illusion. The book is in three parts. The first part is about the history of the word illusion from its early origins in the Indo-European tree to present-day Romance and Germanic languages. The second part chronicles the role played by the notion of illusion in the Western philosophical canon, from the Presocratics to the beginning of the 20th century. The third part concludes with a bit of conceptual analysis, and tries to say something about the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to qualify as an “illusion”.