Month: December 2021

Dorit Bar-On: “How to do things with nonwords” (Biology & Philosophy)

Check out Dorit Bar-On's recent article in Biology & Philosophy, "How to do things with nonwords: pragmatics, biosemantics, and origins of language in animal communication." This article features Ruth Millikan’s biosemantic framework, and benefited from several ECOM-based collaborations.


Recent discussions of animal communication and the evolution of language have advocated adopting a ‘pragmatics-first’ approach, according to which “a more productive framework” for primate communication research should be “pragmatics, the field of linguistics that examines the role of context in shaping the meaning of linguistic utterances” (Wheeler and Fischer, Evol Anthropol 21:195–205, 2012: 203). After distinguishing two different conceptions of pragmatics that advocates of the pragmatics-first approach have implicitly relied on (one Carnapian, the other Gricean), I argue that neither conception adequately serves the purposes of pragmatics-first approaches to the origins of human linguistic communication. My main aim in this paper is to motivate–and begin to articulate–an intermediary conception whose scope is narrower than Carnapian pragmatics but broader than Gricean pragmatics. To do so, I first spell out what I take to be the key insight offered by proponents of the Gricean approach concerning the emergence of linguistic communication, namely, its being communication ‘from a psychological point of view’ (Tomasello, Origins of human communication, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2008). I then develop this insight using key elements from the anti-Gricean ‘biosemantic’ account of linguistic communication due to Ruth Millikan (Millikan, Language, thought, and other biological categories: New foundations for realism, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1984, Millikan, Tomberlin (ed), Philosophical Perspectives 9, Ridgeview Publishing, Atascedero CA, 1995, Millikan R (2006) Varieties of Meaning. Mass.: The MIT Press (paperback edition), Cambridge, Millikan, Beyond concepts: unicepts, language, and natural information, Oxford University Press, Oxford UK, 2017, and elsewhere). I argue that the intermediary pragmatics-first approach that I propose, which draws on both Gricean and Millikanian resources, would be better equipped to serve the purposes of those who search for potential precursors of human linguistic communication in animal communication.

Tracy Llanera: “The Misogyny Paradox and the Alt-Right” Accepted by Hypatia

Assistant Professor Tracy Llanera's article, "The Misogyny Paradox and the Alt-right," has been accepted for publication in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.


This essay offers a philosophical analysis of the misogyny experienced by women in the alternative right (alt-right) movement. I argue that this misogyny takes on a paradoxical form: the better alt-right women propagandists promote hate, the greater hostility they experience from their fellow racists and critics; the more submissive women alt-right members become, the harsher the impact of misogyny on them. I develop this argument in four parts. Part I introduces the alt-right movement and the presumed role of white women in racist hate groups. Using Louise Richardson-Self's work on social imaginaries, I explain how dominant images in racist propaganda could be used as resources for exploring the self-conception of racist white women. Part II offers a description of three dominant images in the racist social imaginary: the goddess/victim, wife and mother, and the female activist. These images accord white women a revered status in virtue of their gendered subordination to white men and the white cause. I present the white power barbie and the tradwife as the contemporary iterations of these social images in the alt-right movement. Part III explores the misogyny paradox as experienced by alt-right women. Beginning with a description of gender relations in the racist patriarchy, I show how alt-right women could be seen as both misogynists and victims of misogyny; in other words, as perpetrators and recipients of misogynist harms. It then moves to a twofold discussion of misogyny through the lens of contemporary feminist philosophy. The first section engages Kate Manne’s writings on the dynamics of misogyny to explain hostility against women propagandists, while the second section discusses Manon Garcia’s Beauvoirian argument of the concept of submission to explain the misogyny hurled against conformist women. Part IV briefly reflects on the absurdity of the alt-right’s dependence on women’s economic labor, a feature that may make the movement vulnerable to political intervention.

Junyeol Kim – Winner of the 2021 APA Routledge Taylor & Francis Prize

Congratulations to alumni Junyeol Kim, who has been awarded the 2021 APA Routledge Taylor & Francis Prize for the article “The Horizontal in Frege’s Begriffsschrift” (Synthese, 2020). This prize is awarded for the two best philosophical articles written by adjunct professors.

***Abstract from article***

This paper addresses an issue with the sign ‘’ in Frege’s mature version of Begriffsschrift, i.e., the version in ‘Function and Concept’ and Grundgesetze. The sign is a performative for asserting in that writing down ‘’ is equivalent to asserting that p. Frege further says that writing ‘’ is also equivalent to identifying the reference of ‘p’ with the truth-value True. It looks as if he holds that asserting that p consists in identifying the True with the reference of ‘p’. Frege’s commitment to it, however, seems to encounter a number of tensions. This paper aims to show that these tensions can be avoided by endorsing a non-assertive conception of identification under which making an identification is not making an identity assertion. The suggested reading leads to an entirely different understanding of the compositionality of the sign ‘’ as well as Frege’s conception of assertion and judgment.

Colena Sesanker-“Concerns raised over Community Colleges”

Check out alumna Colena Sesanker (2017), quoted in a recent article titled “Concerns raised over community colleges” in the Willimantic Chronicle about the consolidation of the community colleges.

***Excerpt from article***

Colena Sesanker, a philosophy professor at Gateway Community College and chairwoman of the faculty advisory committee to the Board of Regents, challenged Gov. Ned Lamont’s and the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system’s assertion the consolidation is “mostly a streamlining of back office functions.”

“There is a lot of misinformation and it is not by accident,” she said. “Consolidation means the elimination of all 12 community colleges and what that means is that among other things legislators will not be able to take for granted that they will have a full service college.”

Kensuke Ito: “Truth and Falsity in Communication: Assertion, Denial, and Interpretation”

Check out alum Kensuke Ito's forthcoming article in Erkenntnis, "Truth and Falsity in Communication: Assertion, Denial, and Interpretation." The abstract may be found here.


Our linguistic communication is, in part, the exchange of truths. It is an empirical fact that in daily conversation we aim at truths, not falsehoods. This fact may lead us to assume that ordinary, assertion-based communication is the only possible communicative system for truth-apt information exchange, or at least has priority over any alternatives. This assumption is underwritten in three traditional doctrines: that assertion is a basic notion, in terms of which we define denial; that to predicate truth of a sentence is to assert the content it expresses; and that one should, in the context of radical interpretation, try to maximize the truth of what foreigners believe or utter. However, I challenge this assumption via a thought experiment: imagine a language game in which everyone aims to exchange only falsehoods. I argue that information exchange is possible in this game, and so truth-guided communication and falsity-guided communication are conceptually on a par. As a consequence, we should reject the three doctrines, based as they are on the conceptual priority of assertion-based communication.

Drew Johnson: Proper Function and Ethical Judgement Towards a Biosemantic Theory of Ethical Thought and Discourse

Check out Philosophy Graduate Student Drew Johnson’s recent publication titled “Proper Function and Ethical Judgment Towards A Biosemantic Theory of Ethical Thought and Discourse.” You can read the full paper here.



This paper employs Ruth Millikan’s biosemantic theory of representation to develop a proposal about the function of ethical claims and judgments. I propose that ethical claims and judgments (or ethical ‘affirmations’) have the function of simultaneously tracking the morally salient features of social situations and directing behavior that coordinates in a collectively beneficial way around those features. Thus, ethical affirmations count as a species of what Millikan labels ‘Pushmi-Pullyu’ representations that simultaneously have a descriptive and a directive direction of fit. This proposal supports a version of motivational internalism that can accommodate a surprising range of actual failures of motivation. I also briefly situate this proposal in the metaethical literature, contrasting it with other hybrid views incorporating elements of cognitivism and expressivism.