Schedule and Supporting Materials

For a list of course policies, go here. Please review this document before asking me about course logistics.

Readings that are publicly accessible are hyperlinked below. All other readings are in password-protected directory accessible via the “Readings” tab above. The password is semlogcog. I will post copies of handouts and PowerPoint presentations by the end of each week. Should you miss a class, please ask another student for materials that you did not receive.

We will frequently try to forge connections between readings throughout the week. Bring past readings that will facilitate this task. I will present the specific readings in one-month increments, so as to be able to adapt the schedule according to the flow of discussion.

Week 1: We discuss how linguists conceive of the aims and methods of formal semantics. Conceived as a formal discipline, semantics is primarily about uncovering abstract structural features of language. These features are sufficiently abstract that human psychology plays a minimal role, and is mostly relegated to the study of pragmatics. However, some challenge these assumptions, by claiming that semantics must answer to pragmatics, and that pragmatics will progress by deeper engagement with psychology.

Tuesday Wednesday Thursday

Week 1


Introductions: Syllabus & course policies.

Read Portner, “The Fundamental Question” in What is Meaning? (emailed to class)


Syntax, Pragmatics, and Semantics:

Read Kearns, Chapter 1

Do Assignment #1: Kearns, p. 20-23, #1, 3, 4, 10


The Semantics-Pragmatics Interface:

Read Jaszczolt, K. M. (2012). Semantics and Pragmatics: The Boundary Issue. In K. von Heusinger, P. Portner, & C. Maienborn (Eds.), Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning, (Vol. 3, pp. 2333-2360). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.


Week 2: For linguists and logicians, the standard semantic theory is truth-conditional semantics (TCS). The rough idea is that to understand a statement’s meaning is to know the conditions under which it is true (and false.) In We begin with the simplest model of TCS, which governs the use of words such as “not,” “or,” “and,” and “if-then.” We end by exploring a deep philosophical question that TCS provokes: what is truth?

Week 2


Propositional semantics:

Read Kearns, §2.1-§2.2; Read Priest, §0.1 (Set-theoretic notation) and §1.1-§1.5

Suggested Background: Papineau, pp. 137-148


Do Assignment #2: Priest, pp. 18-19, #1a, 1c, 1f, 1g, 1j

Theories of Truth:

Read Glanzberg, Michael. “Truth”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Read Nickerson, Ch. 1-2

Start Researching for Assignment #3 (due Thurs, Week 3)


Week 3: Despite the modest aims of our simple model of TCS—to cover less than a half-dozen words in English—it faces myriad problems. These difficulties are most evident in the mismatches between the material conditional and English “if-then” statements. We begin by looking at these mismatches as conceived by philosophers and linguists. We turn to the wide variety of psychological experiments that indicate that people do not reason in accordance with the simple model of propositional logic.

Week 3


Material conditionals: linguistic challenges

Read Priest, §1.6-§1.10,

Read §1- §3.1 of Edgington, D. “Indicative Conditionals”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.


Material conditionals: psychological experiments

Read Nickerson, Ch. 3



Material conditionals: psychological challenges

Nickerson, Chapter 5

Assignment  #3 due.

Click here to indicate which experiment you’ll be covering.


Weeks 4 and 5:The fact that people do not reason in accord with basic logical requirements raises a question: is logic the wrong description of human rationality? Or is logic essential to human rationality but most people are irrational? We examine opposing answers to this question. We then examine why logicians think that the rules of logic are constitutive of rationality by examining the concepts of soundness and completeness. We conclude with some philosophical puzzles about how we know that logical rules are constitutive of rationality. In particular, how can we provide a noncircular justification of logic? Wouldn’t it have to be illogical?

Tuesday Wednesday Thursday

Week 4


Nickerson, Ch.5 continued

Has psychology shown that human beings are irrational?

Read Gigerenzer, G. “Bounded and Rational” and Matheson, D. “Bounded Rationality and the Enlightenment Picture of Cognitive Virtue”  in Stainton, R. (2006). Contemporary debates in cognitive science. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 115-144.


Soundness & completeness:

Read Papineau, pp. 149-153; Read Priest, §1.11


Bonus: Handout on Haack, S. (1976). The Justification of DeductionMind, 85(337), 112-119.



How do we know that logic is right?

Read Quine, W. V. (1951). Main Trends in Recent Philosophy: Two Dogmas of Empiricism. The Philosophical Review, 20-43. (There is a good chance that we won’t get past  Section IV, but read the whole thing just in case.)


Week 5


Quine, continued.

Read Boghossian, P. (2000). Knowledge of Logic. In Boghossian, P. & Peacocke, C. (2000). New essays on the a priori. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Boghossian, continued.

Class cancelled

(KK @ Conference)

Weeks 6 and 7: We enrich our simple propositional TCS model to include different kinds of modalities (necessity, possibility, permissibility, obligation, temporality, etc.) The crucial addition to TCS is the notion of “possible worlds.” Understood literally, this seems to be positing something very spooky to make sense of very basic features of our language, so we examine philosophical debates about the most plausible interpretations of modal semantics.

Week 6


Basic modal semantics:

Read Papineau, pp. 61-69; Read Priest, §2.1-§2.4


Do Assignment 4: Priest, pp. 34-35, #2a, 2d, 2g, 2j, 2m, 2p, 2s, 2v

Choose articles for Assignment 6.

Modal realism:

Read Priest, §2.5-§2.8

Read Sider, “Reductive theories of modality

Take-home exam #1 due.



Week 7


Normal modal logic:

Read Kearns, §5.1-§5.2

Read Priest, Ch. 3 (skip §3.7)


Do Assignment 5 Priest, pp. 60-63, #2m, 2p, 2s, 2v, 10a, 10h, 10r

Rule-checking and deontic reasoning:

Read Nickerson, Ch. 6

Assignment 6a


Week 8: We return to the problems in Week 3 concerning logic and conditionals. We examine the semantics for conditional logics, which is a TCS model for counterfactual conditionals. We conclude by surveying the psychology of counterfactual reasoning.

Week 8


Conditional logics:

Read Kearns, §5.3

Read Priest, §5.1-5.5

[HANDOUT (with corrections!)]

Do Assignment 7: Priest, pp. 101-102 #1 (5.2.1–just do the exercises for hook; don’t worry about the curly conditional that we haven’t covered; 5.4.3). 3a, 3b, 3d, 4a, 4b, 4c

Class Cancelled.

(KK @ Conference)

For Weeks 9 through 12, we enrich our simple propositional TCS model to include predicates. This affords us three major advances. First, we add a formal semantics for the logical operators “all” and “some.” Second, we have the resources for constructing a semantics for nonlogical vocabulary, such as names and predicates. Third, the lambda calculus enhances our understanding of the syntax-semantics interface.


We then turn to the study of concepts. On the traditional view, predicates are the linguistic analogues of concepts, and logicians and linguists have tended to assume that the structure of concepts is more or less the same as the structure of the words that express them. However, this account of concepts appears inconsistent with psychological accounts of concepts. Moreover, psychological accounts are themselves rather heterogeneous. So, who has the right view of concepts? We conclude the course with Edouard Machery’s Doing Without Concepts to explore this question.

Week 9


Psychology of counterfactuals:

Read Nickerson, Ch. 8

Assignment 6b


Predicate semantics:

Read Kearns §2.3, Ch.3

Read Priest §12.1-§12.5


Do Assignment 8 Kearns, pp. 40-44, #10, 12, 14, 17; Kearns, pp. 55-56, # 3, 4, 6, 7; Priest, pp. 288-289, #6a-6e

Week 10


Sections 5 and 6 of the Kearns and Priest Handout


Concepts in psychology:

Read Machery, Ch.1



Concepts in philosophy: Machery, Ch. 2


Week 11


Heterogeneity of concepts:

Read Machery,Ch.3, §4.1

Chapter 3: [HANDOUT] [PPT]

Prototypes, exemplars, and theories

Read Machery, §4.2-§4.4

Assignment 6c

Chapter 4: [HANDOUT] [PPT]

Multi-process theories

Read Machery, §4.6-§4.7, §5.1-§5.3

Assignment 6d

Chapter 5: [HANDOUT] [PPT]

Week 12


 Categorization & the existence of concepts

Read Machery, §5.3-§6.3

Assignment 6e

Chapter 6: [HANDOUT] [PPT]

Categorization, induction, & neuropsychology

Machery, Ch. §6.4-§6.6. Review of remaining experiments

Assignment 6f

Chapter 7: [HANDOUT][PPT]

Eliminating concepts?

Read Machery, Ch. 8





Take Home #2 Due by 5pm in my Mailbox (2nd Floor Twilight Hall)