Alex Silk

Phone: ,8,-¸1¸-81o¡
asilk,umich.edu
www.umich.edu/∼asilk/
Department of Philosophy
¡¸, South State Street
ii1, Angell Hall
Ann Arbor, MI ¡81oµ-1oo¸
Specializations
Philosophy of Language • Metaethics • Ethics
Competencies
Epistemology • Nietzsche • Logic • Formal Semantics & Pragmatics
Education
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: Ph.D. in Philosophy, Expected io1¸
Dissertation: What Normative Terms Mean and Why It Matters for Ethical eory
Committee: Allan Gibbard (co-chair), Peter Railton (co-chair), Eric Swanson, Ezra Keshet
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: M.A. in Philosophy, io1o
Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Visiting Student in Philosophy & Linguistics, Spring io1i
Australia National University: Visiting Student in Philosophy, Summer io1o
Wheaton College: B.A. with Honors in Philosophy, Summa cum laude, ioo8
Tesis: “Teological Realism: A Dilemma”
Publications
“Truth-Conditions and the Meanings of Ethical Terms”
Forthcoming. In R. Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. .
“Ethics and Values” (with Peter Railton)
Forthcoming. In International Encyclopedia for the Social and Behavioral Sciences.
“Modality, Weights, and Inconsistent Premise Sets”
io1i. In A. Chereches (Ed.), Semantics and Linguistic eory (SALT) , pp. ¡¸–o¡.
“Evidence-Sensitivity in Weak Necessity Deontic Modals”
io11. In D. Lassiter (Ed.), European Summer School in Logic, Language, and Information
(ESSLLI) , pp. 181–1µi.
Reviewof R. Shafer-Landau(Ed.), OxfordStudies inMetaethics, Vol. . InEthics 1ii (io1i): oii–oi,.
1
Talks
“Truth-Conditions and the Meanings of Ethical Terms”
Eighth Annual Metaethics Workshop, University of Wisconsin–Madison, September io11
University of Michigan Graduate Student Working Group, September io11
“Modality, Weights, and Inconsistent Premise Sets”
Northwestern Workshop on Deontic Modals (Invited), April io1¸
Semantics and Linguistic Teory (SALT) ii, May io1i
“Evidence Sensitivity in Weak Necessity Deontic Modals”
Australian Association of Philosophy Conference, July io1i
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ethics Reading Group, March io1i
European Summer School in Logic, Language, and Information (ESSLLI) 1o, August io11
“Why ‘Ought’ Detaches”
APA Eastern Division Meeting, December io11
Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, August io11
Indiana Philosophical Association Spring Conference, April io11
Harvard-MIT Graduate Philosophy Conference, March io11
Australian Association of Philosophy Conference, July io1o
University of Michigan Graduate Student Working Group, April io1o
“Deontic Conditionals”
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Syntax and Semantics Reading Group, March io1i
“Te Origins of Moral Judgment: Ethics Without (Deontological) Intuitions”
Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference on Consciousness, April iooµ
University of Michigan Graduate Student Working Group, March iooµ
“Expressivism and the Frege-Geach Problem: A Solution and Dilemma”
Illinois Philosophical Association Conference, November ioo8
Pacifc University Philosophy Conference, April ioo8
Intermountain West Student Philosophy Conference, March ioo8
Phi Sigma Tau Gamma Chapter Philosophy Conference, March ioo8
“Agent Causation: Luck and the Problem of Free Will”
Intermountain West Student Philosophy Conference, March ioo,
Comments on “Te Subjective/Objective Distinction,” by Fabrizio Cariani
APA Central Division Meeting (Invited session on deontic modals), February io1i
Comments on “Te Equal Weight View and Moral Disagreement,” by Brian Besong
Indiana Philosophical Association Spring Meeting, April io11
i
Honors
Ex1v.mUv.i
Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship, Spring io1i–Spring io1¸
University-wide dissertation award: One-year non-teaching fellowship
APA Graduate Student Travel Stipend, APA Eastern Division Meeting, December io11
Invited participant to the Conference on Meaning in Context, NCSU Logic and Cognitive Science
Initiative, September io11
European Summer School in Logic, Language, and Information (ESSLLI) Prize for the Best Paper
Presentation, August io11
NEH Summer Seminar in ioth Century American Philosophy: Quine and Davidson, Princeton
University, June–July io11
One of two graduate students selected
Co-Editor, Te Philosopher’s Annual, Summer io11
Charles L. Stevenson Prize, io11
Annual award by the Philosophy Department at the University of Michigan for the best Candi-
dacy Dossier
Indiana Philosophical Association Graduate Student Essay Prize Winner, April io11
University of Michigan Center for Ethics and Public Life Pre-Candidate Fellow, io1o
Illinois Philosophical Association Essay Contest Winner, November ioo8
Phi Sigma Tau Inductee (National Honor Society in Philosophy), April ioo,
National Merit Scholarship, Fall ioo¡–Spring ioo,
I×1v.mUv.i
Rackham Graduate School International Research Award, July io1i
Rackham Graduate School Candidate Graduate Student Research Grant, July io11
Rackham Graduate School Pre-Candidate Graduate Student Research Grant, March io1o
Te Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi Inductee, March io1o
All-discipline national honor society for top 1oº of graduate students
University of Michigan Marshall M. Weinberg Summer Fellowship, May iooµ
Prize for academic distinction during the early years of one’s graduate education
RackhamGraduate School Conference Travel Grants, April iooµ, July io1o, August io11, July io1i
Wheaton College Alumni Senior Scholarship Award Winner, April ioo,
Award for the student most deserving of recognition based on campus and community involve-
ment, academic achievements, future goals, faculty recommendation, and cumulative GPA
¸
Service
Referee for Mind, Ethics, and Philosophical Studies
Expert Community Resource Mentor in Philosophy for Local High School Students, Winter io11
Center for Ethics & Public Life Speaker Series Co-organizer, Spring io1o–Spring io11
Ethics Discussion Group Co-organizer, Winter io1o–Fall io11
Metaethics and Philosophy of Language Reading Group Co-organizer, Winter io1o–Winter io11
Philosophy Department Graduate Student Instructor Workshop Mentor, Fall io11
McDonnell Inter-University Consortium on Causal Learning (Invited Participant & Volunteer),
Spring io1o
Graduate Student Representative to the Rackham Student Forum, Spring io1o–Present
Teaching
University of Michigan Graduate Teacher Certifcate, Expected Fall io1i
Teaching and professional development, including courses on teaching, class feedback sessions
and evaluations, and a teaching mentorship.
Primary Instructor, University of Michigan
Introduction to Philosophy, Winter io11
Graduate Student Instructor, University of Michigan
Problems of Philosophy (E. Curley), Fall iooµ
Types of Philosophy (V. Caston), Winter io1o
Ethics (S. Buss), Fall io11
Teaching Assistant, Wheaton College
Introduction to Philosophy (R. O’Connor), Fall ioo,, Spring ioo8
Introduction to Logic (R. O’Connor), Fall ioo,, Spring ioo8
Teology of Culture (L. Miguelez), Spring ioo,–Spring ioo8
Systematic Teology (graduate) (L. Miguelez), Spring ioo,–Spring ioo8
Teological Anthropology (graduate) (L. Miguelez), Spring ioo,–Spring ioo8
Research Assistant, University of Michigan
L. Loeb, Winter iooµ–Winter io11: Editing papers, and constructing the index for his Reection
and the Stability of Belief: Essays on Descartes, Hume, and Reid, Oxford: Oxford UP, io1o.
Research Assistant, Wheaton College
L. Miguelez, Summer ioo8–Winter io1o: Researching Nietzsche’s critiques of morality, Jesus,
and Christianity in his middle- and later-period writings
¡
Graduate Coursework
Value eory
From Action and Attitude to Ethics, P. Railton (Audit)
Cultural Psychology (Psychology Dept), R. Nisbett
Ethical Analysis, A. Gibbard
Metaethics, A. Gibbard
Metaethics (Dossier Reading Course), A. Gibbard
Te Moral and Political Philosophy of J.S. Mill, D. Jacobson (Audit)
Normative Ethics (Independent Reading Course), P. Railton
Parft’s On What Matters, A. Gibbard (Audit)
Language
Advanced Semantics (MIT), I. Heim (Audit)
Context and Reference, C. Roberts
Formal Methods, S. Moss (Audit)
Generative Syntax (Linguistics Dept), A. Pires (Audit)
Philosophy of Language, E. Swanson (Audit)
Philosophy of Language (Independent Summer Reading), A. Gibbard
Philosophy and Linguistic Teory, R. Tomason (Audit)
Semantics and Pragmatics (Linguistics Dept), E. Keshet (Audit)
Epistemology, Logic, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Science
Contemporary Epistemology (Proseminar), J. Joyce
Formal Epistemology, S. Moss (Audit)
Mathematical Logic, L. Sklar
Philosophy of Mind, E. Lormand
Philosophy of Science, L. Ruetsche
Physical and Geometric Possibility, G. Belot
Rational Choice Teory, J. Joyce (Audit)
Spacetime Symmetries and Teir Representations (Physics Dept), J. Wells
History of Philosophy
Plato, S. Kelsey
Early Modern Epistemology (Proseminar), L. Loeb
References
Allan Gibbard
University of Michigan
(,¸¡) ,o¡-o8µi
gibbard,umich.edu
Eric Swanson
University of Michigan
(,¸¡) ,¸o-o888
ericsw,umich.edu
Peter Railton
University of Michigan
(,¸¡) ,o¸-i1ii
prailton,umich.edu
Ezra Keshet
University of Michigan
(,¸¡) ,o¡-o¸,¸
ekeshet,umich.edu
Robert Stalnaker
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(o1,) i,¸-¡o,i
stal,mit.edu
Matt Evans (Teaching)
University of Michigan
(,¸¡) ,o¡-oi8,
evmatt,umich.edu
,
Dissertation Abstract
My dissertation is a study in how inquiry into the meaning of normative language can help illumi-
nate classical questions in ethics and metaethics. Teoretical interests in the nature of normative
language can serve broader practical interests in how to live.
Te frst part of the dissertation motivates and develops what I call condition semantics for nor-
mative terms. An important function of language is to distinguish among ways the world might
be. But sentences can also distinguish among ways things might be more broadly. I argue that
normative sentences distinguish among normative standards (or test whether a normative standard
meets a certain condition) just as ordinary factual sentences distinguish among possible worlds (or
test whether a possible world meets a certain condition). Tis point is captured formally within
an extension of the familiar truth-conditional paradigm: Te content of a normative sentence is
represented as (determining) a set of normative standards, those that meet the condition given by
the sentence. Te framework of condition semantics offers a perspicuous way of posing various
classical metaethical questions —e.g., concerning the objectivity of morality, the nature of norma-
tive judgment, and the connection between normative judgment and motivation. Tis can motivate
clearer, better motivated answers and suggest new ways the dialectic may proceed.
Whereas the frst part of the dissertation suggests ways in which philosophy of language can
inform metaethics, the second part shows how insights from ethical theory can improve our un-
derstanding of natural language. It is common in ethics to distinguish what we objectively ought to
do from what we subjectively ought to do —that is, what we ought to do given all the facts about
the world (known and unknown) fromwhat we ought to do given our (ofen limited) evidence. But
at frst glance it appears that the standard analysis for words like ‘ought’ implicitly assumes that we
always ought to do what we objectively ought to do, or that what we ought to do does not turn on
features of our epistemic position. I argue that, contrary to the standard analysis, evaluations of
deontic value cannot always be assessed independently of which possibilities are live.
Finally, I examine two examples of how clarifying the meanings of normative terms can have
normative ethical payoffs. First I consider the “detaching problem,” the problem of how objection-
able ‘ought’ claims seem to be derivable by modus ponens from hypothetical imperatives (like ‘If
you want to ϕ, you ought to ψ’) and their antecedents. Existing “wide scoping” accounts block de-
tachment by analyzing hypothetical imperatives as claims that one ought to either ψ or not want to
ϕ. But this analysis is problematic on linguistic grounds. Amore promising response is suggested by
standard treatments of modals like ‘ought’ as essentially context-dependent, only receiving a partic-
ular reading (e.g., moral, goal-oriented, epistemic) in context. Tis response permits detachment,
in the sense ethicists have cared about, as long as the ‘ought’s are given a constant interpretation.
Detached ‘ought’ claims play a crucial role in practical reasoning: Tey can serve as lemmas in larger
arguments to generate conclusions about one’s reasons for action.
Second, various ethicists have argued that by indexing evaluative judgments to the perspec-
tives of particular agents (by adopting “agent-relativism” about the good), we can capture certain
core intuitions driving both consequentialism and deontology. Objections have been raised against
agent-relativism that its analysis of evaluative terms is inconsistent with the normative ethical in-
tuitions it tries to capture. I develop an alternative analysis available to agent-relativists that is not
subject to this critique and captures various important features of normative judgment. On this
analysis, ‘good relative to’ claims express evaluative judgments for hypothetical cases of being in
someone else’s shoes. In these ways, inquiry into the meanings of ethical expressions and the nature
of ethical discourse can clarify and improve our ethical thought and practice.
o Last updated: August io1i

March  Australian Association of Philosophy Conference. Ethics Reading Group. April  Semantics and Linguistic eory (SALT) . July  Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Syntax and Semantics Reading Group. March  “e Origins of Moral Judgment: Ethics Without (Deontological) Intuitions” Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference on Consciousness.Talks “Truth-Conditions and the Meanings of Ethical Terms” Eighth Annual Metaethics Workshop. September  “Modality. March  Comments on “e Subjective/Objective Distinction. and Information (ESSLLI) . March  Phi Sigma Tau Gamma Chapter Philosophy Conference. April  “Deontic Conditionals” Massachusetts Institute of Technology. March  “Agent Causation: Luck and the Problem of Free Will” Intermountain West Student Philosophy Conference. May  “Evidence Sensitivity in Weak Necessity Deontic Modals” Australian Association of Philosophy Conference. November  Paci c University Philosophy Conference. and Inconsistent Premise Sets” Northwestern Workshop on Deontic Modals (Invited). April  Intermountain West Student Philosophy Conference. September  University of Michigan Graduate Student Working Group. February  Comments on “e Equal Weight View and Moral Disagreement. August  “Why ‘Ought’ Detaches” APA Eastern Division Meeting. Language. University of Wisconsin–Madison. March  European Summer School in Logic. August  Indiana Philosophical Association Spring Conference. April  University of Michigan Graduate Student Working Group. Weights. March  “Expressivism and the Frege-Geach Problem: A Solution and Dilemma” Illinois Philosophical Association Conference. July  University of Michigan Graduate Student Working Group. April  Harvard-MIT Graduate Philosophy Conference.” by Fabrizio Cariani APA Central Division Meeting (Invited session on deontic modals). December  Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress. April   .” by Brian Besong Indiana Philosophical Association Spring Meeting.

Princeton University. and Information (ESSLLI) Prize for the Best Paper Presentation. August  NEH Summer Seminar in th Century American Philosophy: Quine and Davidson. faculty recommendation.  Illinois Philosophical Association Essay Contest Winner. July  Rackham Graduate School Pre-Candidate Graduate Student Research Grant. Summer  Charles L. July  Wheaton College Alumni Senior Scholarship Award Winner. September  European Summer School in Logic. July . April  National Merit Scholarship. Stevenson Prize. academic achievements. April  University of Michigan Center for Ethics and Public Life Pre-Candidate Fellow. NCSU Logic and Cognitive Science Initiative. future goals. March  e Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi Inductee. November  Phi Sigma Tau Inductee (National Honor Society in Philosophy).  Annual award by the Philosophy Department at the University of Michigan for the best Candidacy Dossier Indiana Philosophical Association Graduate Student Essay Prize Winner. June–July  One of two graduate students selected Co-Editor. Fall –Spring  I Rackham Graduate School International Research Award. and cumulative GPA  . Language.Honors E Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship. APA Eastern Division Meeting. May  Prize for academic distinction during the early years of one’s graduate education Rackham Graduate School Conference Travel Grants. April . e Philosopher’s Annual. Weinberg Summer Fellowship. July  Rackham Graduate School Candidate Graduate Student Research Grant. April  Award for the student most deserving of recognition based on campus and community involvement. March  All-discipline national honor society for top  of graduate students University of Michigan Marshall M. Spring –Spring  University-wide dissertation award: One-year non-teaching fellowship APA Graduate Student Travel Stipend. December  Invited participant to the Conference on Meaning in Context. August .

Miguelez).and later-period writings  . Curley). Winter  Center for Ethics & Public Life Speaker Series Co-organizer. Summer –Winter : Researching Nietzsche’s critiques of morality. Winter  Ethics (S. and Christianity in his middle. and Philosophical Studies Expert Community Resource Mentor in Philosophy for Local High School Students. Winter –Fall  Metaethics and Philosophy of Language Reading Group Co-organizer. Miguelez). University of Michigan Introduction to Philosophy. Fall  McDonnell Inter-University Consortium on Causal Learning (Invited Participant & Volunteer). Loeb. Fall  Teaching Assistant. and constructing the index for his Re ection and the Stability of Belief: Essays on Descartes. Miguelez. University of Michigan Problems of Philosophy (E. Research Assistant. Winter  Graduate Student Instructor. including courses on teaching. Spring –Present Teaching University of Michigan Graduate Teacher Certi cate. Fall .Service Referee for Mind. O’Connor). Spring –Spring  Ethics Discussion Group Co-organizer. Miguelez). Fall . Caston). Winter –Winter : Editing papers. Wheaton College Introduction to Philosophy (R. Spring –Spring  Systematic eology (graduate) (L. Winter –Winter  Philosophy Department Graduate Student Instructor Workshop Mentor. Hume. Spring  Graduate Student Representative to the Rackham Student Forum. Oxford: Oxford UP. . Expected Fall  Teaching and professional development. Fall  Types of Philosophy (V. Wheaton College L. class feedback sessions and evaluations. and Reid. Ethics. Jesus. Spring  Introduction to Logic (R. University of Michigan L. O’Connor). Buss). Spring –Spring  eological Anthropology (graduate) (L. Spring –Spring  Research Assistant. Spring  eology of Culture (L. and a teaching mentorship. Primary Instructor.

Keshet (Audit) Epistemology. Pires (Audit) Philosophy of Language. Roberts Formal Methods. Nisbett Ethical Analysis.Graduate Coursework Value eory From Action and Attitude to Ethics. L. D. omason (Audit) Semantics and Pragmatics (Linguistics Dept).edu Eric Swanson University of Michigan () - ericsw@umich. Lormand Philosophy of Science.edu . A. Wells History of Philosophy Plato. C. Logic. S. Mill. A.edu Ezra Keshet University of Michigan () - ekeshet@umich. A. Joyce Formal Epistemology. Moss (Audit) Generative Syntax (Linguistics Dept). Loeb References Allan Gibbard University of Michigan () - gibbard@umich.edu  Robert Stalnaker Massachusetts Institute of Technology () - stal@mit. A. E. Gibbard Philosophy and Linguistic eory. Swanson (Audit) Philosophy of Language (Independent Summer Reading). E. Moss (Audit) Mathematical Logic. J. J.edu Matt Evans (Teaching) University of Michigan () - evmatt@umich. Gibbard e Moral and Political Philosophy of J. Philosophy of Science Contemporary Epistemology (Proseminar). S. S. I. Railton Par t’s On What Matters. L. R. Gibbard Metaethics (Dossier Reading Course). J. A. P. R. Gibbard (Audit) Language Advanced Semantics (MIT). Metaphysics. Heim (Audit) Context and Reference. Gibbard Metaethics.S. Joyce (Audit) Spacetime Symmetries and eir Representations (Physics Dept). Philosophy of Mind. G. Ruetsche Physical and Geometric Possibility. L. Sklar Philosophy of Mind.edu Peter Railton University of Michigan () - prailton@umich. A. Belot Rational Choice eory. Kelsey Early Modern Epistemology (Proseminar). Jacobson (Audit) Normative Ethics (Independent Reading Course). P. E. Railton (Audit) Cultural Psychology (Psychology Dept).

But at rst glance it appears that the standard analysis for words like ‘ought’ implicitly assumes that we always ought to do what we objectively ought to do. Second. is can motivate clearer.” the problem of how objectionable ‘ought’ claims seem to be derivable by modus ponens from hypothetical imperatives (like ‘If you want to ϕ.g. is point is captured formally within an extension of the familiar truth-conditional paradigm: e content of a normative sentence is represented as (determining) a set of normative standards.Dissertation Abstract My dissertation is a study in how inquiry into the meaning of normative language can help illuminate classical questions in ethics and metaethics. moral.. Finally. concerning the objectivity of morality.  Last updated: August  . we can capture certain core intuitions driving both consequentialism and deontology. what we ought to do given all the facts about the world (known and unknown) from what we ought to do given our (oen limited) evidence. evaluations of deontic value cannot always be assessed independently of which possibilities are live. e framework of condition semantics offers a perspicuous way of posing various classical metaethical questions — e.g. I develop an alternative analysis available to agent-relativists that is not subject to this critique and captures various important features of normative judgment. or that what we ought to do does not turn on features of our epistemic position. I argue that. In these ways. various ethicists have argued that by indexing evaluative judgments to the perspectives of particular agents (by adopting “agent-relativism” about the good). On this analysis. better motivated answers and suggest new ways the dialectic may proceed. as long as the ‘ought’s are given a constant interpretation. those that meet the condition given by the sentence. eoretical interests in the nature of normative language can serve broader practical interests in how to live. A more promising response is suggested by standard treatments of modals like ‘ought’ as essentially context-dependent. Detached ‘ought’ claims play a crucial role in practical reasoning: ey can serve as lemmas in larger arguments to generate conclusions about one’s reasons for action. An important function of language is to distinguish among ways the world might be. I examine two examples of how clarifying the meanings of normative terms can have normative ethical payoffs. First I consider the “detaching problem. epistemic) in context. the second part shows how insights from ethical theory can improve our understanding of natural language. only receiving a particular reading (e. But this analysis is problematic on linguistic grounds. is response permits detachment. in the sense ethicists have cared about. Whereas the rst part of the dissertation suggests ways in which philosophy of language can inform metaethics. contrary to the standard analysis. the nature of normative judgment.. But sentences can also distinguish among ways things might be more broadly. e rst part of the dissertation motivates and develops what I call condition semantics for normative terms. Objections have been raised against agent-relativism that its analysis of evaluative terms is inconsistent with the normative ethical intuitions it tries to capture. you ought to ψ’) and their antecedents. ‘good relative to’ claims express evaluative judgments for hypothetical cases of being in someone else’s shoes. Existing “wide scoping” accounts block detachment by analyzing hypothetical imperatives as claims that one ought to either ψ or not want to ϕ. It is common in ethics to distinguish what we objectively ought to do from what we subjectively ought to do — that is. inquiry into the meanings of ethical expressions and the nature of ethical discourse can clarify and improve our ethical thought and practice. goal-oriented. I argue that normative sentences distinguish among normative standards (or test whether a normative standard meets a certain condition) just as ordinary factual sentences distinguish among possible worlds (or test whether a possible world meets a certain condition). and the connection between normative judgment and motivation.

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