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Janice Dowell: August 2014

posted Aug 15, 2014, 9:53 AM by Peggy DesAutels   [ updated Aug 15, 2014, 9:58 AM ]

Janice Dowell
Syracuse University

Janice Dowell is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Syracuse University and a Regular Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Edinburgh’s Eidyn Centre.  She earned her BA from the Johns Hopkins University and her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh.  She has worked previously at Bowling Green State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is currently chair of the 2015 APA Central Division Program Committee and is the 2014 recipient of the Marc Sanders Prize in Metaethics. 

Her published work has covered a wide range of topics in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and metaethics.  A uniting theme in many of these papers is an interest in philosophical methodology.

In the philosophy of mind, Dowell is known for her influential work on the question of how best to formulate the thesis of physicalism.  In “the Physical: Empirical, Not Metaphysical” (2006), she defends a novel implementation of a familiar, futurist strategy for identifying what it takes for an object, relation, or property to be physical.  According to futurists, physical properties are those posited by the complete and ideal physical theory. An adequate implementation of such a strategy must show how such a view generates genuine ontological constraints. Dowell’s proposal meets this constraint by including an account of what makes a theory a physical one.

She is also known for her influential arguments against David Chalmers’ famous Argument from Conceptual Analysis for dualism (“A priori Entailment and Conceptual Analysis” (2008), “Empirical Metaphysics: The Role of Intuitions about Possible Cases in Philosophy” (2008)) and for her defense of a novel method, the Semantic Method, for vindicating metaphysical reductions (“Serious Metaphysics” (2008)).

Her current work focuses primarily on defending a flexibly contextualist interpretation of Kratzer’s formal semantics for modal expressions against a series of recent challenges posed in the literature in the philosophy of language and linguistics. Defending any semantics for modals expressions, she argues, requires showing how a favored semantics not only fits with, but also explains the data.  Explaining the data, in turn requires saying how in general it is that readings of particular utterances—or their assertability conditions or the points of evaluation tied to their assertability—are determined.

The significance of Dowell’s work lies in its, of the extent theories of modal expressions, uniquely meeting this constraint. At the center of her defense of Kratzerian contextualism is an account of how speakers’ publicly manifestable intentions, together with other features of contexts of use, determine propositions. This account, she argues, provides a unified explanation for all of the challenge data.

Currently, she is at work on a book for OUP that would pull together and expand upon her papers on this topic (“A Flexibly Contextualist Account of Epistemic Modals” (2011), “Contextualist Solutions to Three Puzzles about Practical Conditionals” (2012), “Flexible Contextualism about Deontic Modals” (2013), and, with Aaron Bronfman, “Language of Reasons and ‘Ought’” (forthcoming) and “Contextualism about Deontic Conditionals” (forthcoming).  The core of the book will be the further development of the positive account of the role speakers’ intentions play in determining the modal propositions expressed by the utterance of modal sentences, drawing on Bloom (2000) on language acquisition.

Finally, her interest in methodological issues remains alive in some of her recent work in metaethics, in particular, in her paper “Advice for Non-analytical Naturalists” (with David Sobel (forthcoming)) and “the Metaethical Insignificance of Moral Twin Earth” (Winner of the 2014 Marc Sanders Prize in Metaethics (forthcoming).