I recently completed my book Adorning Bodies: Meaning, Evolution, and Beauty in Humans and Animals, forthcoming Spring 2022 with Bloomsbury.
The following are the chapters of the book:
Chapter 1: Meaning in Bodies and Adornment
Chapter 2: Taking Adornment Seriously: Structuralism and Meaning
Chapter 3: Details on the Gricean View
Chapter 4: Deception in the Human and Animal Worlds (Imitation of Natural Meaning & Lying in Non-Natural Meaning)
Chapter 5: Darwin on Animal Bodies
Chapter 6: Human Sexual Selection
Chapter 7: The Evolution of Bodily Adornment: Signaling and Meaning-Making in Prehistory
Chapter 8: Information, Misperception, Suppression, Expression
Chapter 9: On Beauty: Aesthetic Choices, Adornment, & Art
A post I wrote for Aesthetics for Birds on the book material is here.
“Adorning Intentions”. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Forthcoming.
In his 2020 book Adornment: What Self-Decoration Tell Us About Who We Are Stephen Davies dedicates his second chapter to defining the term “adornment” and then for the majority of the book describes behaviors that fit this definition. I focus on and discuss two aspects of the ways Davies defines adornment. The first is that Davies defines the term “adornment” to include not just the way we decorate ourselves but also the way individuals decorate their “possessions, their living quarters, and their wider environment” (2020: 2). In this way Davies uses the term more to mean what we might ordinarily think of as “decoration”—a term he also uses sometimes in the text. As I will discuss, this means that emphasis on the embodied nature of adornment as dress is lost. The second aspect I will discuss is what I will call the “beautifying intention requirement”. This is a limiting condition on Davies’ understanding of the term “adornment” that excludes certain forms of bodily modification and dress. Although for him “adornment” can apply to the home, it requires, as he writes, “beautifying or other aesthetic intentions” (Davies 2020: 13). This is to narrow adornment beyond what we wear.
In this chapter we consider the theories of embodied cognition and extended mind with respect to the human ability to engage in numerical cognition. Such an enquiry requires first distinguishing between our innate number sense and the sort of numerical reasoning that is unique to humans. We provide anthropological and linguistic research to defend the thesis that places the body at the center of our development of numerical reasoning. We then draw on archaeological research to suggest a rough date for when ancient humans first were able to represent numerical information beyond the body and in enduring material artifacts. We conclude by briefly describing how these capacities for embodied and extended numerical cognition shaped our world.
“Making Meaning Manifest” Croatian Journal of Philosophy. Vol. 19. No. 57. (2019): pp. 497-520.
In recent work Sperber and Wilson expand on ideas initially presented in Relevance (1986) and flesh out continuua between showing and mean- ing, and determinate and indeterminate content. Drawing on Sperber and Wilson’s work, and at points defending it from what I see as poten- tial objections, I present a Schema of Communicative Acts (SCA) that includes an additional third continuum between linguistic and non-lin- guistic content. The SCA clears the way for consideration of what exactly is meant by showing, the motivations of speakers, how affect impacts expression, and metaphor. The SCA allows us to consider not only how but why we engage in certain forms of communicative behavior, and captures the incredible nuance of human interactions: said and meant, linguistic and non-linguistic, determinate and indeterminate.
“Seeking Speaker Meaning in the Archaeological Record“. Biological Theory. Vol. 12. No. 4. (2017): pp. 262-274.
Communication in archaeological artifacts is usually understood in terms of signs or signals, fleshed out under many guises. The notions of signs or signals that archaeologists employ often draw from Saussurean or Peircean semiotic theories from philosophy and linguistics. In this paper I consider the consequences of whether we understand archaeological signals in terms of the Saussurean or Peircean framework, and highlight the fact that archaeologists have not always been precise in their use of relevant philosophical machinery. I will argue further that interpretation of archaeological artifacts should be supplemented by a notion of meaning that goes beyond signals and leads us to understand meaning in terms of a specific creator’s communicative intention—which may deviate from how some signal was ordinarily used. This is what I call speaker meaning, drawing from philosophy of language. I then present specific examples from Egypt circa 1300 BC and 3500 BC and from France circa 12,000 BC that I argue are best treated with the proposed notion of speaker meaning. In the course of this discussion I consider questions that arise for current accounts of signals and metaphor in archaeology. Finally, I conclude by considering how my proposal relates to our understanding of decoration and style, humor, the advent of spoken language, and the nature of art.
“Cooperation With Multiple Audiences“. Croatian Journal of Philosophy. Vol. 16. No. 47. (2016): pp. 203-227.
Steven Pinker proposes a game-theoretic framework to help explain the use of veiled speech in contexts where the ultimate aims of the speaker and hearer may diverge—such as cases of bribing a police officer to get out of a ticket and paying a maître d’ to get a table. This is presented as a response to what Pinker sees as the failure in H. P. Grice’s influ- ential theory of meaning to recognize that speakers and hearers are not always cooperating. In this paper I argue that Pinker mischaracterizes Grice’s views on cooperation, and use this to refine a positive picture of what sort of cooperation is demanded by Grice’s Cooperative Principle. This positive picture serves to insulate the Gricean framework from ob- jectors—including Pinker—who overstate the obligations entailed by the adoption of the Cooperative Principle. I then argue that the cases Pinker presents are best treated by recognizing that in each instance the utter- ance is formulated with two intentions towards two different audiences and detail a resulting revision to Pinker’s game-theoretic framework that reflects this proposal. I conclude by demonstrating how this pro- posed game-theoretic framework of cooperation with multiple audiences can be used to model the costs and benefits of other types of discourse, including political speech.
“Tree Trimming: Four Non-Branching Rules for Priest’s Introduction to Non-Classical Logic“. Australasian Journal of Logic. Vol. 12. No. 2. (2015): pp. 97-120.
In An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic: From If to Is Graham Priest presents branching rules in Free Logic, Variable Domain Modal Logic, and Intuitionist Logic. I propose a simpler, non-branching rule to replace Priest’s rule for universal instantiation in Free Logic, a second, slightly modified version of this rule to replace Priest’s rule for universal instantiation in Variable Domain Modal Logic, and third and fourth rules, further modifying the second rule, to replace Priest’s branching universal and particular instantiation rules in Intuitionist Logic. In each of these logics the proposed rule leadsto tableaux with fewer branches. In Intuitionist logic, the proposed rules allow for the resolution of a particular problem Priest is grappling with throughout the chapter. In this paper, I demonstrate that the proposed rules can greatly simplify tableaux and argue that they should be used in place of the rules given by Priest.
Popular Press Articles
“Must We Mean What We Wear?” Aesthetics for Birds. October 19, 2019.
“Archaeology Excavates the Layers of Meaning We Leave Behind“. Aeon-Psyche. November 4, 2020.
“In 2020 Fashion Became Existential – Here’s Why That’s a Good Thing“. Refinery 29. December 30, 2020.
I defended my dissertation August 2017. It was completed with funding awarded by the American Society for Aesthetics Dissertation Fellowship and an Interdisciplinary Committee for Science Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center Dissertation Fellowship.
Dissertation: Meaning Through Things
Interpretation is the process by which we find meaning in the things in the world around us: clouds on the horizon, bones, street signs, hairbrushes, uniforms, paintings, letters, and utterances. But where does that meaning come from and on what basis are we justified in saying a particular meaning is the right meaning? Drawing from debates in the philosophy of language, I argued that a complete theory of meaning and interpretation must be grounded in intentions. My dissertation employed research in the philosophy of language, aesthetics, linguistics, and cognitive science to develop a general framework of interpretation. This framework was then broadly applied to objects of interpretation across a range of fields: legal theory, history, art history, archaeology, theology, scientific imaging, dress, and literature.