Alex Silk


I am a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. I completed my Ph.D. philosophy at the University of Michigan. I am interested in all things modal, conditional, context-sensitive, projective, and expressive.

Much of my research has been on the meaning of normative uses of language and how incorporating insights from philosophy of language and linguistics can shed light on broader philosophical debates. My paper “Normative Language in Context” (awarded the Marc Sanders Prize in Metaethics) applies this project to the case of normative language and metaethical debates about moral disagreement, judgment, and truth. My 2016 book, Discourse Contextualism (OUP), extends the account to a range of expressions that have figured in contextualism/relativism debates.

I am currently working on a systematic compositional semantic framework for diverse linguistic shifting phenomena, such as with quantifiers, attitude ascriptions, relative clauses, questions, and conditionals. Other projects include work on adjectives, questions, mood, Nietzsche, and vagueness (see below).

I recently finished a 2.5-year AHRC Research Grant with Daniel Rothschild (UCL) on Context-Sensitivity in Natural Language. In 2019–20 I will be taking up a Leverhulme Research Fellowship.

You can email me at


  1. Discourse Contextualism: A Framework for Contextualist Semantics and Pragmatics. 2016. Oxford University Press UK.

  2. Semantics with Assignment Variables (in preparation)


  1. “Expectation Biases and Context Management with Negative Polar Questions”: Forthcoming. Journal of Philosophical Logic.

  2. “Weak and Strong Necessity Modals.” Forthcoming. In B. Dunaway & D. Plunkett (Eds.), Meaning, Decision, and Norms: Themes from the Work of Allan Gibbard. (This is an expanded and revised version of the sections in my 2012 SALT paper on weak and strong necessity modals, and of Chapter 3 of my 2013 dissertation.)

  3. “Normativity in Language and Law”: 2019. In D. Plunkett, S. Shapiro, & K. Toh (Eds.), Dimensions of Normativity: New Essays on Metaethics and Jurisprudence, pp. 287–313.

  4. “Theories of Vagueness and Theories of Law.” 2019. Legal Theory.

  5. “Commitment and States of Mind with Mood and Modality.” 2018. Natural Language Semantics 26(2): 125–166.

  6. “Nietzsche and Contemporary Metaethics.” 2018. In P. Katsafanas (Ed.), Routledge Philosophy Minds: Nietzsche.

  7. “Normative Language in Context.” 2017. In R. Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 12. Winner of the 2015 Sanders Prize in Metaethics.

  8. “How to Embed an Epistemic Modal: Attitude Problems and Other Defects of Character.” 2017. Philosophical Studies 174: 1773–1799.

  9. “Modality, Weights, and Inconsistent Premise Sets.” 2017. Journal of Semantics 34: 683–707.

  10. “Contextualism in Metaethics.” 2017. In T. McPherson & D. Plunkett (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Metaethics.

  11. “The Progressive and Verbs of Creation.” 2016. Journal of Semantics 33(1): 19–48.

  12. “Update Semantics for Weak Necessity Modals.” 2016. In O. Roy, A. Tamminga, M. Willer (Eds.), Deontic Logic and Normative Systems (DEON 2016), pp. 237–255. College Publications.

  13. “How to Be an Ethical Expressivist.” 2015. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 91(1): 47–81.

  14. “Nietzschean Constructivism.” 2015. Inquiry, Special Issue: Nietzsche’s Moral Psychology, 58(3): 244-280.

  15. “What Normative Terms Mean and Why It Matters for Ethical Theory.” 2015. In M. Timmons (Ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Vol. 5, pp. 296–325. Oxford University Press.

  16. “Accommodation and Negotiation with Context-Sensitive Expressions.” 2014. Thought 3(2): 115-123.

  17. “Evidence-Sensitivity in Weak Necessity Deontic Modals.” 2014. Journal of Philosophical Logic 43(4): 691-723.

  18. “Why ‘Ought’ Detaches.” 2014. Philosophers’ Imprint 14(7): 1-16.

  19. “Wither Anankastics?” (with Billy Dunaway). 2014. Philosophical Perspectives 28: Ethics, 75-94.

  20. “Truth-Conditions and the Meanings of Ethical Terms.” 2013. In R. Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 8.

  21. “Deontic Conditionals: Weak and Strong.” In Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Linguists, 2013.

  22. “Modality, Weights, and Inconsistent Premise Sets.” In A. Chereches (Ed.), Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 22, pp. 43-64. 2012. (SUPERSEDED: See the drafts “Weak and Strong Necessity” and “Modality, Weights, and Inconsistent Premise Sets” below for more up-to-date developments of the ideas in this paper.)


(Please do not cite or quote without permission. Comments welcome.)

  1. “Semantics with Assignment Variables”

  2. “Evaluational Adjectives”

  3. “Comparative Vagueness”

  4. “Existential Sentences and the Structure of Nominal and Verbal Predicates”

  5. “Challenges for independence-driven and context-repair responses to the proviso problem”


  1. 1. Review of R. Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 6. Ethics 122(3): 622–627.

  2. 2. Review of P. Katsafanas, Agency and the Foundations of Ethics. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

  3. 3. Critical Notice of G. Fletcher & M. Ridge (Eds.), Having it Both Ways: Hybrid Theories and Modern Metaethics. Analysis.


  1. Current

  2. Nietzsche (handouts, On the Genealogy of Morality)

  3. Philosophy of Language and the Linguistic Study of Meaning (handouts, sample Heim & Kratzer-style exercises)

  4. Paradigms of Belief (slides, Nietzsche)

  5. Metaethics

  6. Global Ethics