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 normative and context-sensitive uses of language, and how incorporating insights from philosophy of language and linguistics can illuminate classic questions in (meta)normative theory.

I recently finished a book Discourse Contextualism (OUP), which defends contextualism about a range of expressions that have figured in contextualism & relativism debates. One of my current projects develops a compositional semantic framework that posits syntactic variables for assignment functions, as one way of formally implementing certain ideas from Discourse Contextualism on shifted/unshifted readings of context-sensitive expressions. The syntax/semantics provides unified treatments of various linguistic shifting phenomena, such as with quantifiers and certain anaphoric pronouns, intensionality, and local/global readings in modal contexts, relative clauses, conditionals, and questions. Other projects include work on adjectives, questions, mood, and vagueness. (see below)

My recent work on these issues has been supported by an AHRC Research Grant (with Daniel Rothschild). I’ll be taking up a Leverhulme Research Fellowship in 2019.

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. “Commitment and States of Mind with Mood and Modality.” Forthcoming. Natural Language Semantics.

  2. “Normativity in Language and Law”: Forthcoming. In D. Plunkett, S. Shapiro, & K. Toh (Eds.), Dimensions of Normativity: New Essays on Metaethics and Jurisprudence. Oxford University Press.

  3. “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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

  10. “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.

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

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

  13. “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.

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

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

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

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

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

  19. “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”
        (+Handout: Modals.) (+Handout: Conditionals/Correlatives/Interrogatives)

  2. “Evaluational Adjectives”

  3. “Expectation Biases and Context Management with Negative Polar Questions”

  4. “Vagueness, Comparatives, and Scale Structure”

  5. “Theories of Vagueness and Theories of Law”

  6. “Deontic Conditionals: Weak and Strong”: 
    (A previous version of this paper was published in Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Linguists, Départment de Linguistique de l’Université de Genève, 2013.)

  7. “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.