Eric Swanson

Eric Swanson
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Department of Philosophy

[ home · research · cv · teaching · family · links ]

I’m an associate professor of philosophy at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and I work on ‘might,’ ‘may,’ ‘should,’ ‘must,’ ‘cause,’ ‘believes,’ ‘suspects,’ ‘if,’ ‘would,’ and ‘knows.’

I’m interested in these words because I think that investigating them can shed light on more general features of communication. My work on them has led me to develop constraint semantics, a framework according to which sentences express not propositions but constraints, and a given assertion is like advice to conform to a particular constraint. I think constraint semantics can be fruitfully applied to many aspects of our doxastic, affective, and conative lives that we communicate to others.

My work on these words has also led me to develop ordering supervaluationism. Like traditional supervaluationism, ordering supervaluationism handles cases in which some interpretations of an expression are tied for best. But ordering supervaluationism also delivers attractive results when for each of the possible interpretations of an expression, another interpretation is better.

One of my favorite things about semantic theories is that in probing their inadequacies you often notice linguistic phenomena that you’d been overlooking. Appreciating some of the limitations of constraint semantics has helped me see the importance of relationships between language and different kinds of force. In that vein I’m working on the interfaces between language use and ideologies, ideals, and the evolution of context.