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About Dr Mark Bowker

Mark Bowker studied Philosophy at the University of St Andrew and was awarded his PhD in 2016. He has since held postdoctoral fellowships at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy and University College Dublin. In addition to his role at the New College of the Humanities, he is currently a researcher on the InfraMinds Project at University College Dublin, and a Visiting Scholar at the Cognitive Development Lab, NYU.  He is currently working on issues at the intersection of Philosophy and Psychology, particularly the relation between language, stereotypes, and prejudice. Other research interests include communication, generics, indexicals, and fiction.

Dr Mark Bowker's Research

Shifting Perspective on Indexicals. Forthcoming. Pragmatics.

Abstract: The debate over the meanings of indexical expressions has relied heavily on the method of counterexamples. This paper challenges that method by showing that purported counterexamples can often be explained away by appeal to perspective shifts. For these counterexamples to establish anything about indexical reference, we must identify the conditions under which theorists can legitimately appeal to perspective shifts. Some tests for semantic content are considered and it is argued that none of them can tell us when appeal to perspective shift is admissible. The paper then considers how we should proceed if we become convinced that there is no way to identify the content of indexical expressions, offering reasons in favour of a nihilist conception of character over an epistemicist or pluralist conception.

Truth in Fiction, Underdetermination, and the Experience of Actuality. Published online 2021. The British Journal of Aesthetics.

Abstract: It seems true to say that Sherlock Holmes is a detective, despite there being no Sherlock Holmes. When asked to explain this fact, philosophers of language often opt for some version of Lewis’s view that sentences like ‘Sherlock Holmes is a detective’ may be taken as abbreviations for sentences prefixed with ‘In the Sherlock Holmes stories …’. I present two problems for this view. First, I provide reason to deny that these sentences are abbreviations. In short, these sentences have aesthetic properties that we should not expect of abbreviations. Second, I argue that the apparent truth of these sentences would not be explained even if they were abbreviations. An alternative is presented that avoids these problems. Following Walton, talk about fiction is viewed as a game of make-believe; following Lewis, interpretations of fiction are modelled using possible worlds.

DOI: 10.1093/aesthj/ayaa036

Ineliminable Underdetermination and Context-Shifting Arguments. Published online 2019. Inquiry.

Abstract: The truth-conditions of utterances are often underdetermined by the meaning of the sentence uttered, as suggested by the observation that the same sentence has different intuitive truth-values in different contexts. The intuitive difference is usually explained by assigning different truth-conditions to different utterances. This paper poses a problem for explanations of this kind: These truth-conditions, if they exist, are epistemically inaccessible. I suggest instead that truth-conditional underdetermination is ineliminable and these utterances have no truth-conditions. Intuitive truth-values are explained by the effect that all the most reasonable interpretations have on the common ground: An utterance is intuitively true when it is true on all interpretations that answer the question under discussion.

DOI: 10.1080/0020174X.2019.1688176

Saying a Bundle: Meaning, Intention, and Underdetermination. 2019. Synthese, 196/10:4229-4252.

Abstract: People often speak loosely, uttering sentences that are plainly false on their most strict interpretation. In understanding such speakers, we face a problem of underdetermination: there is often no unique interpretation that captures what they meant. Focusing on the case of incomplete definite descriptions, this paper suggests that speakers often mean bundles of propositions. When a speaker means a bundle, their audience can know what they mean by deriving any one of its members. Rather than posing a problem for the interpretation of loose talk, the underdetermination of a uniquely correct interpretation allows for various ways in which the audience can grasp the speaker’s meaning.

DOI: 10.1007/s11229-017-1652-0

Underdetermination, Domain Restriction, and Theory Choice. 2019. Mind & Language, 34/2: 205-220.

Abstract: It is often possible to know what a speaker intends to communicate without knowing what they intend to express. In such cases, speakers need not intend to express anything at all. Stanley and Szabó's influential survey of possible analysis of quantifier domain restriction is, therefore, incomplete and the arguments made by Clapp and Buchanan against Truth Conditional Compositionality and propositional speaker‐meaning are flawed. Two theories should not always be viewed as incompatible when they associate the same utterance with different propositions, as there may be many ways to interpret speakers that are compatible with their intentions.

DOI: 10.1111/mila.12207

Rich Situated Attitudes. 2017. With Kristina Liefke. New Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence, edited by S. Kurahashi, Y. Ohta, S. Arai, K. Satoh, D. Bekki. Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence Vol. 10247, Springer, pp. 45-61.

Abstract: We outline a novel theory of natural language meaning, Rich Situated Semantics [RSS], on which the content of sentential utterances is semantically rich and informationally situated. In virtue of its situatedness, an utterance’s rich situated content varies with the informational situation of the cognitive agent interpreting the utterance. In virtue of its richness, this content contains information beyond the utterance’s lexically encoded information. The agent-dependence of rich situated content solves a number of problems in semantics and the philosophy of language (cf. [14, 20, 25]). In particular, since RSS varies the granularity of utterance contents with the interpreting agent’s informational situation, it solves the problem of finding suitably fine- or coarse-grained objects for the content of propositional attitudes. In virtue of this variation, a layman will reason with more propositions than an expert.

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-61572-1_4

Dr Mark Bowker's Teaching

  • Epistemology. New College of the Humanities, London. Michaelmas (Autum) Trimester 2021
  • Philosophy of Mind. New College of the Humanities, London. Michaelmas (Autumn) Trimester 2021
  • Philosophical Logic. New College of the Humanities, London. Michaelmas (Autumn) Trimester 2021
  • The Analytic Revolution. University College Dublin. Spring Trimester 2019. Taught with Marinus Ferreira
  • Insults, Lies, and Bullshit. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich. Summer Semester 2017