Ori  Simchen
MA, Tel Aviv; PhD, Harvard

 Professor of Philosophy
 University of British Columbia

Some papers


"Modeling Truth for Semantics" (latest version)

ABSTRACT: The Tarskian notion of truth-in-a-model is the paradigm formal capture of our pre-theoretical notion of truth for semantic purposes. But what exactly makes Tarski’s construction so well suited for semantics is seldom discussed. In my “Metasemantics and Singular Reference” a certain requirement on the successful formal modeling of truth for semantics – “locality-per-reference” – is articulated against a background discussion of metasemantics and its relation to truth-conditional semantics. It is a requirement on any formal capture of sentential truth vis-à-vis the interpretation of singular terms and it is clearly met by the Tarskian notion. In this paper another such requirement is explored – “locality-per-application” – which is a requirement on a formal capture of sentential truth vis-à-vis the interpretation of predicates. This second requirement is also clearly met by the Tarskian notion. The two requirements taken together offer a fuller answer than has been hitherto available to the question of what makes Tarski’s notion of truth-in-a-model especially well suited for semantics.


"Realism and Instrumentalism in Metaphysical Explanation" (latest version)

ABSTRACT: There is a salient contrast in how theoretical representations are regarded. Some are regarded as revealing the nature of what they represent, as in familiar cases of theoretical identification in physical chemistry where water is represented as hydrogen hydroxide and gold is represented as the element with atomic number 79. Other theoretical representations are regarded as serving particular explanatory aims without being taken to reveal the nature of what they represent, as in the representation of gold as the skin of Ra in Egyptology or the representation of the meaning of an English sentence as a function from possible worlds to truth values in truth-conditional semantics. Call the first attitude towards a theoretical representation realist and the second attitude instrumentalist. Metaphysical explanation purports to reveal the nature of whatever falls within its purview, so it would appear that a realist attitude towards its representations is a natural default. I offer reasons for skepticism about such default realism that emerge from attending to several case studies of metaphysical explanation – numbers, de re modality, cognitive attitudes – and identifying a common etiological thread that runs through them.


"The Hierarchy of Fregean Senses" (latest version)

ABSTRACT: The question whether Frege’s theory of indirect reference enforces an infinite hierarchy of senses has been hotly debated in the secondary literature. Perhaps the most influential treatment of the issue is that of Burge (1979), who offers an argument for the hierarchy from rather minimal Fregean assumptions. I argue that this argument, endorsed by many, does not itself enforce an infinite hierarchy of senses. I conclude that whether or not the theory of indirect reference can avail itself of only finitely many senses is pending further theoretical development.


"Instrumentalism About Structured Propositions", to appear in Chris Tillman (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Propositions (New York: Routledge, 2019).

ABSTRACT: Explanations deploy theoretical representations of their explananda. One question to ask about such representations is whether to regard them under a realist attitude, i.e. as revealing the nature of what they represent, or under an instrumentalist attitude, i.e. as serving particular explanatory ends without such further revelatory pretension. This question can be raised for representations wielded within metaphysical explanation to fruitful effect. I consider structured propositions as theoretical representations within a particular explanatory enterprise – the metaphysics of what is said – and argue that a realist attitude towards them is in fact unwarranted. I offer various considerations against the widespread tendency to regard structured propositions as revealing the nature of what is said and conclude that they should be considered instead under an instrumentalist attitude.

"Metasemantics and Singular Reference", Noûs 51(2017), 175-195.

ABSTRACT: I consider two competing approaches to metasemantics: productivism, whereby endowment with semantic significance emerges directly from conditions surrounding the production or employment of the items semantically endowed; and interpretationism, whereby endowment with semantic significance emerges directly from conditions surrounding the interpretive consumption of such items.  Focusing on the version of interpretationism developed by Lewis and his followers, I present a novel argument to the conclusion that such an approach cannot secure determinacy for singular reference. I then draw a larger moral for metasemantics and its relation to truth-conditional semantics.


"Metasemantics and Legal Interpretation", in George Pavlakos and Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco (eds.), Reasons and Intentions in Law and Practical Agency (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 72-92.

ABSTRACT: There is a familiar disagreement between Justice Antonin Scalia of the US Supreme Court and Ronald Dworkin over whether the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution could be plausibly interpreted so as to prohibit capital punishment.  The dispute reflects a deep divergence in approach to statutory interpretation.  I explore this divergence by paying particularly close attention to its metasemantic background.  I then argue that the metasemantic orientation clearly vindicates the Dworkinian side.


"Token-Reflexivity", Journal of Philosophy 110(2013), 173-193.

ABSTRACT: Token-reflexivity is commonly understood as reference of a token to a token of which it is a part, proper or not.  It may be compared with its familiar formal kin – Gödelian reflexivity.  In this paper the possibility of the latter type of construction in a formal setting provides a stark point of contrast with token-reflexivity understood as token self-reference, a purported species of natural phenomena, with the token-reflexives themselves understood as the bearers of self-reference.  I argue that there is no token-reflexivity thus understood, and so, no token-reflexives.  The case provides a particularly useful background against which to discuss the centrality of conditions of production – as opposed to conditions of consumption – in the study of natural language.


"The Barcan Formula in Metaphysics", Theoria 78 (2013), 375-392 (special issue on the philosophy of Ruth Barcan Marcus).

ABSTRACT: The Barcan formula (BF) is commonly paraphrased as the schematic conditional that if it is possible that there be a phi then something or other is possibly a phi.  It is validated by the most straightforward systems of quantified modal logic.  It is also widely considered to pose a threat to the commonsensical metaphysical view that there are no non-actual (or ‘merely possible’) things.  I show how BF can be cleared of such a charge by construing it as a bridge principle connecting modality de dicto and modality de re while retaining a Russellian robust sense of reality in modal matters.


"Necessity in Reference", in William P. Kabasenche, Michael O’Rourke and Matthew Slater (eds.), Reference and Referring (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012), 209-233.

ABSTRACT: I take up a question raised by David Kaplan at the very end of his 1990 paper ”Words”: Is it possible for a name that in fact names a given individual to have named a different individual?  I argue for a negative answer to Kaplan's question via the essentialist claims that, first, it is of the nature of a referring token of a name to be produced by a particular referential intention, and, second, that it is of the nature of a referential intention to specify the particular thing it specifies. 


"Polyadic Quantification via Denoting Concepts", Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 51(2010), 373-381.

ABSTRACT: The question of the origin of polyadic expressivity is explored and the results are brought to bear on Bertrand Russell’s 1903 theory of denoting concepts, which is the main object of criticism in Russell’s ”On Denoting”.  It is shown that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the background ontology of the earlier theory of denoting enables the full-blown expressive power of first-order polyadic quantification theory without any syntactic accommodation of scopal differences among denoting phrases such as ‘all phi’, ‘every phi’, and ‘any phi’ on the one hand, and ‘some phi’ and ‘a phi’ on the other.  The case provides an especially vivid illustration of the general point that structural (or ideological) austerity can be paid for in the coin of ontological extravagance.


"Actualist Essentialism and General Possibilities", Journal of Philosophy 103(2006), 5–26.

ABSTRACT: Particular possibilities – such as that this particular chair occupy the only vacant corner of my office – are commonly supposed to depend on what actual things there are and what they are like, whereas general possibilities – such as that some chair or other occupy some vacant corner or other of some office or other – are commonly supposed not to be so dependent.  I articulate a different conception whereby general possibilities are no less determined by what actual things there are and what they are like than particular possibilities.  Ramifications of this approach are highlighted and brought to bear on a problem often raised for actualist essentialism.


"On the Impossibility of Nonactual Epistemic Possibilities", Journal of Philosophy 101(2004), 527–54.

ABSTRACT: A problem inherited from Kripke is the reconciliation of commitments to various necessities with conflicting intuitions of contingency, intuitions that things ”might have turned out otherwise”, Kripke’s reconciliation strategy is to say that while it is necessary that X is Y, and so impossible for X not to be Y, it is nevertheless epistemically possible for X not to be Y.  But what are nonactual epistemic possibilities? Several answers are considered and it is concluded that scenarios adduced to explain away the target intuitions are either themselves impossible, or not fully coherent, or not epistemic in the relevant sense.


"Meaningfulness and Contingent Analyticity", Noûs 37(2003), 278–302.

ABSTRACT: That expressions should have their contents can seem paradigmatically contingent. But it can also seem a priori that expressions in one’s own language should have their contents to the extent that instances of disquotation, such as ‘”Socrates” refers to Socrates’ and ‘”cat” refers to cats’, are trivially true.  I attempt to reconcile these conflicting intuitions about meaningfulness by examining semantic and metasemantic details of linguistic reflexivity.  I argue that instances of disquotation are contingent analytic in Kaplan’s sense, and bring this lesson to bear on semantic strategies for responding to skepticism, such as Putnam’s Brains-in-a-Vat argument.


"'Law'" (with Jules Coleman), Legal Theory 9(2003), 1–41.


"Rules and Mention", Philosophical Quarterly 51(2001), 455–73.

ABSTRACT: Lewis Carroll’s well-known parable ”What the Tortoise Said to Achilles” gives rise to a recalcitrant and general form of normative skepticism.  I argue that the skeptical position inspired by the story is indeed a distinct form of skepticism, engendered by refusal to recognize that any rule reflected upon may possibly retaining its action-guiding force.  I show that the skeptic’s attitude builds upon the familiar fact that our reflection upon sources of psychological influence on us may loosen their grip by affording us reflective distance.  I conclude by showing how the equally familiar phenomenon that reflection upon a rule does not automatically drain it of its force can be exploited in a satisfactory response to the skeptic.


"Quotational Mixing of Use and Mention", Philosophical Quarterly 49(1999), 325–36.

ABSTRACT: Quotation is employed in mentioning linguistic items with varying degrees of specificity depending upon context, occasionally in the service of multiple purposes. It is also often employed in cases where the mentioned items are simultaneously being used in their ordinary roles.  I argue that against appearances to the contrary, the recently proposed formal disambiguation approach to quotation fails to account for this quotational mixing of use and mention.  I further argue that, given the ubiquity of the mixing in question, the demonstrative theory, in its ability to accommodate such cases, fares better than its rivals.