Jessica Pepp

Umeå University

Ph.D. in Philosohy, UCLA, 2012.

Previous academic employment: Faculty Lecturer at McGill University, 2010-2011.

My research interests are in the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind, with a focus on reference. Currently I have three main areas of research.

My first area of research is on the foundations of linguistic reference: the question of what the nature is of the basic relation between linguistic expressions and the items in the world that they stand for or refer to. Here, I have developed what I call the Focus Picture of linguistic reference, which treats linguistic expressions as a way to focus on particular things as in sensory perception. The initial version of this picture was set out in my doctoral thesis, Locating Semantic Reference (UCLA 2012). At present, I am refining and expanding this picture by developing (i) a sustained critique of a widespread assumption in the philosophy of language, that “semantic” reference (as opposed to mere “speaker’s reference”) is determined by social conventions and practices and (ii) an elucidation of a notion of “acquaintance” that might figure interestingly in a theory of reference. I set out some central aspects of the critique of convention or practice accounts of semantic reference in my paper “What Determines the Reference of Names? Neither Practice nor Epistemic Fix” (currently under review). Singular thinking, which this paper argues is essential to semantic reference, has in recent years been increasingly associated with the notion of “acquaintance,” with much discussion focused on whether some form of acquaintance is required for singular thinking and, if so, what form of acquaintance that is. In my paper “Being Acquainted with One Thing Through Another” (to appear in New Essays on Acquaintance, edited by Jonathan Knowles and Thomas Raleigh, under contract at OUP), I argue that the relevant form of acquaintance is one that allows us to be acquainted with things by being acquainted with uses of words referring to those things. The paper develops a liberal notion of perceptual acquaintance along these lines. 

My second area of research focuses on applying my approach to the foundations of reference to the proper semantic treatment of particular linguistic expressions that have been viewed traditionally as problematic. To date, my main work in this vein concerns the proper semantic treatment of English pronouns. Unification is a central challenge in giving a semantic treatment of English pronouns: pronouns have (at least) what are known as deictic, anaphoric, and bound uses, yet it seems we should be able to say what more general function a pronoun, such as “he,” has that accounts for its use in these various ways. In a series of papers (we expect there to be three in total) written together with Joseph Almog and (on the first of the three papers) Paul Nichols, we develop such a unified account. The basic answer we give to the question of unification is that pronouns in all their uses refer via a perceptual chain (in a broad sense of perceptual). As it might be put, all uses are “deictic”: differences among uses are in what kinds of things are referred to by the pronouns (e.g. individuals versus pluralities) and in the types of the perceptual chains involved. The first paper, “A Unified Treatment of (Pro-) Nominals in Ordinary English,” is published in On Reference, edited by Andrea Bianchi, OUP 2015. The second paper in the series is slated for publication in an Oxford University Press festschrift volume for David Kaplan edited by Almog and myself, currently in preparation. The view developed therein has many targets, and in a final paper in the series of three, also in preparation, we will weigh our account against Hans Kamp’s (1981) Discourse Representation Theory as part of approaching a motivating question for the series: is natural language semantics a branch of perception theory or model theory? This piece will ground the semantic account we offer in a foundational picture that is a version of my above-mentioned Focus Picture.

My third area of research focuses on speech as a type of action. In my paper “Truth Serum, Liar Serum, and Some Problems about Saying what You Think is False,” (in Lying, edited by Eliot Michaelson and Andreas Stokke, under contract at OUP), I argue that part of the analysis of lying that is often taken for granted in philosophical discussions is in fact highly problematic. This is the notion of being untruthful, or saying what you think is false. By consideration of classic puzzles about belief as well as a set of novel cases, I show that there are serious structural problems both for standard approaches that treat untruthfulness by appeal to cognitive attitudes toward contents, and for a range of alternatives that focus on the intentional action of saying what you think is false rather than on content. These challenges both (i) present a pressing problem for virtually every extant analysis of lying and (ii) illuminate ways in which the study of lying is intertwined with fundamental issues in the nature of speech as a special sort of intentional action. I am currently exploring ways in which the intentional profile of the speech action of lying has parallels with that of the speech action of referring and how this might bear on my view of referring as a kind of perceptual act.


“Being Acquainted with One Thing Through Another,” in J. Knowles and T. Raleigh, eds., New Essays on Acquaintance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, under contract.

“Truth Serum, Liar Serum, and Some Problems about Saying what You Think is False,” in E. Michaelson and A. Stokke, eds., Lying. Oxford: Oxford University Press, under contract.

“The Referential Unity of (Pro-) Nominals in Ordinary English,” co-authored with Joseph Almog, to appear in a volume dedicated to the work of David Kaplan, title to be determined, edited by J. Pepp and J. Almog, Oxford University Press, anticipated publication late 2016.

“A Unified Treatment of (Pro-) Nominals in Ordinary English,” co-authored with Joseph Almog and Paul Nichols, in A. Bianchi, ed., On Reference. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Locating Semantic Reference. UCLA Ph.D. Dissertation (doctoral thesis), 2012. Available online:“Reference and Referring: A Framework,” in W. Kabasenche, M. O’Rourke, and M. Slater, eds., Reference and Referring. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

“Semantic Reference Not By Convention?” in Abstracta – Linguagem, Mente e Ação. Volume 5 Number 2, 2009.

“Two Conceptions of Semantic Reference,” in Proceedings of ILCLI International Workshop on Semantics, Pragmatics, and Rhetoric. The Univesity of the Basque Country Press (EHU Press), 2009.

Published July 6, 2016 11:08 AM - Last modified July 6, 2016 11:14 AM