Malte Willer is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the College. He received his graduate training at the University of Texas at Austin, where he wrote his dissertation Modality in Flux under the direction of Nicholas Asher and Josh Dever. Before that, he studied philosophy, logic and theory of science at LMU Munich and at Oxford University.
His main area of interest is philosophy of language and philosophical logic, and specifically the dynamic perspective on discourse and reasoning. His current research focuses on philosophical problems that are intimately tied to theoretical questions about the semantics of modality. He has written and published on epistemic modals and conditionals, and is currently working on issues in deontic logic and the semantics of moral discourse. To avoid a too steady diet of formal semantics, Malte also spends some considerable time thinking about issues in philosophy of mind and trying to better understand his teen idols (Heidegger and Wittgenstein).
"In the Engine Room of Reality: Philosophy’s junior faculty members discuss their work, inspiration, and teaching" by Courtney C. W. Guerra, AB’05 Tableau, Spring 2012 - Link
20100/30000. Elementary Logic. (=CHSS 33500, HIPS 20700) Course not for field credit. An introduction to the concepts and principles of symbolic logic. We learn the syntax and semantics of truth-functional and first-order quantificational logic, and apply the resultant conceptual framework to the analysis of valid and invalid arguments, the structure of formal languages, and logical relations among sentences of ordinary discourse. Occasionally we will venture into topics in philosophy of language and philosophical logic, but our primary focus is on acquiring a facility with symbolic logic as such. Autumn 2011. Syllabus
24010/34010. Meaning and Reference. In this course we address one of the central and most fascinating philosophical questions about linguistic meaning: what is the relationship between meaning and reference? We will study a range of classical and contemporary theories about the semantics of referring expressions such as proper names, definite descriptions, and indexicals. Readings will include Frege, Russell, Strawson, Kripke, Donnellan, and Kaplan, among others. Throughout, we will try to reach of a better understanding of how questions about meaning and reference connect with a range of topics that are central to philosophical theorizing, including the connection between propositional attitudes and the explanation of action, the role of the principle of compositionality in formal semantics, the question of whether there is a level of mental experience that is epistemically transparent, the relation between thought and language, the nature of fictional and non-existent objects, and the interaction between semantics and pragmatics. (B) (II) Winter 2012. Syllabus
53340. Conditionals. Conditionals play a prominent role in everyday reasoning as well as in many proposed analyses of key philosophical concepts such as knowledge, causation, freedom, and dispositional features. The best logic and semantic treatment of the English language conditional, or of a philosophically regimented conditional well-suited to these analytic tasks, is a subject of ongoing dispute. We will begin by studying the possible-world semantics for subjunctive conditionals developed by Stalnaker and Lewis, and from there consider more recent innovations and alternatives to the Stalnaker-Lewis semantics, such as probabilistic conditionals, dynamic conditionals, and restrictor-clause conditionals. Throughout, we will try to arrive at a better understanding of the formal criteria that any successful theory of conditionals must fulfill, and relate these criteria to the prominent role of conditionals in a number of notorious paradoxes about everyday reasoning, including those arising from deliberations about conditional obligations. (II) Winter 2012. Syllabus
28010/38010. Introduction to Philosophy of Language. Open to college and grad students. PQ: Elementary Logic or equivalent. Students will benefit most if they have already taken classes in philosophy. This course will serve as an introduction to the key concepts and topics in the philosophy of language. The goal is to provide students with the necessary background for work on contemporary topics in philosophy of language and, more generally, analytic philosophy. The course examines a variety of classical views on the nature of meaning, reference, and truth, with a special focus on the problem of understanding how linguistic communication works. Readings will include Frege, Davidson, Grice, Kripke, Quine, Russell, Strawson, among others. Autumn 2010. (B) Syllabus
29420/39420. Intermediate Logic---Non-classical Logic. Open to college and grad students. PQ: Elementary Logic or equivalent. We will study various non-classical logics, including (non)-normal and first-order modal logic, intuitionistic logic, and multi-valued logic. Throughout, we will focus on trying to understand the philosophical motivations behind non-classical logics, and on gaining insights into the analytic virtues (and vices) that come with them. The course also offers a friendly introduction to soundness and completeness proofs, which will be of relevance for many advanced classes in logic. Spring 2011 (B) Syllabus
52020. Meaning Without Truth. Open to grad students. We will focus on philosophical and linguistic challenges to the dogma, going back at least to Frege, that a successful theory of meaning must be based on the notion of truth. We will start with a detailed introduction to modern truth-conditional semantics, which will include a study of foundational work in formal semantics. We will continue with a study of the most pressing philosophical and linguistic problems for truth-conditional semantics, and also try to understand the challenges that arise for any semantic theory that departs from the truth-conditional perspective on meaning and communication. Once all of this is in place, we will focus on recent attempts at developing non-truth-conditional semantics, including recent work on expressivism and dynamic semantics. The class addresses advanced topics in philosophy of language, but is at the same time concerned with foundational semantic questions in epistemology, metaphysics and ethics, and it will be of interest to anyone working in these areas. Winter 2011 (II) Syllabus