Malte Willer

Malte Willer
Associate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies (2023-24)
Stuart Hall, Room 228
Office Hours: Autumn Quarter:
773.702.8598
University of Texas at Austin PhD (2010); Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München M.Phil. (2005)
Teaching at UChicago since 2010
Research Interests: Philosophy of Language, Philosophical Logic

Malte Willer is Associate 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. He has published on epistemic and deontic modals as well on conditionals and on the language of morals, and is currently thinking about agentive modals and problems surrounding subjective language and thought. In 2016 he was among the recipients of the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Selected Publications

"Familiarity Inferences, Subjective Attitudes and Counterstance Contingency: Towards a Pragmatic Theory of Subjective Meaning" (with Chris Kennedy), Linguistics and Philosophy 44(6): 1395–1445, 2022

"Negating Conditionals,” in: Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Language, Volume II, edited by Ernest Lepore and David Sosa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 234–266, 2022

“Two Puzzles about Ability Can,” Linguistics and Philosophy 44(3): 551-586, 2021

"Simplifying with Free Choice,” Topoi 37(3): 379–392, 2018

“Lessons from Sobel Sequences,” Semantics & Pragmatics 10(4): 1–57, 2017

"Advice for Noncognitivists," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 98(S1): 174–207, 2017

"Subjective Attitudes and Counterstance Contingency" (with Chris Kennedy), Proceedings of SALT XXVI

“Dynamic Thoughts on Ifs and Oughts,” Philosophers’ Imprint 14(28): 1–30, 2014

"Dynamics of Epistemic Modality," Philosophical Review 122(1): 45-92, 2013

"A Remark on Iffy Oughts," Journal of Philosophy 109(7): 449-461, 2012

"New Surprises for the Ramsey Test," Synthese 176(2): 291-309, 2010

Recent Courses

PHIL 49702 Paper Revision and Publication Workshop

Preparing papers to submit to journals for review and revising papers in response to the feedback received from journal editors and referees is an essential part of professional academic life, and students applying for academic positions with no publications to their name are at a disadvantage in today’s highly competitive job market. The Department of Philosophy has therefore instituted the Paper Revision and Publication Workshop to provide our graduate students with support and assistance to prepare papers to submit for publication in academic philosophy journals. The workshop was designed with the following three aims in mind:

1. to provide students with a basic understanding of the various steps involved in publishing in academic journals and to create a forum in which students can solicit concrete advice from faculty members about the publishing process;

2. to direct and actively encourage students to submit at least one paper to a journal for review on a timeline that would allow accepted submissions to be listed as publications on a student’s CV by the time they go on the academic job market; and

3. to create and foster a departmental culture in which the continued revision of work with the ultimate aim of publication in academic journals is viewed as an essential aspect of the professional training of our graduate students and in which both faculty and students work together to establish more ambitious norms for publishing while in graduate school.

 

PhD students in Years 2-6, with approval by the DGS.

2023-2024 Spring

PHIL 58012 Language, Evidence, and Mind

(LING 58012)

The observation that ordinary uses of predicates such as “tasty” and “beautiful” trigger an acquaintance inference—they suggest that the speaker has first-hand knowledge of the item under consideration—has received immense attention by philosophers as well as by linguists in recent years. The goal of this seminar is to arrive at a comprehensive and systematic understanding of this phenomenon. We will explore the significance of the acquaintance inference in semantics and philosophy of language (in particular for our understanding of the interaction between literal meaning and discourse pragmatics) but also for aesthetics and meta-ethics. From the linguistics side, we will explore intricate questions surrounding the projection properties of acquaintance inferences as well as issues surrounding “subjective” attitude verbs. The guiding hypothesis of this interdisciplinary seminar is that natural language predicate expressions lexically specify what it takes for their use to be properly ‘grounded’ in a speaker’s state of mind—what state of mind a speaker must be in for a predication to be in accordance with the norms governing assertion—and that these grounding constraints may compositionally interact with other other natural language expressions in interesting ways. (II)

Malte Willer, Chris Kennedy
2023-2024 Spring
Category
Philosophy of Language

PHIL 70000 Advanced Study: Philosophy

Advanced Study: Philosophy

2023-2024 Spring

PHIL 70000 Advanced Study: Philosophy

Advanced Study: Philosophy

2023-2024 Winter

PHIL 20100-02/30000-02 Introduction to Logic

(HIPS 20700, LING 20102, CHSS 33500)

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.

Students may count either PHIL 20100 or PHIL 20012, but not both, toward the credits required for graduation.

2023-2024 Autumn
Category
Logic

PHIL 70000 Advanced Study: Philosophy

Advanced Study: Philosophy

2023-2024 Autumn

PHIL 29425/39425 Logic for Philosophy

Key contemporary debates in the philosophical literature often rely on formal tools and techniques that go beyond the material taught in an introductory logic class. A robust understanding of these debates---and, accordingly, the ability to meaningfully engage with a good deal of contemporary philosophy---requires a basic grasp of extensions of standard logic such as modal logic, multi-valued logic, and supervaluations, as well as an appreciation of the key philosophical virtues and vices of these extensions. The goal of this course is to provide students with the required logic literacy. While some basic metalogical results will come into view as the quarter proceeds, the course will primarily focus on the scope (and, perhaps, the limits) of logic as an important tool for philosophical theorizing. (B)

Introduction to Logic (PHIL 20100/30000) or its equivalent.

2022-2023 Spring
Category
Logic

PHIL 59950 Job Placement Workshop

Course begins in late Spring quarter and continues in the Autumn quarter.

This workshop is open only to PhD Philosophy graduate students planning to go on the job market in the Autumn of 2022. Approval of dissertation committee is required.

2021-2022 Spring

PHIL 23413 An Introduction to Martin Heidegger's Sein and Zeit

(FNDL 24308)

Though unfinished, Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit is one of the most influential contributions to 20th century philosophy. In it, Heidegger proposes nothing less than an exposition (in fact, a restatement) of the question of Being --- a question whose subject matter is inherently intertwined with the concerns and affairs of the inquirer. Systematizing and indeed radicalizing ideas from Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Husserl, Sein und Zeit is at the same a critique of the Western philosophical tradition’s neglect of the Seinsfrage. In this course we will proceed systematically through Sein und Zeit, seeking to understand its basic moves, motivations, and key arguments. (B)

Students do not need to be able to read German.

2021-2022 Winter

PHIL 31414 MAPH Core Course: Contemporary Analytic Philosophy

(MAPH 31414)

This course is designed to provide MAPH students – especially those interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Philosophy – with an introduction to some recent debates between philosophers working in the analytic tradition. The course is, however, neither a history of analytic philosophy nor an overview of the discipline as it currently stands. The point of the course is primarily to introduce the distinctive style and method – or styles and methods – of philosophizing in the analytic tradition, through brief explorations of some currently hotly debated topics in the field.

This course is open only to MAPH students. MAPH students who wish to apply to Ph.D. programs in Philosophy are strongly urged to take this course.

2021-2022 Autumn

PHIL 59950 Job Placement Workshop

Course begins in late Spring quarter and continues in the Autumn quarter.

This workshop is open only to PhD Philosophy graduate students planning to go on the job market in the Autumn of 2021. Approval of dissertation committee is required.

2021-2022 Autumn

PHIL 22962/32962 The Epistemology of Deep Learning

Philosophers have long drawn inspiration for their views about the nature of human cognition, the structure of language, and the foundations of knowledge, from developments in the field of artificial intelligence. In recent years, the study of artificial intelligence has undergone a remarkable resurgence, in large part owing to the invention of so-called “deep” neural networks, which attempt to instantiate models of cognitive neurological development in a computational setting. Deep neural networks have been successfully deployed to perform a wide variety of machine learning tasks, including image recognition, natural language processing, financial fraud detection, social network filtering, drug discovery, and cancer diagnoses, to name just a few. While, at present, the ethical implications of these new and powerful systems are a topic of much philosophical scrutiny, the epistemological significance of deep learning has garnered significantly less attention.

In this course, we will attempt to understand and assess some of the bold epistemological claims that have been made on behalf of deep neural networks. To what extent can deep learning be represented within the framework of existing theories of statistical and causal inference, and to what extent does it represent a new epistemological paradigm? Are deep neural networks genuinely theory-neutral, as it is sometimes claimed, or does the underlying architecture of these systems encode substantive theoretical assumptions and biases? Without the aid of a background theory or statistical model, how can we, the users of a deep neural network, be in a position to trust the reliability of its predictions? In principle, are there any cognitive tasks with respect to which deep neural networks are incapable of outperforming human expertise? Do recent developments in artificial intelligence shed any new light on traditional philosophical questions about the capacity of machines to act intelligently, or the computational and mechanistic bases of human cognition? (B) (II)

2020-2021 Spring
Category
Epistemology

PHIL 58010 Philosophy of Language

(LING 58010)

A seminar on contemporary issues in philosophy of language and linguistics. The exact topic will be determined closer to the date and in light of students’ interests. The list of topics discussed in the past include indexicality, subjectivity, game theory, and conditionals. (II)

2019-2020 Spring
Category
Philosophy of Language

PHIL 24010 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)

Elementary Logic recommended, but not required.

2019-2020 Winter

PHIL 20100/30000 Elementary Logic

(CHSS 33500, HIPS 20700)

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.

2018-2019 Autumn
Category
Logic

For full list of Malte Willer's courses back to the 2012-13 academic year, see our searchable course database.