Ryan Simonelli

Ryan Simonelli
Teaching Fellow in the Humanities
Rosenwald 215
Office Hours: Autumn Quarter: Thursdays, 3:00 - 5:00 pm
PhD, University of Chicago, 2022; BA, New College of Florida in 2014
Teaching at UChicago since 2022
Research Interests: Philosophy of Language, Philosophical Logic, History of Analytic Philosophy

Ryan Simonelli received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Chicago and his BA from New College of Florida.  He works mainly in philosophy of language and philosophical logic and is particularly concerned with the relationship between the ability to speak a language and the ability to conceptually grasp what things in the world are and how they might be.  As such, his work inevitably crosses over into issues in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and epistemology.  It is also often guided by an implicit or explicit engagement with certain key figures in the history of analytic philosophy, such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Wilfrid Sellars.  He also does non-academic philosophy and lots of other things like surfing, swimming, hurting himself skateboarding, blundering pieces in chess, mixing music, and making art.

Recent Courses

PHIL 23104 Doing Things with Words

Words, it might seem, are for saying things, communicating bits of information. And, of course, they are for that. However, there all sorts of things that we can do with the use of language that go beyond simply saying things. We can, for instance, make a promise, forbid someone from doing something, or exclude someone from our community. These are all different kinds of “speech acts” we might perform, and they form the topic of speech act theory. This class, a venture into speech act theory, will look at these different types of speech acts while seeking to develop a unified framework for thinking about them based on the thought, variously spelled out by the theorists we’ll read, that speech acts work by shifting the norms to which speakers take themselves to be bound. We will start with the philosophical foundations of speech act theory, starting with the pioneering work of Ludwig Wittgenstein before turning to J.L. Austin’s seminal How to Do Things with Words. We will then turn to contemporary developments of speech act theory, focusing on one area where it has been most fruitfully applied and developed in recent years: social, and especially feminist, philosophy. Specific topics in this latter part of the course will include silencing and other forms of discursive injustice, consent and other kinds of sexual negotiation, derogatory, exclusionary, and oppressive speech, acts of protest, and expressions of solidarity, with work from Rae Langton, Jennifer Hornsby, Jennifer Saul, Quill Kukla, Mary Kate McGowan, Cassie Herbert, Matthew Chrisman, Graham Hubbs, and Mark Lance among others.

2022-2023 Winter

PHIL 23401 Philosophy and Science Fiction

How do we know whether our perceptual experiences really are of a real world outside of us? What determines the identity of a person over time? What does it take to be conscious, and how can we tell whether someone or something is? Could radically different languages lead to radically different forms of experience and thought? These are key questions in the philosophical fields of epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Mind, and Philosophy of Language. In this course, we’ll explore these questions (and more) as they arise in works of science fiction and consider the main philosophical proposals for tackling them with an eye to these works. The main works with which we’ll engage will be the films “The Matrix,” “Moon,” “Ex Machina,” and “Arrival,” though there will be many supplementary works of science fiction. Philosophical readings will be drawn from both historical and contemporary sources. (B)

2022-2023 Autumn

PHIL 29200-04/29300-04 Junior/Senior Tutorial

Topic: Consciousness and Language

Contemporary philosophers of mind often speak of the “phenomenal character” of different sorts of conscious experiences. This phrase is meant to express “what it’s like” to have an experience of a particular sort. For instance, when you see something red—a tomato, say—there’s something that it’s like to have an experience of the sort that you’re having. Someone who is color blind from birth might know a lot of things about how color vision works, but they won't know what it’s like to see something red; that is, they won’t know what the phenomenal character of an experience of seeing something red is.

In this class, we will explore both a negative and a positive thesis about the relationship between this aspect of conscious experience and language. We will start by considering the negative thesis that the phenomenal character of a conscious experience is really “ineffable”—we cannot express it in public language. We will consider both strategies for trying to make sense of this idea and arguments, both belonging to and influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein, to the effect that there is no way to make sense of it. We will then turn to the corresponding positive thesis that we cannot make sense of the phenomenal character of a conscious experience apart from our ability to express it in public language, focusing particularly on the development of this thesis by Wilfrid Sellars and those influenced by him in various ways. In addition to Wittgenstein and Sellars, readings will be from contemporary philosophers including, among others, Frank Jackson, Thomas Nagel, David Chalmers, Paul Horwich, Daniel Dennett, John McDowell, Susanna Schellenberg, Robert Brandom, David Rosenthal, and Paul Churchland.

Meets with Jr/Sr section. Prerequisite: Open only to philosophy majors. Intensive-Track Majors should reach out to the instructor to be enrolled manually. No more than two tutorials may be used to meet program requirements.

2019-2020 Spring