Research projects

Current projects

PhD Project “Knowing why” (since 2014)

My PhD project is part of the Volkswagen Foundation project “A study in explanatory power”. I aim to provide an in-depth analysis of the understudied epistemological dimensions of the nature of (scientific) explanation in light of recent discussions in the epistemology of understanding. My focus is on exploring the nature of knowledge-why, the nature of scientific knowledge-why in particular, and the relationship between understanding-why and knowledge-why, paying special attention to the case of model- and simulation-based knowledge and understanding in science.

October 2015 until the end of March 2016, I spent at NYU in the research center “Varieties of Understanding” under the supervision of Michael Strevens and Catherine Elgin in order to deepen my studies.

April & May 2017, I did research at the University of Edinburgh under the supervision of Duncan Pritchard.

Research on the formal semantics of multi-modal utterances together with Hannes Rieser and Florian Hahn (since 2011)

From 2011 until 2015, I worked as a researcher in the interdisciplinary project “Speech-gesture alignment” of the CRC 673 “Alignment in Communication” (based at Bielefeld University, sponsored by the DFG), which was led by Hannes Rieser (linguistics) and Stefan Kopp (computer science). Together with Hannes Rieser and Florian Hahn I explored speech accompanying gestures and we still continue conducting our research. Our research is based on empirical data from our corpus, which is one of the largest multi-modal corpora worldwide. Inter alia, we analyze multi-modal utterances from a formal semantics point of view. Intuitively, such utterances convey a joint content which can exceed the verbal one. In order to obtain multi-modal propositions we developed a formal semantics for co-speech gestures and formal constructions for interfacing speech semantics and gesture semantics by employing lambda calculus. We also took a look at the details of how speech and gestures (and their respective semantics) are aligned to each other both intra- and inter-personally in dialogues and trialogues. Part of our work was conducted in collaboration with Stefan Kopp, Kirsten Bergmann, Thies Pfeiffer, and Udo Klein. You can find some outcomes of our research here: http://www.sfb673.org/projects/B1/publications

Past projects

Master thesis “A shotgun wedding? Non-declarative sentences and intensional semantics” (2013 – 2014)

My thesis was concerned with the question whether intensional semantics are able to give a satisfactory semantics for non-declarative sentences. Advocates of an intensional semantics claim that the meaning of a sentence consists in its truth conditions. While this claim seems plausible regarding declarative sentences, it seems odd regarding non-declarative sentences (such as interrogatives and imperatives) insofar as these are intuitively not evaluated as true or false and thus seem to lack truth conditions. Nonetheless, there are good reasons to strive for a unified semantic. A common semantic framework for all kinds of sentences would accommodate the thought that sub-sentential expressions have the same meaning in all kinds of sentences, and it could deal with so-called mixed-mood sentences in which different kinds of sentences are combined (e. g., “If you put me on the mat, then where do you put the cat?”).  I examined two proposals of how to obtain such a framework by employing tools from intensional semantics. The first stems from David Lewis (“General Semantics”, 1970) and the second from Roland Hausser (esp. “Surface Compositional Grammar”, 1980).

Lewis’ basic idea is that non-declaratives are syntactic variants of certain explicit performatives (“Do you love me?” vs. “I ask you whether you love me”). Since the latter arguably have truth conditions, non-declaratives have them, too. Their syntactic surfaces differ but not their semantics. This idea is plausible in light of the fact that such variants are both used to achieve the same communicative goal (e.g., to ask the addressee whether she loves the langue user). Nonetheless, Lewis’ proposal has been widely rejected and never been worked out. My evaluation of the objections shows that they are not conclusive, though. Some of them arise from too simplified an interpretation of his proposal, some rely on disputable premises, and some can be rebutted. My conclusion is that Lewis’ proposal deserves to be fully worked out.

Hausser’s basic idea is that non-declarative sentences do not have truth conditions but the same kind of semantic values as certain sub-sentential expressions. For instance, an imperative sentence has a similar semantics as one-place predicates; it specifies the property the addressee of the utterance is directed to achieve. While this analysis does justice to our intuitions insofar as that it does not ascribe truth conditions to non-declarative sentences, Hausser’s semantics has technical problems, some conceptual inconsistencies, and is not able to treat complex non-declarative sentences and mixed-mood sentences in its current form. My conclusion is that the idea requires a different implementation to yield a convincing proposal.

So, even though both proposals are not fully satisfactory, it seems promising to integrate non-declarative sentences into an intensional semantics. The alleged shotgun wedding might turn out to be a happy one.

Project on critical thinking instruction together with Daniel Milne-Plückebaum (2012-2016)

Our project featured two sub-projects: (i) We worked on how to teach the basics of critical thinking and philosophical logic to beginners and non-specialists in an effective manner. Our goal is to provide students with tools they can use for analyzing, understanding, criticizing, and constructing arguments beyond the classroom. From 2012 to 2014, we developed and applied a course concept for teaching how to analyze natural language argumentation using both formal and informal methods. This part of our project was supported by the project “Handwerk Philosophie” (which is sponsored by the program “Richtig Einsteigen” by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research). You can find some of our materials (in German) here: blog.lupenkurse.de/
(ii) We rethought classical argument taxonomies in order to gain a unified and detailed classification of arguments which treats deductively valid and deductively non-valid arguments on a par. While using concepts of deductive logic does not yield the desired outcome insofar as it results in analyzing deductively non-valid arguments too coarse-grainedly, we work on employing concepts from inductive logic to obtain a uniform treatment of both argument types and their respective subtypes.