Elisabeth Camp
Who Am I?

Rutgers University
Department of Philosophy
Gateway Building

106 Somerset Street, Room 514

New Brunswick NJ 08901

Department telephone: 848.932.9861

Department fax: 848.932.8617

Philosophical Interests

I am interested in exploring thoughts and utterances that don't fit standard propositional models; my work lies in the overlap between philosophy of mind and philosophy of language, and especially in areas that intersect with aesthetics.   

First, I am interested in cognitive "perspectives" or "frames", in which one concept or thought structures our overall intuitive understanding of a topic in a way that's similar to the way a concept like duck or rabbit can structure our perceptual experience, as in this famous figure:
I've thought most about perspectives in our understanding of metaphor and other 'poetic' uses of language, and with slurs.  I've also applied perspectives to our engagement with fiction and to the construction of a self. 

Second, I am interested in concepts and their cognitive functions.  Concepts, I argue, are mental representations that are systematically recombinable and stimulus-independent.  Some human thought strongly exemplifies these features, as does language; but I argue that these features can also be achieved, to a significant degree, in non-human animals and in thought that uses non-sentential formats like maps and diagrams.  At the same time, other human thought is less systematic and cross-contextually stable: it displays the more associative, context-sensitive, holistic patterns of thinking exemplified by perspectives. 

Third, I am interested in how (and why) to draw the distinctions between semantics and pragmatics, and between "what is said" and "what is meant". In particular, I have argued that figurative language, especially metaphor and sarcasm, pushes us to reconsider standard ways of drawing those distinctions.  Specifically, I argue that the ways in which ordinary speakers and hearers think about and respond to figurative speech helps to ground a use of 'what is said' which is tightly tied to conventional sentence meaning, and in turn to comparatively minimal semantic contents.  I've been especially interested in insinuation and in antagonistic conversations, like courtroom examinations and fights between romantic partners, in this regard.

You can get a more in-depth, non-technical sense for my thoughts on these topics from an interview with Richard Marshall at 3AM Magazine.

I got my PhD from the Philosophy Department at UC Berkeley in 2003; my advisors were Richard Wollheim, John Searle, and John MacFarlane.  I spent the next three years at the Harvard Society of Fellows, and then taught in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania from 2006 to 2013, when I joined the Philosophy Department at Rutgers, New Brunswick, where I am also affiliated with the Center for Cognitive Science

I went to to college at the University of Michigan, and graduated in 1993 with a double major in Philosophy and English.  In the years between college and grad school, I worked in Chicago, designing and implementing programs for GED instruction in public housing and for ESL instruction in the Latino community.

Mentoring Workshop : Call for Papers!

Elizabeth Harman, Jill North and I are organizing a series of workshops for women graduate students in philosophy, to be held biennially starting in August 2014.  The deadline for submitting papers is March 1, 2014.  More information is available here.


Papers on Perspectives: Metaphor, Fiction, Imagination, and the Self
* " Wordsworth’s Prelude, Poetic Autobiography, and Narrative Constructions of the Self" Nonsite.org vol. 3, (October 2011), 34 pp.
Humans are inveterate storytellers. We make incessant and insistent narrative sense of the world around us and of our place in it—so much so that some scholars have suggested “homo narrans as a more appropriate identifying description for our species than “homo sapiens". Indeed, a long-standing tradition holds that our very self-identities have an essentially narrative shape: that who each of us is is determined by the stories of our lives, and that in some sense we create our selves by crafting those stories.  In this essay, I focus on an especially compelling case of narrative self-construction: Wordsworth’s Prelude.  I argue that we do need rich, substantive selves of the sort delivered by narratives like The Prelude, both in order to evaluate our past actions and to guide future ones.  However, the very feature which makes Wordsworth’s poem so rhetorically powerful as an autobiography—his invocation of a robust teleological structure, which is imposed on him from infancy by Nature—also prevents us from embracing it as a model for our own self-understanding, because it conflicts sharply with modern views about ontology.  Contemporary advocates of a narrative conception of the self, such as Jerome Bruner, Alasdair MacIntyre and Marya Schectman, drop The Prelude’s objectionable ontological assumptions.  But rather than placing the narrative conception of self on a firm metaphysical foundation, this actually intensifies the threat of fictionalism: the risk that the selves we fashion through stories are mere self-deluding illusions. I conclude by gesturing toward the characters within stories as an alternative literary model which avoids many of these problems.

* "Two Varieties of Literary Imagination: Metaphor, Fiction, and Thought Experiments" Midwest Studies in Philosophy: Poetry and Philosophy
, ed. Howard Wettstein (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 107-130.)
I contrast the imaginative activity involved in pretending something to be true with that involved in metaphorical construal, arguing that the two activities differ in their direction of fit, mechanism of interpretation, and phenomenology.  More generally, pretense involves the imaginative manipulation of what we take to be so, while metaphor reconfigures how we think about what is so.  I show that fiction and poetry both make use of both interpretive activities; in particular, both can provide us with ‘metaphors for life’ by inviting us to use an imagined scenario as a frame through which to interpret our own lives. Finally, there may be an appropriate role for both species of imagination within philosophy itself.

* "Perspectives in Imaginative Engagement with Fiction" (DRAFT -- still!)

Recent philosophical attention to fiction has focused on the phenomenon of imaginative resistance: the fact that readers are sometimes unable or unwilling to play along with an author's instructions to imagine certain, especially moral, contents or responses.  The fact that readers resist in these cases appears puzzling, given that they are typically willing to imagine all sorts of highly implausible, even impossible things, including alterations to the laws of physics. But there is another, inverse phenomenon as well: the frequent willingness and ability on readers' parts to temporarily shift their real or imagined responses from what they would be in reality.  I argue that to explain imaginative engagement with fiction in a way that makes sense of both imaginative resistance and disparate response, we need to appeal to the perspectives we cultivate on worlds, whether fictional or real.  A perspective requires more than just imagining that a set of propositions is true, or even imagining experiencing something; it involves actually structuring one's thinking in certain ways.  Recognizing the nuanced ways in which authors manipulate perspectives makes it less puzzling both that fictions can produce emotional and evaluative responses that differ from those that readers would have in the real world, and also that readers are sometimes unable or unwilling to go along in having these responses.

* "Showing, Telling, and Seeing: Metaphor and 'Poetic' Language" (The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication,
        Vol. 3: A Figure of Speech, ed. E. Camp (August 2008), 1-24.)
Theorists often associate certain “poetic” qualities with metaphor – most especially, producing an open-ended, holistic perspective which is evocative, imagistic and affectively-laden. I argue that, on the one hand, non-cognitivists are wrong to claim that metaphors only produce such perspectives: like ordinary literal speech, they also serve to undertake claims and other speech acts with propositional content. On the other hand, contextualists are wrong to assimilate metaphor to literal loose talk: metaphors depend on using one thing as a perspective for thinking about something else. I bring out the distinctive way that metaphor works by contrasting it with two other poetic uses of language, juxtapositions and “telling details,” that do fit the accounts of metaphor offered by non-cognitivists and contextualists, respectively.

* "Metaphor and That Certain 'Je Ne Sais Quoi'" (Philosophical Studies 129:1 (May 2006), 1-25.)
Contrary to what many proponents of metaphor have claimed, metaphors don't do anything different in kind from what can be done with literal speech. But this does not render metaphor theoretically dispensable or irrelevant, as many analytic philosophers have assumed. In certain circumstances, I argue, metaphors can enable speakers to communicate contents that cannot be stated in fully literal and explicit terms. These cases thus serve as counterexamples to John Searle's 'Principle of Expressibility', the idea that whatever can be meant can be said. Indeed, metaphors can sometimes provide us with our only cognitive access to certain properties. Thinking about metaphor is useful because it draws our attention to patterns and processes of thought that play a pervasive role in our ordinary thought and talk, and that extend our basic communicative and cognitive resources.

* An abstract of my dissertation, Saying and Seeing-as: The Linguistic Uses and Cognitive Effects of Metaphor.

Papers on Meaning: Metaphor, Sarcasm, Slurs, and the Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction
* "Metaphor and Varieties of Meaning" A Companion to Donald Davidson, ed. Ernie Lepore and Kirk Ludwig (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 361-378.
NOTE: The published version contains significant (albeit merely expository) changes from the penultimate version here.

In discussions of metaphor, Davidson is (in)famous for claiming that metaphorical utterances lack any distinctive, nonliteral meaning. But there is much less agreement about just what he means by this. In this article, I explicate this claim as it occurs in “What Metaphors Mean” (1978) and relate it to his reflections on language in “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs” (1986), leaving the project of locating both papers within his broader views on interpretation for another time. In Section 1, I argue that despite some puzzling inconsistencies, the overall thrust of “What Metaphors Mean” is a radical form of noncogitivism. In Section 2, I argue that in “Nice Derangement,” Davidson applies several of the arguments offered against metaphorical meanings in “What Metaphors Mean” to linguistic meaning more generally; but his criteria for what counts as “meaning” have shifted to include context-local word meaning alongside Gricean speaker’s meaning. With respect to metaphor, he appears to have abandoned his previ- ous noncognitivism for an analysis in terms of speaker’s meaning, but it is not clear that this new view is justified by his new model of meaning. In Section 3, I articulate and evaluate a neo-Davidsonian view of metaphor, which retains as much as possible from both papers.

* "Slurring PerspectivesAnalytic Philosophy 54:3 (September 2013), 330-349.
Slurs are rhetorically insidious and theoretically interesting because they communicate something above and beyond the truth-conditional predication of group membership, something which typically – though not always – projects across 'blocking' constructions like negation, conditionals, and indirect quotation, and which is exceptionally resistant to direct challenge.  I argue that neither pure expressivism nor straightforward truth-conditionalism can account for the sort of commitment that speakers undertake by using slurs.  Instead, I claim, users of slurs endorse a denigrating perspective on the targeted group.

* "Sarcasm, Pretense, and The Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction" (Nous 46:4 (December 2012), 587–634.
Traditional theories of sarcasm treat it as a case of speakers meaning the opposite of what they say. Recently, ‘expressivists’ have argued that sarcasm is not a type of speaker meaning at all, but merely the expression of a dissociative attitude toward an evoked thought or perspective. I argue that we should analyze sarcasm in terms of meaning inversion, as the traditional theory does; but that we need to construe ‘meaning’ more broadly, to include illocutionary force and evaluative attitudes. I distinguish four subclasses of sarcasm, individuated in terms of the target of inversion. Three of these classes raise serious challenges for a standard implicature analysis.

* "Sarcastic 'Like': A Case Study in the Interface of Syntax and Semantics," with John Hawthorne (Philosophical Perspectives 22:1: Language and
          Logic, ed. J. Hawthorne, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008, 1-21.)
In American English (and also in e.g. German, Russian, and French), one can indicate sarcasm by prefixing a sentence with 'Like' or 'As if', as in "Like/As if she's going to believe you."  We argue that 'Like'-prefixed sarcasm displays a distinctive pattern of semantic and syntactic constraints which are not shared with bare sarcasm; most notably, 'Like'-prefixed sarcasm licenses Negative Polarity Items, such as 'ever', 'yet', and 'lift a finger'.  We sketch two possible semantic theories of sarcastic 'Like', and conclude that the most promising option is to treat 'Like' as semantically expressing an illocutionary force of denial.

* "Prudent Semantics Meets Wanton Speech Act Pluralism" (Context-Sensitivity and Semantic Minimalism: New Essays on Semantics and
         Pragmatics, ed. G. Preyer and G. Peter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 194-213.)
Ernie Lepore and Herman Cappelen (2005) argue that contextual influences on semantic content are much more restricted than most theorists assume, by presenting three tests for semantic context-sensitivity and concluding that only a very restricted class of expressions pass them.  They combine this extreme semantic minimalism with an even more extreme speech-act pluralism, according to which a speaker has said anything that she can be reported as having said.  I argue that because Lepore and Cappelen refuse to distinguish what is said from what is claimed, their tests wrongly classify metaphor as semantically context-sensitive.  I then argue that our ordinary linguistic practices support a distinction between what is said and what is claimed, and that underwrites a much more moderate form of speech act pluralism.

* "Contextualism, Metaphor, and What is Said" (Mind & Language 21:3 (June 2006), 280–309.)
On a familiar and prima facie plausible view of metaphor, speakers who speak metaphorically say one thing in order to mean another. Several theorists have recently challenged this view; they offer criteria to distinguish what is said from what is merely meant, and argue that these criteria support classifying metaphor within 'what is said'. I consider four such criteria, and argue that when properly understood, they support the traditional classification instead. I conclude by sketching how we might extract a workable notion of ‘what is said’ from ordinary intuitions about saying.

* "Critical Study of Josef Stern’s Metaphor in Context" (Nous 39:4 (December 2005), 715-731.)
A critical discussion of Stern's 2000 book postulating a metaphoricity operator 'Mthat' modeled on Kaplan's 'Dthat'. I focus on Stern's claim that we need to adopt a semantic analysis of metaphor because metaphor exhibits interpretive constraints which cannot be explained on a pragmatic view; I argue that in each case the 'constraint' is merely defeasible, and that a pragmatic analysis can accommodate the data more parsimoniously and in greater generality than Stern's theory can.

Papers on Concepts: Systematicity, Animals, and the Format of Thought
* "Concepts and Characterizations" (forthcoming in Concepts: New Directions, ed. E. Margolis and S. Laurence (MIT Press, 2014).
Recent theorizing about concepts has been dominated by two general models: crudely speaking, a philosophical one on which concepts are rule-governed atoms, and a psychological one on which they are associative networks.  The debate between these two models is often framed in terms of competing answers to the question of ‘how the mind works’ or ‘the nature of thought’. I argue that this is a false dichotomy, because thought operates in both these ways. Human thought utilizes representational structures that function as arbitrary re-combinable bits. This supports a version of the Language of Thought Hypothesis – though a significantly more modest one than is typically advanced by advocates of that view. But human thought also employs representational structures that are contextually malleable, intuitive, and holistic; I call these ‘characterizations’. ‘Dual systems’ models of cognition recognize this multiplicity of mental processes, but typically posit largely separate structures, and emphasize conflicts between them. By contrast, I argue that the two forms of representation are more closely integrated, and more symbiotic, than talk of duality suggests.

* "Putting Thoughts to Work: Concepts, Systematicity, and Stimulus-Independence" (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 78.2 (March 2009),
I argue that we can reconcile two seemingly incompatible traditions for thinking about conceptual thought.  On the one hand, many cognitive scientists maintain that the systematic deployment of representational capacities is sufficient for conceptual thought; on the other hand, a long philosophical tradition claims that language is necessary for conceptual thought. I argue that it is necessary and sufficient for conceptual thought that one be able to entertain many of the thoughts produced by recombining one’s representational capacities apart from a direct confrontation with the states of affairs being represented.

*  A Language of Baboon Thought?(Philosophy of Animal Minds, ed. R. Lurz, Cambridge University Press, 2009, 108-127.)
In Baboon Metaphysics (2007), Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth argue that baboons think in a language-like representational medium, which is propositional, discrete-valued, rule-governed, open-ended, and hierarchically structured.  Their evidence for this conclusion derives largely from the fact that baboons appear to represent a complex social structure, in which a female’s dominance ranking depends both on her birth order within her family and on her family’s rank order within the overall troop.  I argue that a diagrammatic representational medium for social thought, with the structure of a branching tree but with the branches having a dedicated semantic function, better captures the distinctive abilities and limitations of baboon cognition.

* Thinking with Maps” (Philosophical Perspectives 21:1, Philosophy of Mind, ed. J. Hawthorne, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, 145-182.)
Various philosophers have argued that thought must be language-like.  I argue that thought can take other forms as well.  Specifically, if a thinker’s representational needs were sufficiently simple, it might think entirely with maps.  The distinction between sentential and cartographic representational systems is not trivial: differences in their combinatorial principles produce substantive differences in how they represent and subserve reasoning.  These differences in turn suggest predictions about distinct patterns of cognitive ability and breakdown.

* "The Generality Constraint and Categorial Restrictions" (Philosophical Quarterly 54:215 (April 2004), 209-231.)
We should not admit categorial restrictions on the significance of syntactically well-formed strings. Syntactically well-formed but semantically absurd strings, such as 'Life's but a walking shadow' and 'Caesar is a prime number', can express thoughts; and competent thinkers both are able to grasp these thoughts and should to be able to grasp them. Gareth Evans' Generality Constraint should be viewed as a fully general constraint on concept possession and propositional thought, even though Evans himself restricted it. This is because (a) even well-formed but semantically cross-categorial strings typically do possess substantive inferential roles; (b) hearers exploit these inferential roles in interpreting such strings metaphorically; (c) there is no good reason to deny truth-conditions to strings that have inferential roles.

Surveys of Metaphor
* "Metaphors in Literature" (forthcoming in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Literature, ed. Noel Carroll and John Gibson, 2014.)
What is distinctive about literary metaphors?  Why do authors use metaphors in literature? I argue that metaphors in literature, like metaphors elsewhere, allow authors to communicate thoughts and stake claims about how the world is.  To make this claim plausible, we need, first, to free ourselves of an overly restrictive conception of ordinary discourse, which can be open-ended, nuanced, and imagistically and emotionally evocative, just like literary metaphors; and in particular which can also present contents through perspectives.  Second, we need to recognize the interpretive differences that are generated by the literary context: because literary texts are published works of art, literary meaning is constructed as a collaboration between a 'model author' and a 'model reader', each of whom has access to both more and fewer interpretive assumptions than the actual writer and recipient do.  Third, we need to attend to the diversity among literary metaphors, which can be laser-focused as well as open-ended, abstract as well as concretely imagistic and emotional, and which can stake truth-evaluable claims while also presenting non-propositional perspectives.  Finally, metaphors differ from other perspectival tropes, like exemplification, in presenting one thing through the lens or filter of something else, producing a kind of twofoldness that gives metaphors a distinctive rhetorical and cognitive power.

* "Metaphor" with Marga Reimer (Handbook of Philosophy of Language, ed. E. Lepore & B. Smith, Oxford University Press 2006, 845-863.)
A survey of four influential theories of metaphor in the philosophy of language – simile theories (e.g. Fogelin), interaction theories (e.g. Black), Gricean theories (e.g. Searle), and noncognitivist theories (e.g. Davidson) – in terms of their answers to four central questions: What are metaphors?  What is metaphorical meaning?  How do metaphors work?  And what is the nature of metaphorical truth?

* "Metaphor in the Mind: The Cognition of Metaphor" (Philosophy Compass 1:2 (March 2006), 154-170.)
The most sustained and innovative recent work on metaphor has occurred in cognitive science and psychology. Psycholinguistic investigation suggests that novel, poetic metaphors are processed differently than literal speech, while relatively conventionalized and contextually salient metaphors are processed more like literal speech. This conflicts with the view of ‘cognitive linguists’ like George Lakoff that all or nearly all thought is essentially metaphorical. There are currently four main cognitive models of metaphor comprehension: juxtaposition, category-transfer, feature-matching, and structural alignment. Structural alignment deals best with the widest range of examples; but it still fails to account for the complexity and richness of fairly novel, poetic metaphors.

*Metaphor” (The Pragmatics Encyclopedia, ed. Louise Cummings, Routledge, 2009.)
A survey of recent work on metaphor in cognitive science, linguistics, and pragmatic theory, with special attention to challenges to the ‘standard’ Gricean model of metaphor as implicature.

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Courses (old syllabi in .pdf; handouts and readings for current classes on course website)

* Philosophy of Art (at Penn)

* What is Meaning? (at Penn)

* Philosophy of Mind (at Penn)

* Wittgenstein (at Penn)

* Philosophy of Language (at Penn)

* Graduate Seminar: Concepts (at Penn)

* Graduate Seminar: Aspects (at Penn)

* Graduate Seminar: Emotions and the Arts (with Paul Guyer, at Penn)
* Graduate Seminar: Expressivism and Slurs (at Penn)

* Graduate Seminar: Philosophy and/of Literature (at Penn)

* Graduate Seminar: Creativity in Language Use (with Ernie Lepore and Matthew Stone)

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© 2014 Elisabeth Camp; last modified: 11 February 2014