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Higginbotham Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

A leading philosopher-linguist, James Higginbotham brings the number of USC Dornsife academy fellows to 16.

By Emily Cavalcanti
April 29, 2011

James Higginbotham, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics, has been elected a fellow of the esteemed American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Photo by Phil Channing.

James Higginbotham, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics, has been elected a fellow of the esteemed American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Photo by Phil Channing.

James Higginbotham, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics, has been named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the world’s most prestigious honorary societies.

The USC Dornsife scholar is among 196 fellows and 16 foreign honorary members newly elected to the academy. Members are prominent figures from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts.

Higginbotham, Linda MacDonald Hilf Chair in Philosophy and chair of the Department of Linguistics, brings USC Dornsife’s academy fellows to 16. His research lies in philosophy of language, theoretical linguistics and philosophical issues in the cognitive sciences.

“Jim is one of the most revered and accomplished members of our faculty, and his election as a fellow is fitting recognition of the enormous contributions he has made as a scholar,” said Howard Gillman, dean of USC Dornsife. “On behalf of all faculty in USC Dornsife, I congratulate our colleague and friend.”

Since its founding in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other scholar-patriots, the academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th. The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

“I am honored to have been elected, especially after dividing my efforts between disciplines, and between Oxford and USC, for so long,” said Higginbotham, who was director of USC Dornsife’s School of Philosophy from 2004 to 2007.

Higginbotham is one of 23 USC faculty members to hold the title of Distinguished Professor, a designation denoting faculty whose accomplishments have brought special renown to USC. One of the world’s leading philosopher-linguists, he has published widely in both fields.

His latest book, Tense, Aspect, and Indexicality (Oxford University Press, 2009), discusses the principles governing demonstrative, temporal and indexical expressions in natural language and presents new ideas in the semantics of sentence structure. His most recent articles discuss the nature of linguistic competence, the problem of compositionality in language, and the role of first-person and demonstrative reference in thought and communication.

“When Jim started his career there were very few investigators in any field with combined mastery in the philosophy of language, philosophical logic, theoretical linguistics and formal semantics,” said Scott Soames, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, director of the School of Philosophy, and a fellow academy member.

“Although now there are many, few have made greater contributions to the large overlap of these areas.  A pioneer in the development of a genuinely scientific study of meaning, he has been a model to many younger theorists who are pushing back the frontiers of this expanding domain.”

Before coming to USC, Higginbotham was the Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Oxford from 1993 to 2000, and associate professor and professor of philosophy and linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1980 to 1993.  Earlier, he was assistant professor of philosophy at Columbia University, where he earned his doctoral degree in 1973, working with Charles Parsons and Sidney Morgenbesser. Like many others, Higginbotham is indebted to the work of W.V. Quine and Donald Davidson in philosophy, and to Noam Chomsky’s contributions to linguistics and cognitive science.

In 1995, Higginbotham was named a fellow of the British Academy, the United Kingdom’s national body for the humanities and social sciences. He was also Fulbright Distinguished Professor of the Philosophy of Language at the University of Venice Ca’Foscari in Venice, Italy, in 2003. For the last two decades, Higginbotham has held visiting professor posts throughout the world including the University of Oxford; Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy; École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France; the University of Iceland; the University of Denmark at Odense; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and Princeton University.

He has served on the editorial board of Oxford University Press’ Oxford Cognitive Science series since 1995 and has been associate editor for Pragmatics & Cognition and The Journal of Philosophy for more than 25 years.

Higginbotham joins the 2011 class of fellows and foreign honorary members who include astronomer Paul Butler, discoverer of more 330 planets; Anthony Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; actor Daniel Day-Lewis; singer-songwriter Paul Simon; former White House aide and CNN Chairman Thomas Johnson; and veteran diplomat Edward Djerejian.

The 2011 class of 212 men and women will be inducted at a ceremony on October 1 at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.