Specialties

Journals & Centers

Pacific Philosophical Quarterly is a quarterly peer-reviewed journal in analytic philosophy, edited by the faculty of the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California and published by Wiley-Blackwell. It was founded in 1920 at the University of Southern California by Ralph Tyler Flewelling, a philosopher and student of Borden Parker Bowne, under the title The Personalist. The journal acquired its present name in 1980. There is now a reading room bearing Flewelling's name in the USC Hoose Library of Philosophy.

The Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy is a peer-reviewed online open-access journal of moral, political and legal philosophy, edited and published by the University of Southern California. The journal was founded in 2005, and is hosted by the USC Annenberg Center. It is additionally sponsored by the USC Center for Law and Philosophy, the Gould School of Law, and the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences.

The USC Center for Law and Philosophy is a research center devoted to the promotion of interdisciplinary scholarship in legal, moral, and political philosophy. The Center holds conferences and workshops, and works with faculty and students to enhance the study of law and philosophy at USC. The Center sponsors a new online peer reviewed journal in moral, political and legal philosophy, Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy.

 

Areas of Specialty

Metaethics and Practical Reasoning

USC’s philosophy department is a hotbed of research in the areas of metaethics and practical reason. Ralph Wedgwood, Stephen Finlay, Jake Ross, and Mark Schroeder work in these areas, and are supported by the strengths of the department in the overlapping topics of normative ethics (John Dreher), action theory (Kadri Vihvelin, Gary Watson),

Jonathan Quong works in political and moral philosophy. His work in political philosophy focuses on three central concepts: public reason, justice, and political legitimacy. He defends the idea that a legitimate state is one that restricts itself to securing and maintaining just conditions, and he defends the further view that conceptions of social justice must meet the condition of being publicly justifiable. These ideas are developed in his monograph, Liberalism Without Perfection (Oxford UP 2010). He is currently working on the morality of defensive harm. This project addresses the following questions, among others: What are the conditions for liability to defensive harm? What makes the imposition of defensive harm proportionate? Are there agent-relative prerogatives to harm innocent people?

Political philosophy and its relation to the law is also strongly represented by Sharon Lloyd, who is one of the leading experts on the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, and by Gregory Keating, of the School of Law, who works on central issues in the philosophy of private law from a Rawlsian perspective. Together with the very strong group of philosophers at USC who work on ethics, practical reason, and metaethics, these scholars cover a wide range of interests in the normative area of philosophy.

 

Philosophy of Language

Led by Scott Soames, Gabriel Uzquiano, John Hawthorne, and Robin Jeshion in philosophy, and complemented by Elena Guerzoni, Roumyana Pancheva, and Barry Scheinin linguistics, USC has a world-class program in the philosophy of language and linguistic semantics.

Soames is one of the leading figures in direct-reference theory, the analysis of propositional attitude constructions, and the theory of structured propositions. He is also recognized for his contributions to the theories of truth, vagueness, and partially defined predicates, and for his explanation of the difference between epistemic and metaphysical modalities. Recently, he has been working on natural kinds, on the metaphysics and epistemology of actuality and possibility, and the language we use to talk about it, and on the relationship between semantic theories of natural language, and pragmatic theories of what is asserted, conveyed and implicated by utterances of natural-language sentences.

Much of Robin Jeshion’s research focuses on questions at the intersection of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language about how our thought about the world is manifested in and contributes to altering semantics and how the meanings of linguistic expressions shape how we think about the world. She has written on the syntactic, semantic, and cognitive role of proper names, descriptions, and other singular terms, and about how spatial representation and perspectival aspects of thought are reflected in language. Jeshion’s most recent research project in this vein explores the semantics and pragmatics of pejoratives, especially slurring terms and other expressions of abuse. On her view, slurring terms conventionally function as expressives to encode speakers’ attitudes of contempt and to define targets’ social identities. She believes this approach helps explain how the meanings of slurs become appropriated and how speech acts with slurs dehumanize and contribute to the oppression of their targets. In addition to work on language and mind, Jeshion also has enduring interests in many areas in epistemology and has written extensively about a priori knowledge, mathematical intuition, and Frege’s logicism.

In addition to teaching their specialties, the USC philosophers of language seek to expand their inquiries by co-teaching with others in related areas. In a graduate seminar offered jointly in the School of Philosophy and the School of Law, Soames teams up with Andrei Marmor in Law, Language, and Interpretation, which applies advances in contemporary philosophy of language to questions of legal philosophy. In the pro-seminar, Soames directs graduate students in a writing-intensive exploration of topics in contemporary metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of language.

 

Metaphysics, Epistemology and Philosophical Logic

With new faculty adding to its previous strength, USC is gaining momentum in the core analytic areas of logic, metaphysics, and epistemology. Recent appointments include Andrew Bacon, John Hawthorne, Shieva Kleinschmidt, Jeffrey Russell, and Gabriel Uzquiano.

Andrew Bacon's long term research projects currently center around three issues: the semantic paradoxes, the paradoxes of vagueness, and the epistemology of conditional thought. In the last project, for instance, he argues against semantics for indicative conditionals that invoke the notion of similarity between worlds. In its stead he develops an alternative possible world semantics which he believes has the ability to explain a number of puzzles relating to indicative conditionals, including the problem of providing an adequate account of their probabilities. In addition to that, he is in the process of finishing a book on vagueness, and is currently working on a smaller project concerning the metaphysics of space and location.

Gabriel Uzquiano's research focuses on questions in the philosophy of mathematics and the interface between philosophical logic and metaphysics. Three recurrent themes in his research in philosophical logic are quantification, paradox, and modality. He is interested in connections between the set-theoretic antinomies, quantification, and modality. He has written on the problem of absolute generality, higher-order logic, and plural quantification. Much of his research in metaphysics has been concerned with questions related to composition. He has explored differences between mereological and non-mereological modes of composition as well as the question of how they interact with location and modality. In the philosophy of mathematics, he has written on indefinite extensibility and the viability of Fregean abstraction principles as an alternative foundation for mathematics.

Shieva Kleinschmidt's research focuses on Mereology, Location, Persistence, and Ontology. She is interested in the relationship between parthood and persistence across space and time, and has written about conflicts between central principles of Mereology and liberal claims about how objects can be extended in time and space. She has also written on the related topics of motion and of what sorts of fundamental kinds of entities exist. In addition to her work in Metaphysics, she has published in Philosophy of Religion, Aesthetics, and Linguistics, and has continuing research interests in those areas.

These additions enhance USC's longstanding representation in these fields. Kadri Vihvelin is a leading expert on the metaphysics of free will and of counterfactuals, whose work also has important ramifications for theories of moral responsibility. James Van Cleve's ground-breaking work, especially on perception, foundationalism, and space and time, has helped shaped current debates in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and metaphysics.

Mark Schroeder is largely concerned with the metaphysics of normativity—what sorts of facts and properties are normative claims about? Jacob Ross and Ralph Wedgwood, who also specialize in normativity and ethics, have significant interests in formal approaches to rationality, including confirmation theory. And Scott Soames is the author of significant work at the intersection of language and metaphysics—for instance, concerning the metaphysics of modality and of natural kinds—and also at the intersection of language and epistemology—for instance, concerning the contingent a priori.

 

The Theory of Action, Moral Psychology, and Philosophy of Mind

The USC the School of Philosophy faculty has a number of philosophers working in the theory of action and moral psychology.

Stephen Finlay - Finlay's research touches the theory of action in his work on normative and explanatory reasons for action and on the role of desire in the motivation of action. He has written on the concept of reasons for action, and he has defended a distinctive view of the distinction between normative reasons for action and explanatory reasons.

Mark Schroeder - Schroeder's interests in action theory include questions about the nature of desire and intention and about what role they play in motivating action. He has written about desires in Slaves of Passion (Oxford UP 2007) and about desire and intention in a number of recent articles.

Kadri Vihvelin - Vihvelin is an expert on the free/will determinism problem. She believes that insights from philosophical accounts of counterfactuals, causation, and dispositions shed light on our understanding of free will and the abilities that constitute agency. She is working on a book that argues that our ordinary view of ourselves as agents with free will is compatible with determinism.

Gary Watson - Watson's work falls mostly under two overlapping areas of enquiry. The first enquiry is how to locate the place of human agency in the natural world. In an obvious way, this is a metaphysical issue, but it is motivated by a skeptical worry about the tenability of understanding ourselves as authors of our conduct--beings to whom this conduct can be attributed. The second area of enquiry concerns the nature of freedom and responsibility. He is currently especially interested in the role of moral agency in a defensible account of criminal law. Many of his papers are collected in Agency and Answerability (Oxford UP 2004).

Janet Levin is well-known for her influential work on phenomenal consciousness and functionalism in the philosophy of mind, as well as on perception and intuition in epistemology.

 

History of Philosophy

Early Modern Philosophy
Edwin McCann is a distinguished scholar of Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, Newton, and Kant. James Van Cleve has done important work on Kant and Thomas Reid. Sharon Lloyd is a leading expert on the philosophy of Hobbes, with interests also in Machiavelli. John Dreher works especially on the philosophy of Hume. In addition, Mark Schroeder has written on the ethical theories of Kant and Cudworth, and Stephen Finlay has written on the ethical views of Hume.

Late 19th/Early 20th Century Philosophy
James Van Cleve has done important work on Kant and Thomas Reid. Sharon Lloyd works also on Mill and Marx. We have particular strength in the history of analytic philosophy; Scott Soames is a leading figure in this area, while George Wilson and Edwin McCann have interests in the work of Wittgenstein.

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