The Home Page of Elisabeth Camp
Who Am I?

Who and Where Am I?

Contact Information

426 Cohen Hall
Department of Philosophy

University of Pennsylvania
249 South 36th Street

Philadelphia PA 19104-6304

215.898.5805 (phone)

215.898.5576 (fax)

Philosophical Interests

My research focuses on thoughts and utterances that don't fit standard propositional models.  My research thus lies in the overlap between philosophy of mind and philosophy of language, with special attention to topics that intersect with aesthetics. 

First, I am especially interested in cognitive "perspectives", in which one thought structures our overall understanding of a topic in a way that's similar to the way a concept like duck or rabbit can structure our perceptual experience.  I've thought most about perspectives in our understanding of metaphor and fiction, but I'm also working on other poetic, perspectival uses of language, and on the role of perspectives in the emotions and in the construction of a self. 

Second, I am working on developing an account of concepts and thought on which they are in principle independent of language.  Concepts, I think, importantly involve systematic recombinability and stimulus independence.  Human linguistic thought strongly exemplifies these features, but I argue that they can also be achieved in non-human animals and in thought that exploits a cartographic, rather than sentential, format. 

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 been considering how figurative language pushes us to reconsider standard ways of drawing those distinctions.  Here again, my focus has largely been on metaphor, but I am also working on sarcasm, and on slurs.


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 Harvard, in the Society of Fellows, and joined the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania in the Fall of 2006. At Penn, I am also affiliated with the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science, and with the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.  In 2010-2011, I am on leave thanks to the ACLS Ryskamp Fellowship

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.

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Papers on Metaphor, Fiction, and Imagination
* "Two Varieties of Literary Imagination: Metaphor, Fiction, and Thought Experiments" Midwest Studies in Philosophy: Poetry and Philosophy
XXXIII, 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"
I take up three puzzles about our emotional and evaluative responses to fiction which have been discussed, largely separately, by philosophers: the puzzles of fictional emotions, of imaginative resistance, and of alternative personality. Solving these puzzles requires the notion of a “perspective” on a fictional world.  I argue that an analogy to metaphor helps to clarify this intuitive but frustratingly amorphous notion.  Perspectives are tools for organizing our thinking, which in turn produce certain emotional and evaluative responses. Cultivating a perspective can be illuminating, entertaining, or corrupting — or all three at once.

* "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 Metaphor, Sarcasm, and the Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction
* "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.

* "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.

* "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.

* "Sarcasm, Pretense, and The Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction" (forthcoming in Nous, December 2012)
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 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. 

Surveys of Metaphor
* "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.

Papers on Concepts, Animals, and the Format of Thought
* "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.

* 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.

*  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.

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Courses (syllabi in .pdf; handouts and readings for current classes on Blackboard)

* Philosophy 80: Philosophy of Art

* Philosophy 205: What is Meaning?

* Philosophy 244: Philosophy of Mind

* Philosophy 344: Wittgenstein

* Philosophy 405: Philosophy of Language

* Graduate Seminar: Concepts

* Graduate Seminar: Aspects

* Graduate Seminar: Expressivism and Slurs
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* American Philosophical Association

* American Society for Aesthetics

* Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

* AskPhilosophers

* Semantics Archive

* Philosophy Papers Online

* Online Papers in Philosophy

* Chalmers' Bibliography of Philosophy of Mind

* Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind


* National Forum on the Future of Liberal Education

* Arts & Letters Daily

* Science Daily

* Language Log

* Favorite Poem Project

* Leite's Culinaria

* Dmitri's Webpage

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© 2008 Elisabeth Camp; last modified: 21 March 2011