The Self

David Balcarras

I’m a Lecturer in Philosophy and a Digital Learning Fellow at MIT, where I got my PhD in September 2020. I work on philosophy of language and mind, metaphysics, and philosophy of science, with current projects on metasemantics and the foundations of linguistics.

I also work on natural language semantics (neo-Davidsonian event semantics), and on questions in the history of analytic philosophy, the philosophy of sociology, and action theory.

In Fall 2023, I’m teaching Minds and Machines, an introduction to philosophy of mind and artificial intelligence, which I am also running as a free philosophy MOOC on MITx Online, Minds and Machines, along with Paradox and Infinity, a course on the intersection of philosophy and mathematics.

Follow me on philpeople or email me: .


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Lecturer in Philosophy in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy
Fellow in the MITx Digital Learning Lab



PhD in Philosophy, MIT (2020)
MA in Philosophy, University of Toronto (2014)
BA (Hons) in Philosophy, University of Toronto Scarborough (2013)



"Is meaning cognized?" Mind & Language [abstract] [.pdf]

In this article, I defend an account of linguistic comprehension on which meaning is not cognized, or on which we do not tacitly know our language's semantics. On this view, sentence comprehension is explained instead by our capacity to translate sentences into the language of thought. I explain how this view can explain our capacity to correctly interpret novel utterances, and then I defend it against several standing objections.

"What is it to have a language?" Pacific Phil. Quarterly [abstract] [.pdf]

This article defends the view that having a language just is knowing how to engage in communication with it. It also argues that, despite claims to the contrary, this view is compatible and complementary with the Chomskyan conception of language on which humans have languages in virtue of being in brain states realizing tacit knowledge of grammars for those languages.

"Fuctionalism and tacit knowledge of grammar" Phil. Perspectives [abstract] [.pdf]

In this article, I argue that if tacit knowledge of grammar is analyzable in functional-computational terms, then it cannot ground linguistic meaning, structure, or sound. If to know or cognize a grammar is to be in a certain computational state playing a certain functional role, there can be no unique grammar cognized. Satisfying the functional conditions for cognizing a grammar G entails satisfying those for cognizing many grammars disagreeing with G about expressions' semantic, phonetic, and syntactic values. This threatens the Chomskyan view that expressions have such values for speakers because they cognize grammars assigning them those values. For if this is true, semantics, syntax, and phonology must be indeterminate, thanks to the indeterminacy of grammar-cognizing (qua functional-computational state). So, the fact that a speaker cognizes a grammar cannot explain the determinate character of their language.

In progress

[A paper on the metaphysics of public languages]
[A paper on what it is for a system to compute a grammar]
[A paper on the epistemology of meaning]
[A paper on the metaphysics of speech]
[A paper on adverbs of quantification]
[A paper on static versus dynamic theories of meaning]
[A paper on the 'meaning without use' problem]

for drafts.


Foster on sustainment
David Lewis autocitation network (with Benj Hellie)
Assorted philosophy audiovisuals