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John Collins


  • 0.29 Arts and Humanities Building

Personal profile

Areas of Expertise

Chomsky; Chomsky, Noam; Language, Philosophy Of; Science, Philosophy Of; Truth, Concept Of


I became interested in philosophy after reading Nietzsche, an interest that led me to the University of Warwick (1990-93), which had (at that time) a strength in Continental philosophy. Under the guidance of Michael Luntley and David Miller, however, I quickly realised that such philosophy was not for me (the Pauline moment was a Deleuze conference where no one seemed to understand what anyone – including themselves - was saying; worse, no one appeared to mind). During my undergraduate years, I developed an interest in Davidson, the concept of truth, and issues in the philosophy of content and logic. I stayed on at Warwick to do an MA (1993-94), specialising in advanced logic and the philosophy of psychology.

I did a PhD (1995-98) at Birkbeck College, London. My thesis was on two philosophical ideas stemming from Tarski’s foundational work on semantics: deflationism and Davidson’s ‘meaning via truth’ idea. I came down on Davidson’s side, although argued that Tarski’s work itself was neutral as regards the philosophical issues (as Tarski himself would have agreed, I’m sure). I also taught seminars in the philosophy of language, principally on Grice, Davidson, and Dummett.

After my doctorate, I became intrigued by generative linguistics, initially due to an interest in being more rigorous about Davidson’s semantic program, but it quickly became an end in itself. Unable to secure a permanent position, I got by on part-time teaching, including at Warwick, Anglia Polytechnic University (Cambridge), and some A-level colleges. To say that these years were deeply frustrating does not scratch the surface. On the plus side, I was able to develop my interests in my own time and deepen my understanding of current linguistics.

I eventually secured a permanent position at UEA in 2003. I have taught a cluster of units here, but have as my staple, Kant, Logic, and Language in Mind. I currently have three PhD students working on issues at the interface of philosophy and cognitive science.

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To view my publications list, please click here.


Key Research Interests

Researches:Chomsky; the borders between philosophy, linguistics and cognitive science; issues about truth and representation; history and philosophy of science and mathematics.

Research Projects

Philosophy of Language

My principal research focus is in the philosophy of language, with a particular accent on the relation between syntactic theory and (i) traditional philosophical debates about the nature of the proposition and (ii) the role of context in communication. My monograph (The Unity of Linguistic Meaning).

Philosophy of Linguistics

My work in this area can be divided into two overlapping areas. Firstly, there are a bunch of issues in Chomsky interpretation and the history of the field. My monograph on Chomsky (Chomsky: A Guide for the Perplexed) deals with these issues at length, as do a number of my papers. Secondly, I am concerned to clarify and defend internalism about language and  a deflationary attitude towards knowledge of language.

The Concept of Truth

More or less independent of this work, I have kept up an interest in the concept of truth. I think something is profoundly mistaken about deflationism, although I don’t want to commend any of the standard alternatives. My thought is that the concept of truth allows us to indulge in different kinds of metarepresentational thinking rather than it being merely some generalisation device. I have elaborated on this theme in a number of papers.

Philosophy of Science

I have a keen interest in a range of issues in the philosophy of science, especially the cognitive basis of science and the correct understanding of the notion of naturalism. I defend what I term meta-scientific eliminativism, a grand term for the simple thought that successful science typically leaves behind or is anyhow unconstrained by our given categories of understanding. This attitude animates much of my work in the philosophy of linguistics.

Philosophy of Cognitive Science

Here I am concerned with the clarification of the notions of modularity, nativism, and computation. I think that the first and the last notions should be understand in much more abstract a way than is typical among philosophers. As for nativism, I think it amounts to not much more than the adoption of a biophysical perspective on the given phenomenon, i.e., it is not a epistemological thesis.

Teaching Interests

Teaches: logic, philosophy of  language, history of philosophy, philosophy of science, aesthetics

Administrative Posts

Dr Collins is Head of the School of Philosophy.