Where were you before coming to Kings?
After finishing my PhD at UC Berkeley, I spent a few years at UCL as a teaching fellow, and some time at Umeå University in Sweden—which by the way is a great place to do philosophy—as a research fellow.
What got you into philosophy?
When I first started as an undergraduate, I thought I’d do a degree in biology. I took a logic course in my first year, though, and that changed everything.
You’ve written about the philosophical implications of language death. What is lost when we lose a language?
There are too many things to list! In the stuff I’ve written on this question, I’ve tried to call attention to some that I think are both particularly important and a bit hard to see. For example, while philosophers mostly reject the idea that there are things you can say in one language that you can’t say in any other, I think there is space open for us to think that there are things you can do in one language that you can’t do in any other. This means that when a language is lost, so is a class of possible actions. Since I think the space of possible things we can do amounts, in a fairly direct way, to the space of people we can be, this is a problematic loss.
Why do you think philosophers have traditionally overlooked this issue?
To be honest, I have often wondered this myself. I imagine it has something to do with the fact that you can more-or-less get by these days speaking only English, and probably something to do with the fact that philosophers tend to think of languages as more-or-less interchangeable signaling systems.
Is there a philosophical idea that you endorse that most people don’t but should?
I’d have to say metasemantic pluralism.
You can find out more about Ethan’s work on his website