Robert Culp Stalnaker (born 1940) is an American philosopher who is Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.
Robert Culp Stalnaker
January 22, 1940
|Thesis||Historical Interpretation (1965)|
|Doctoral advisor||Stuart Hampshire|
|School or tradition||Analytic philosophy|
|Notable students||Zoltán Gendler Szábo|
Stalnaker was born on January 22, 1940. He earned his BA from Wesleyan University, and his PhD from Princeton University in 1965. His thesis advisor was Stuart Hampshire, though he was strongly influenced by another faculty member, Carl Hempel. Stalnaker taught briefly at Yale University and the University of Illinois, and then for many years at the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University before joining the MIT faculty in 1988. He retired from MIT in 2016. His many students include Jason Stanley, Zoltán Gendler Szábo, and Delia Graff Fara.
In 2007, Stalnaker delivered the John Locke Lectures at Oxford University on the topic of "Our Knowledge of the Internal World". In 2017, he delivered the Casalegno Lectures at the University of Milan on "Counterfactuals and Practical Reason".
His work concerns, among other things, the philosophical foundations of semantics, pragmatics, philosophical logic, decision theory, game theory, the theory of conditionals, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind. All of these interests are in the service of addressing the problem of intentionality, "what it is to represent the world in both speech and thought". In his work, he seeks to provide a naturalistic account of intentionality, characterizing representation in terms of causal and modal notions.
Along with Saul Kripke, David Lewis, and Alvin Plantinga, Stalnaker has been one of the most influential theorists exploring philosophical aspects of possible world semantics. According to his view of possible worlds, they are ways this world could have been, which in turn are maximal properties that this world could have had. This view distinguishes him from the influential modal realist Lewis, who argued that possible worlds are concrete entities just like this world.
In addition to his contributions to the metaphysics of possible worlds, he has used the apparatus of possible worlds semantics to explore many issues in the semantics of natural language, including counterfactual and indicative conditionals, and presupposition. His view of assertion as narrowing the conversational common ground to exclude situations in which the asserted content is false was a major impetus in recent developments in semantics and pragmatics, in particular, the so-called "dynamic turn".
Stalnaker is the author of four books and dozens of articles in major philosophical journals.
My philosophical preoccupation has been, and continues to be, the problem of intentionality the problem of saying what it is to represent the world in both speech and thought. The problem expands, since one can never fully disentangle questions about the nature of representation from questions about the nature of what is represented. We can describe and think about the world only with the materials we find in it.