Dr Alex Silk

Department of Philosophy
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy

Contact details

ERI Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a Lecturer in Philosophy. Much of my research has investigated how incorporating insights from philosophy of language and linguistics can illuminate broader philosophical debates. My paper "Normative Language in Context" (Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 12, ed. R. Shafer-Landau), which was awarded the Marc Sanders Prize in Metaethics, applies this project to the case of normative language and metaethical debates about moral disagreement, judgment, and truth. In 2016 I completed a book, Discourse Contextualism (OUP), which defends contextualism about a range of expressions that have figured in contextualism/relativism debates (e.g., epistemic and deontic modals, gradable adjectives, and evaluative predicates). Other projects include work on questions, mood, Nietzsche, and vagueness. I am currently completing a book manuscript, Semantics with Assignment Variables, which develops a systematic compositional semantics for various linguistic shifting phenomena, such as with quantifiers, attitude ascriptions, relative clauses, questions, and conditionals (view current draft).


  • PhD in Philosophy (University of Michigan, 2013)
  • MA in Philosophy (University of Michigan, 2010)
  • BA in Philosophy (Wheaton College, 2008)


I joined the Philosophy Department in 2013 after completing my PhD in philosophy at the University of Michigan. My research is primarily in philosophy of language, ethics, and metaethics. In 2018 I finished a 2.5-year AHRC Research Grant with Daniel Rothschild (UCL) on Context-Sensitivity in Natural Language. In 2019–20 I took up a Leverhulme Research Fellowship. My 2016 book, Discourse Contextualism (OUP), defends contextualism about a range of expressions that have figured in contextualism/relativism debates. I am currently working on a systematic compositional semantic framework which posits explicit representations of context in linguistic structure and meaning. My forthcoming book, Semantics with Assignment Variables (CUP), develops the framework and applies it to diverse linguistic shifting phenomena, such as with quantifiers, attitude ascriptions, relative clauses, questions, and conditionals. Other projects include work on adjectives, questions, mood, Nietzsche, and vagueness.


  • Philosophy of Language
  • Nietzsche

Postgraduate supervision

I'm happy to supervise or co-supervise graduate students in philosophy of language, ethics, and metaethics.

Find out more - our PhD Philosophy  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


  • Specializations: Philosophy of Language, Metaethics, Formal Semantics & Pragmatics
  • Competencies: Ethics, Nietzsche, Epistemology, Logic, Philosophy of Law

Grant projects:

  • Leverhulme Research Fellowship: “Context-Sensitivity in Normative Language and Discourse,” 2019–2020
  • AHRC Early Career Research Grant: “Context-Sensitivity in Natural Language,” 2016–2018


Recent publications


Silk, A 2019, Semantics with assignment variables. Cambridge University Press.

Silk, A 2016, Discourse Contextualism: a framework for contextualist semantics and pragmatics. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198783923.001.0001


Silk, A 2019, 'Evaluational Adjectives', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/phpr.12635

Silk, A 2019, 'Expectation biases and context management with negative polar questions', Journal of Philosophical Logic, pp. 1-42. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10992-019-09512-0

Silk, A 2019, 'Theories of vagueness and theories of law', Legal Theory, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 132-152. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1352325219000028

Silk, A 2018, 'Commitment and states of mind with mood and modality', Natural Language Semantics, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 125-166. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11050-018-9144-4

Silk, A 2017, 'How to embed an epistemic modal: attitude problems and other defects of character', Philosophical Studies, vol. 174, no. 7, pp. 1773–1799. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-016-0827-8

Silk, A 2017, 'Modality, Weights, and Inconsistent Premise Sets', Journal of Semantics, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 683-707. https://doi.org/10.1093/jos/ffx014

Silk, A 2016, 'The progressive and verbs of creation', Journal of Semantics, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 19–48. https://doi.org/10.1093/jos/ffu013

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Silk, A 2018, Weak and strong necessity modals: On linguistic means of expressing “a primitive concept ought”. in B Dunaway & D Plunkett (eds), Meaning, decision, and norms: themes from the work of Allan Gibbard. Michigan Publishing.

Silk, A 2017, Normative Language in Context. in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume 12. Oxford University Press.

Silk, A 2016, Normativity in Language and Law. in D Plunkett, S Shapiro & K Toh (eds), Dimensions of Normativity: New Essays on Metaethics and Jurisprudence. Oxford University Press. <http://goo.gl/GSQkZi>


Silk, A 2018, Nietzsche and contemporary metaethics. in P Katsafanas (ed.), The Nietzschean Mind (Routledge philosophical minds). Routledge.

Silk, A 2017, Metaethical Contextualism. in T Mcpherson & D Plunkett (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Metaethics. 1st Edition edn, Routledge, New York, pp. 102-118. <https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9781351817929>

Book/Film/Article review

Silk, A 2016, 'Critical notice: Having it both ways: hybrid theories and modern metaethics', Analysis. https://doi.org/10.1093/analys/anw031

View all publications in research portal