Anthony Nguyen

USC Philosopher


You can find my published papers below:

What’s Positive and Negative About Generics: A Constrained Indexical Approach
Philosophical Studies, 2022 (Coauthor: Junhyo Lee)

Nguyen (2020) introduced the positive data and argued that only his pragmatic account and Sterken’s (2015a) indexical account can accommodate it. In this paper, we will present new data – what we call the negative data – and argue that there is no theory on the market that is compatible with both the positive data and the negative data. We will draw two generalizations from them and develop a novel version of the indexical account that captures both the positive data and the negative data. In particular, we argue that there is a semantic constraint that, in any context, the semantic value of GEN is upward monotone and non-symmetric. Whereas the indexical account can accommodate these data when appropriately modified, the pragmatic account cannot. This is because no pragmatic principles have been developed that can explain the negative data. While we focus on only the pragmatic account and the indexical account, the data and generalizations discussed here are of broad interest, as they must be accommodated by any empirically adequate account of generics.

A Functional Naturalism
Synthese, 2021

I provide two arguments against value-free naturalism. Both are based on considerations concerning biological teleology. Value-free naturalism is the thesis that both (1) everything is, at least in principle, under the purview of the sciences and (2) all scientific facts are purely non-evaluative. First, I advance a counterexample to any analysis on which natural selection is necessary to biological teleology. This should concern the value-free naturalist, since most value-free analyses of biological teleology appeal to natural selection. My counterexample is unique in that it is likely to actually occur. It concerns the creation of synthetic life. Recent developments in synthetic biology suggest scientists will eventually be able to develop synthetic life. Such life, however, would not have any of its traits naturally selected for. Second, I develop a simple argument that biological teleology is a scientific but value-laden notion. Consequently, value-free naturalism is false. I end with some concluding remarks on the implications for naturalism, the thesis that (1). Naturalism may be salvaged only if we reject (2). (2) is a dogma that unnecessarily constrains our conception of the sciences. Only a naturalism that recognizes value-laden notions as scientifically respectable can be true. Such a naturalism is a functional naturalism.

Unable to Do the Impossible
Mind, 2020

Jack Spencer has recently argued for the striking thesis that, possibly, an agent is able to do the impossible—that is, perform an action that is metaphysically impossible for that person to perform. Spencer bases his argument on (Simple G), a case in which it is impossible for an agent G to perform some action but, according to Spencer, G is still intuitively able to perform that action. I reply that we would have to give up at least four action-theoretical principles if we accept that G is able to do the impossible. We may be best off retaining the principles and thus rejecting Spencer’s intuition that G is able to do the impossible. I then consider an argument for the claim that G is able to do the impossible that goes through the Snapshot Principle. I, however, deny that any true variant of the Snapshot Principle shows that G is able to do the impossible. Moreover, the counterexample to the Snapshot Principle that I develop also suggests that G is unable to do the impossible in (Simple G). The most natural explanation for why an agent is unable to perform some action in this counterexample extends to (Simple G). Next, I develop three error theories for why we might initially share Spencer’s intuition that G is able to do the impossible in (Simple G). Finally, I consider a couple other “G-cases” of Spencer’s and find them all wanting. Perhaps we are unable to do the impossible.

The Radical Account of Bare Plural Generics
Philosophical Studies, 2020

Bare plural generic sentences pervade ordinary talk. And yet it is extremely controversial what semantics to assign to such sentences. In this paper, I achieve two tasks. First, I develop a novel classification of the various standard uses to which bare plurals may be put. This “variety data” is important—it gives rise to much of the difficulty in systematically theorizing about bare plurals. Second, I develop a novel account of bare plurals, the radical account. On this account, all bare plurals fail to express propositions. The content of a bare plural has to be pragmatically “completed” by a speaker in order for her to make an assertion. At least the content of a quantifier expression has to be supplied. But sometimes, the content of a sentential operator or modal verb is also supplied. The radical account straightforwardly explains the variety data: Speakers’ communicative intentions vary wildly across different contexts.

Can Hume Deny Reid’s Dilemma?
Hume Studies, 2017

Reid’s dilemma concludes that, whether the idea associated with a denied proposition is lively or faint, Hume is committed to saying that it is either believed or merely conceived. In neither case would there be denial. If so, then Hume cannot give an adequate account of denial. I consider and reject Powell’s suggestion that Hume could have advanced a “Content Contrary” account of denial that avoids Reid’s dilemma. However, not only would a Humean Content Contrary account be viciously circular, textual evidence suggests that Hume did not hold such an account. I then argue that Govier’s distinction between force and vivacity cannot help Hume. Not only did Hume fail to recognize this distinction, we can advance a variant of Reid’s dilemma even if we distinguish force from vivacity.

If you are unable to find the published version of any of my papers, feel free to email me at I’d be happy to share any of them with you.