B.A., McGill University; Ph.D., Harvard University
Catherine WearingAssociate Professor of Philosophy
Researches at the intersection of philosophy of language and cognitive science, focusing especially on figurative language.
Shakespeare's Romeo is well-known for having said of his beloved, Juliet, that she is the sun. This is an odd thing to say yet we have no particular difficulty understanding what Romeo meant. My research focuses on how we understand such figurative utterances. I take a thoroughly interdisciplinary approach in my research, aiming to develop philosophical models and theories which are responsive to empirical work in linguistics and psychology. For example, I have argued against the view that we use pretense to understand metaphors and idioms by drawing on both empirical and philosophical arguments to show that pretending and speaking figuratively are less closely related than one might think. I have also written about the difficulties that people with autism tend to have with metaphorical language, examining how the pattern of impairments they exhibit might be accounted for even if we treat metaphors as importantly similar to literal utterances. I am currently pursuing a 'dual-process' hypothesis about metaphorical language, in collaboration with colleagues in linguistics at University College London. The central idea of our project is that two distinct comprehension mechanisms are required to account for the full range of cases of metaphor. This research is funded by the Leverhulme Trust (UK).
I teach courses in the philosophy of mind and language, including upper-level seminars on innate knowledge and the relations between language and thought. I also teach courses in epistemology and the philosophy of science from both traditional and feminist perspectives. At least once each year, I re-connect with my undergraduate past as a mathematics major by teaching logic. I also teach a first-year seminar on the nature and value of friendship.
I am a member of the Workshop on Gender and Philosophy (WOGAP) at MIT and the Wellesley Cognitive Science Reading Group.
In my spare time, I like to be outside -- hiking, climbing, skiing, kayaking, biking, or otherwise playing in the woods. If obliged to stay indoors, I’m probably drinking tea and reading a mystery novel.