Robert C. Stalnaker (born in 1940) is a Professor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. In 2007, he delivered the John Locke Lectures at Oxford University on the topic of "Our Knowledge of the Internal World."
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. But 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. He earned his BA from Wesleyan University and earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1965. His thesis advisor was Stuart Hampshire, though it is said that he was more 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 the late 1980s. His many students include Jason Stanley, Zoltan Szabo and Delia Graff Fara.
- Ifs: Conditionals, Belief, Decision, Chance, and Time, edited with William Harper and Glenn Pearce. Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1981.
- Inquiry (MIT Press, 1984). ISBN 0-262-69113-2.
- Context and Content: Essays on Intentionality in Speech and Thought (Oxford University Press, 1999). ISBN 0-19-823707-3..
- Fact and Value edited, with Alexander Byrne and Ralph Wedgwood. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000. (Festschrift for Judith Thomson)
- Stalnaker, Robert (2003). Ways a world might be: metaphysical and anti-metaphysical essays. Oxford: Clarendon. ISBN 0-19-925149-5..
- Our Knowledge of the Internal World (Oxford University Press, 2008). ISBN 0-19-954599-5.
- Mere Possibilities. Metaphysical Foundations of Modal Semantics Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2012.