Jeff Speaks
Professor of Philosophy
University of Notre Dame 
100 Malloy Hall 
Notre Dame, IN 46556
office: 205 Malloy Hall

office hours: by appointment while on leave in 2015-16


Is there a problem about nonconceptual content?
In the past twenty years, issues about the relationship between perception and thought have largely been framed in terms of the question of whether the contents of perception are nonconceptual. I argue that this debate has rested on an ambiguity in `nonconceptual content' and some false presuppositions about what is required for concept possession. Once these are cleared away, I argue that none of the arguments which have been advanced about nonconceptual content do much to threaten the natural view that perception and thought are relations to the same kind of content.
Is mental content prior to linguistic meaning?
Since the 1960's, work in the analytic tradition on the nature of mental and linguistic content has converged on the views that social facts about public language meaning are derived from facts about the thoughts of individuals, and that these thoughts are constituted by properties of the internal states of agents. I give a two-part argument against this picture of intentionality: first, that if mental content is prior to public language meaning, then a view of mental content much like the causal-pragmatic theory presented by Robert Stalnaker in Inquiry must be correct; second, that the causal-pragmatic theory is false. I conclude with some positive suggestions regarding alternative solutions to the `problem of intentionality.
Transparency, intentionalism, and the nature of perceptual content
I argue that the transparency of experience provides the basis of arguments both for intentionalism -- understood as the view that there is a necessary connection between perceptual content and perceptual phenomenology -- and for the view that the contents of perceptual experiences are Russellian propositions. While each of these views is popular, there are apparent tensions between them, and some have thought that their combination is unstable. In the second half of the paper, I respond to these worries by arguing that Russellianism is consistent with intentionalism, that their conjunction is consistent with both internalism about phenomenology and externalism about perceptual content, and that the resulting view receives independent support from the relationship between hallucination and thought.
Attention and intentionalism
Many alleged counterexamples to intentionalism -- the view that the phenomenology of perceptual experiences of a given sense modality supervene on the contents of experiences of that modality -- can be avoided by adopting a liberal view of the sorts of properties that can be represented in perceptual experience. I argue that there is a class of counterexamples to intentionalism, based on shifts in attention from one aspect of a represented scene to another, which avoids this response. We can preserve the idea that there is a necessary connection between the contents and phenomenal characters of perceptual experiences via a distinction between perceptual phenomenology and the phenomenology of attention; but, even if this distinction is viable, these cases put surprising pressure on the thesis that phenomenal character can, in general, be explained in terms of mental representation.
Explaining the disquotational principle
Questions about the relationship between thought and language, while central to an understanding of the nature of intentionality, are often obscure. I suggest that such questions be framed by asking whether necessary truths which connect mental and linguistic properties are to be explained in terms of the essence of the mental, or of the linguistic, properties. I argue, first, that the disquotational principle, which connects the contents of the beliefs of agents with the meanings of sentences of their language, is such a necessary truth; second, that its necessity requires explanation; third, that it cannot be explained in terms of the `interdependence' of meaning and belief; and fourth, that it cannot be explained in terms of a theory of meaning which takes the meanings of sentences to be inherited from the beliefs with which they are correlated. I conclude by arguing that the view that social facts about public language meaning are part of the story about what it is to have a belief with a given content is more plausible than is usually thought.
Spectrum inversion without a difference in representation is impossible
Even if spectrum inversion of various sorts is possible, spectrum inversion without a difference in representation is not. So spectrum inversion does not pose a challenge for the intentionalist thesis that, necessarily, within a given sense modality, if two experiences are alike with respect to content, they are also alike with respect to their phenomenal character. On the contrary, reflection on variants of standard cases of spectrum inversion provides a strong argument for intentionalism. Depending on one's views about the possibility of various other sorts of spectrum inversion, the impossibility of spectrum inversion without difference in representation can also be used as an argument against a wide variety of reductive theories of mental represention.
What are debates about qualia really about?
This is the written version of a reply to Michael Tye's "Transparency, Qualia Realism, and Representationalism," given at the 40th Oberlin Colloquium in Philosophy. It argues that, given one standard way of understanding these theses, qualia realism is trivially true and transparency theses are trivially false. I also discuss four objections to Tye's claim that the phenomenal character of the experience of red just is redness, and conclude by arguing that philosophers of perception should state their claims as about the properties of subjects of experience rather than as about the properties of experiences themselves.
Is phenomenal character out there in the world?
In recent work, Michael Tye has criticized a certain sort of representationalist view of experience for holding that phenomenal characters are properties of experiences. Instead, Tye holds that phenomenal character is 'out there in the world.' This paper has two aims. One is to argue for the somewhat surprising conclusion that Tye’s apparently radical new view is not a change in view at all, but a notational variant of a standard representationalist theory. My more general aim, though, is to lay out a bit more clearly than is usually done the basic metaphysics of representationalist views of consciousness. In the end, what I argue is that unclarity on this score is what has permitted the choice between standard representationalist theories and Tye’s new position to appear to be something more than a verbal question. I conclude by discussing the bearing of this on the question of whether we can be aware of phenomenal character in introspection, and the relative importance of properties of subjects and properties of experiences in the theory of consciousness.
Content and the explanatory role of experience
forthcoming in Singular Thought and Mental Files, James Genone, Rachel Goodman, & Nick Kroll, eds. (Oxford U.P.). | penultimate draft |
It is widely held — I think correctly — that having certain sorts of perceptual experiences can explain one’s ability to have certain sorts of thoughts. It is also widely held — I think incorrectly — that we can use this fact about the relationship between perception and thought to show that perception and thought differ in certain fundamental ways. Some hold that the explanatory role of experience shows that experiences, unlike thoughts, are not contentful states; others hold that it shows that experiences, unlike thoughts, are nonconceptual. I argue that these theses can’t be established by arguments based on premises requiring experience to play certain explanatory roles. I consider three arguments of this form, which appeal, respectively, to the requirements that experience explain our capacity for singular thought, that it explain the reference of certain demonstrative concepts, and that it explain our ability to learn new concepts. In the last section, I present some more constructive thoughts about what the explanatory role of experience might tell us about the scope of perceptual representation.
Truth theories, translation manuals, and theories of meaning
In "Truth and Meaning", Davidson suggested that a truth theory can do the work of a theory of meaning: it can give the meanings of expressions of a language, and can explain the semantic competence of speakers of the language by stating information knowledge of which would suffice for competence. From the start, this program faced certain fundamental objections. One response to these objections has been to supplement the truth theory with additional rules of inference (e.g. from T-sentences to meaning theorems). I argue that these modifications of Davidson's original idea fail to solve the problems with Davidsonian semantics, and that the prospects for a solution to these problems within the Davidsonian framework are dim. A general lesson to be drawn is that Davidsonian theories do not provide a viable alternative to Russellian and Fregean approaches to semantics which recognize the reality of language-independent contents.
Conversational implicature, thought, and communication
Some linguistic phenomena can occur in uses of language in thought, whereas others only occur in uses of language in communication. I argue that this distinction can be used as a test for whether some phenomenon can be explained via Grice's theory of conversational implicature (or any theory similarly based on principles governing conversation). I argue further, on the basis of this test, that conversational implicature cannot be used to explain quantifier domain restriction, apparent substitution failures involving coreferential names, or metaphor, but that it can be used to explain the the phenomenon of referential uses of definite descriptions. I conclude with a brief discussion of the relevance of this to the semantics/pragmatics distinction.
The normativity of content and 'the Frege point'
In "Assertion," Geach identified failure to attend to the distinction between meaning and speech act as a source of philosophical errors. I argue that failure to attend to this distinction, along with the parallel distinction between attitude and content, has been behind the idea that meaning and content are, in some sense, normative. By an argument parallel to Geach's argument against performative analyses of "good," we can show that the phenomena identified by theorists of the normativity of content are properties in the first instance of speech act and propositional attitude types, rather than content as such.
The epistemic argument and epistemic two-dimensionalism
One of Kripke’s fundamental objections to descriptivism was that the theory misclassifies certain a posteriori propositions expressed by sentences involving names as a priori. Though nowadays very few philosophers would endorse a descriptivism of the sort that Kripke criticized, many find two-dimensionalism attractive as a kind of successor theory. Because two-dimensionalism needn’t be a form of descriptivism, it is not open to the epistemic argument as formulated by Kripke; but the most promising versions of two-dimensionalism are open to a close relative of that argument.
Introduction, transmission, and the foundations of meaning
New Waves in the Philosophy of Language, ed. Sarah Sawyer (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010) 226-249 | penultimate draft |
The most widely accepted and well worked out approaches to the foundations of meaning take facts about the meanings of linguistic expressions at a time to be derivative from the propositional attitudes of speakers of the language at that time. This mentalist strategy takes two principal forms, one which traces meaning to belief, and one which analyzes it in terms of communicative intentions. I argue that either form of mentalism fails, and conclude by suggesting that we can do better by focusing on connections between linguistic meaning and the contents of perceptions (rather than beliefs or intentions), and by (following Kripke's approach to reference) replacing questions about the nature of meaning with questions about the nature of term introduction and meaning transmission.
Millian descriptivism defended
In "Millian Descriptivism," Ben Caplan argued that the conjunction of Millianism with the view that utterances of sentences involving names often pragmatically convey descriptively enriched propositions is vulnerable to Kripke's arguments against classical descriptivism. I argue that, given some plausible assumptions about pragmatics and semantics, this is not true.
Frege's puzzle and descriptive enrichment
Millians sometimes claim that we can explain the fact that sentences like "If Hesperus exists, then Hesperus is Phosphorus" seem a posteriori to speakers in terms of the fact that utterances of sentences of this sort would typically pragmatically convey propositions which really are a posteriori. I argue that this kind of pragmatic explanation of the seeming a posterioricity of sentences of this sort fails. The main reason is that for every sentence like the above which (by Millian lights) is a priori, seems a posteriori to most speakers, and would typically be used to convey a posteriori propositions, there is another which (again, by Millian lights) is a priori, seems a posteriori to most speakers, but can only typically be used to convey a priori propositions.
A Companion to Davidson, ed. Ernie LePore and Kirk Ludwig (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 328-338 | penultimate draft |
I discuss Davidson's answer to the "problem of predication" -- i.e., the problem of explaining the difference between strings of words which can be true or false, and those which cannot. I also discuss Davidson's opposition to views which try to explain predication in terms of propositions, and his view that the problem of the unity of the proposition is insoluble.
Individuating Fregean sense
Even though it is highly controversial whether Frege’s criterion of sameness and difference for sense is true, it is uncontroversial that that principle is inconsistent with Millian-Russellian views of content. I argue that this should not be uncontroversial. The reason is that it is surprisingly difficult to come up with an interpretation of Frege’s criterion which implies anything substantial about the sameness or difference of content of anything.
No easy argument for two-dimensionalism
In 'Epistemic two-dimensionalism and the epistemic argument,' I argued that epistemic two-dimensionalism misclassifies certain intuitively a posteriori sentences as a priori. In ‘Epistemic two-dimensionalism and arguments from epistemic misclassification,’ Edward Elliott, Kelvin McQueen, and Clas Weber argued that (i) no argument of this form could succeed against epistemic two-dimensionalism, and (ii) a certain sort of epistemic two-dimensionalist could resist my argument for the conclusion that the relevant sentences are a priori. I reply to (i) and (ii) and defend some of the assumptions made in my original paper.
The role of speaker and hearer in the character of demonstratives
forthcoming in Mind | penultimate draft |
Demonstratives have different semantic values relative to different contexts of utterance. But it is surprisingly difficult to describe the function from contexts to contents (i.e., the character) which determines the semantic value of a given use of a demonstrative. It is very natural to think that the intentions of the speaker should play a significant role here. The aim of this paper is to discuss a pair of problems that arise for views which give intentions this central role in explaining the characters of demonstratives. As will emerge, these problems lead quickly to a foundational question about the semantics of demonstratives and many other context-sensitive expressions: the question of whether, in explaining their characters, we need to understand them as sensitive, not just to facts about the psychology of the speaker of the context, but also to facts about the audience of the context. I critically examine Jeffrey King’s theory of demonstratives, which answers this question in the affirmative, and argue that it ultimately collapses into a purely speaker-based view of the character of demonstratives. I then show how to develop a much simpler speaker-based theory which both handles all of the cases handled by King’s theory and avoids some of the more serious problems which King’s theory faces. Toward the end I consider how we might solve the very difficult problems which result from cases in which speakers use demonstratives with conflicting referential intentions.
A puzzle about demonstratives and semantic competence
in progress | penultimate draft
My aim in this paper is to lay out a number of theses which are very widely held in contemporary philosophy of language and linguistics, and to argue that, given some extra theses for which I'll argue, they are inconsistent. The widely held theses concern the nature of our semantic competence, and the explanation of this semantic competence in terms of mastery of a compositional semantic theory. The theses for which I argue concern, first, parallels between our semantic competence and our knowledge of the semantic values of indexicals in contexts and, second, the difficult of giving a theory of the character of indexicals which could explain this parallel.
On possibly nonexistent propositions
Alvin Plantinga gave a reductio of the conjunction of the following three theses: Existentialism (the view that, e.g., the proposition that Socrates exists can't exist unless Socrates does), Serious Actualism (the view that nothing can have a property at a world without existing at that world) and Contingency (the view that some objects, like Socrates, exist only contingently). I argue that his reductio can be resisted by an Existentialist who pays close attention to the distinction between contexts of utterance and circumstances of evaluation.
Complex acts and the unity of the proposition
in progress | penultimate draft |
I explain one clear thing which 'the problem of the unity of the proposition' might mean, and show why that problem arises, in a way which has not been noticed, for act theories of propositions of the sort defended by Peter Hanks and Scott Soames. I argue that the problem, once noticed, is difficult to solve.
Foreknowledge, evil, and compatibility arguments
Many of the most interesting, and most debated, questions in the philosophy of religion are questions about compatibility. Most arguments against the existence of a necessarily existing, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent being take the form of arguments from inconsistency of the existence of such a being with various apparent features of the world, such as the existence of evil or of human free will. In response, believers in the existence of such a being have sought to show that the existence of such a being is, in fact, compatible with such features of the world. However, the fact that the proposition that God exists is necessary if possible introduces some underappreciated difficulties for these arguments. I illustrate these difficulties by consideration of Warfield's argument for the compatibility of free will and divine foreknowledge, and Plantinga's argument that God's existence is compatible with the existence of evil. I argue that both arguments fail to establish their intended conclusions, before turning to the question of what compatibility arguments of this sort might show.
The method of perfect being theology
Perfect being theology is the attempt to decide questions about the nature of God by employing the Anselmian formula that God is the greatest possible being. One form of perfect being theology - recently defended by Brian Leftow in God and Necessity - holds that we can decide between incompatible claims that God is F and that God is not F by asking which claim would confer more greatness on God, and then using the formula that God the greatest possible being to rule out the one which confers less greatness on God. This paper argues that this form of argument, while intuitively quite plausible, does not work.
Permissible tinkering with the concept of God
in progress | penultimate draft |
Typically, arguments against the existence of God aim to demonstrate that some property F is not instantiated, where F is typically counted among the divine attributes. In response to arguments of this form — as well as in response to perceived conflicts between divine attributes — theists face pressure to give up some pre-theoretically attractive thesis about the divine attributes. In response, theists have two options: they can try to find some flaw in the argument in question, or they can accept its conclusion and simply revise their view of God. Some examples of the second strategy are well known. We might, for instance, weaken our view of God’s power in response to perceived conflicts with the necessitation of the law of non-contradiction, or with God’s essential goodness; and we might weaken our view of God’s knowledge in response to perceived conflicts with the existence of freedom of the will, or with the existence of essentially first-personal propositions. This is always a risky strategy, for one always runs the risk of unacceptably watering down the concept of God. It would be nice to have some principled way of thinking about this topic — some principled way of deciding whether a given way of revising our views of the divine attributes is, as Peter van Inwagen nicely puts it, ‘permissible tinkering’ with the concept of God, and when it is not. Here it is very natural to — as van Inwagen and others have done — appeal to the Anselmian claim that God is the greatest possible being. This claim is often said to, in some sense, express our concept of God; and, if this is true, it seems as though examination of the notion of a greatest possible being ought to help us figure out when some claim about God contradicts the core of our conception of God. The aim of this paper to point out some difficulties which attend this initially promising strategy.
The Greatest Possible Being
book project, in progress |
Coming soon.
Coming soon.



n leave.

On leave.
An introduction to compositional semantics
The existence of God; the nature of persons; the question of what is real; ethics
Paradoxes of space & time, metaphysics, theology, rationality, and logic
The existence of God; the rationality of religious belief; problems in philosophical theology
An introduction to compositional semantics
The attributes of God; the trinity; the incarnation; the atonement; original sin; life after death.
Paradoxes of space & time, metaphysics, theology, ethics, decision theory, and logic
The metaphysics of phenomenal properties

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n leave.
The existence of God, free will, dualism vs. materialism vs. idealism, & ethics
Paradoxes of physics, metaphysics, theology, decision theory, and logic
The existence of God, minds & persons, the relation of mind to world, & ethics
Intentional action, believing at will, free will, agent causation, and the compatibility of free will with determinism & divine foreknowledge
Metaphysics of propositions & the foundations of meaning
The mind/body problem, personal identity, & immortality
The design argument and the problem of evil
Introduction to semantics, two-dimensionalism, & theories of content
Courses taught at McGill:
co-taught with Jim McGilvray
Intentionalism, the nature of perceptual content, phenomenal character
Russell, Moore, Ayer, Quine
The relationship between intentional action and mental states
Moore, Russell, Wittgenstein, Ayer, Quine
Self-knowledge, externalism, & functionalism