Comments are welcome.
Philosophy of mind
Is there a problem about nonconceptual content?
Philosophical Review 114:3 (2005), 359-398.
Abstract. 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?
Noûs 40:3 (2006), 428-467.
Abstract. 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
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 79:3 (2009), 539-573.
Abstract. 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
Philosophical Quarterly 60:239 (2010), 325-342.
Abstract. 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
Canadian Journal of Philosophy 40:2 (2010), 211-238.
Abstract. 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
Philosophical Studies 156:3 (2011), 339-361.
Abstract. 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?
forthcoming in Philosophical Studies.
Abstract. 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 peception should state their claims as about the properties of subjects of experience rather than as about the properties of experiences themselves.
Transparency and Availability
An in-progress book ms. on the philosophy of perception mainly about the nature of phenomenal properties, the nature of representational properties, and the relations between the two.
Philosophy of language
Truth theories, translation manuals, and theories of meaning
Linguistics & Philosophy 29:4 (2006), 487-505.
Abstract. 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
Mind & Language 23:1 (2008), 107-122.
Abstract. 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'
European Journal of Philosophy 17:3 (2009), 405-415.
Abstract. 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
Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88:1 (2010), 59-78.
Abstract. 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.
Abstract. 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
Philosophical Studies 149:2 (2010), 201-208.
Abstract. 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
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 83:2 (2011), 267-282.
Abstract. 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
forthcoming in A Companion to Davidson, ed. Ernie LePore and Kirk Ludwig (Wiley-Blackwell).
Abstract. 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.
Speaker and hearer in the character of demonstratives
Abstract. Like pure indexicals (‘I’, ‘now’), demonstratives have different semantic values relative to different contexts of utterance. It is pretty easy to describe the function from contexts to contents (i.e., the character) which determines the semantic value of a given use of 'I.' But it is (as the length of this paper attests) surprisingly difficult to give the character of demonstratives. In this paper I begin with some criticisms of Jeff King's recent attempt (in "Speaker intentions in context") to solve this problem, and then go on to defend a positive theory of demonstratives. Toward the end I consider how we might solve the difficult problems which result from cases in which speakers use demonstratives with conflicting referential intentions. (Work in progress)
Metaphysics of propositions
New Thinking About Propositions
with Jeff King and Scott Soames, forthcoming with Oxford University Press.
This is a book about the metaphysics of structured propositions (under contract with Oxford University Press). A table of contents, with links to drafts of some of my contributions to the book is below:
On possibly nonexistent propositions
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 85:3 (2012), 528-562.
Abstract. 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.
Philosophy of religion
Foreknowledge, evil, and compatibility arguments
Faith & Philosophy 28:3 (2011), 269-293.
Abstract. 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.
Encyclopedia entries ↓
Encyclopedia entries ↑
In the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences (Cambridge University Press: 2010).
Theories of meaning
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy .
Abstract. I distinguish two different types of theory of meaning --- semantic theories, which pair expressions of a language with their meanings, and foundational theories of meaning, which identify the facts in virtue of which expressions have the meanings that they do. I survey the main approaches to each.
Book reviews ↓
Book reviews ↑
Review of Donald Davidson, Truth & Predication
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2006.08.06.
Review of Stewart Candlish, The Russell/Bradley Dispute and its Significance for Twentieth-Century Philosophy
Australasian Journal of Philosophy 86:3 (2008), 509-512.
Review of David Chalmers, The Character of Consciousness
forthcoming in the Philosophical Review.
Talks & replies ↓
Talks & replies ↑
Against the new Fregeanism.
A handout for a talk given in various places about epistemic two-dimensionalism, considered as a semantic hypothesis. It may eventually become a real paper.
An argument against phenomenism, Fregeanism, and appearance property-ism.
A handout for a talk given in various places which is what its title says it is. It covers material which is now part of a book manuscript.
Can we explain linguistic representation in terms of perceptual representation?
A paper for the NYU Mind & Language Seminar which will probably never be anything other than that.
Some thoughts about hallucination, self-representation, and 'There it is'
forthcoming in Phenomenology and the Neurophilosophy of Conciousness, ed. R. Brown (Springer).
Analyticity and direct reference: Comments on Gillian Russell's Truth in Virtue of Meaning
For an "author meets critics" session at the 2012 Central APA.
Other stuff ↓
Other stuff ↑
Three Views of Language and the Mind.
My (2003) dissertation, some of which I still think is true.
Facts, properties, and the nature of the proposition
Abstract. I argue that the best way to solve the problem of the relationship between propositions and their constituents is to think of propositions as properties of possible worlds. I argue that this view preserves the strengths and avoids some of the weaknesses of the views of the proposition as a kind of fact defended by Jeff King in his The Nature and Structure of Content. I no longer think that this view is right, so it will probably never advance beyond this web page, but since it has been cited a few times, it might as well live here.