Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mind Workshop, Winter Quarter

The first meeting of the Philosophy of Mind Workshop in the Winter Quarter will be Wednesday, January 11th.

As soon as I know what pages Jason is going to assign, I will post that info here.

Prof. Thomas Baldwin, of the University of York, has agreed to speak to the workshop on May 10. His topic will be direct realism in perception.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Making It Explicit, Chapter 2, Parts IV & V

It has turned wintery in Hyde Park.

Wednesday was the last meeting of the Philosophy of Mind Workshop this quarter. After discussing Chris Ferro's paper "The Normativity of the Mental", we turned to Making It Explicit, Chapter 2, parts IV and V.

PART I: The Set Up

We had a full workshop tonight. David F. got things moving with a quick summary of the most important topics in the sections we read:

1. Conceptual content: Brandom wants to understand conceptual content as inferential role, and he claims both Sellars and (more surprisingly) the early Frege as inferentialist forebearers. This way of understanding conceptual content is meant to contrast with a "representationalist" understanding of content, which would have us understand content as deriving from some relation between the constituents of content and things in the world (objects and properties, for example).

2. The inferences that are constitutive of content should be understand as material, rather than formal, inferences. There are inferential transitions between sentences we make in ordinary practice whose goodness does not need to be underwritten by a supressed conditional. For example, "If it's raining, the streets will be wet" or "Today's Tuesday, so tomorrow will be Wednesday".

3. Logic should be understood as playing an expressive role, making explicit the commitments that we implicitly undertake in our pre-reflective inferential practices. We shouldn't think of formal logic as somehow "standing behind" or already implicitly involved in our ordinary inferences. Logic is the device of semantic self-consciousness (and not, e.g. a necessary condition for thought as such).

David F. then raised two questions for the Brandom (not necessarily corresponding to the three central points just described):

Q1. Two of the examples Brandom gives of material inferences are (i) "Today is Wednesday" so "Tomorrow will be Thursday" and (ii) "Pittsburgh is to the west of Philadelphia" to "Philadelphia is to the east of Pittsburgh". Both of these examples look like "grammatical" inferences--intuitively, one could make them simply in virtue of knowing the meaning of the terms involved, and the inferences are necessarily (logically?) true. But Brandom's other example, "Lightning is seen now" so "Thunder will be heard soon" doesn't (seem to) have these features. I might understand the meaning of "lightning" (it's a certain kind of electrical discharge), but I might be a kind of creature insensitive to sound, so I wouldn't be disposed to conclude from seeing a lightning bolt that I will hear anything soon. Or it is possible that I see lightning but that I and everyone within earshot is struck dead--so no one hears any thunder. So, David F. asked, just what is a material inference?

Q2. Brandom says that conceptual content is inferential role. But an obvious concern for such an inferentialist account of conceptual content is how to explain the content of observational concepts, like "red". These concepts are sometimes invoked non-inferentially. Is their content then exhausted by their "downstream" inferential consequences? Brandom takes up this issue on p. 119, and says that with observational concepts like "red", "one is (among other things) committed to the propriety of the inference from its circumstances to its consequences of application". What exactly does it mean to infer from the circumstances of application of a concept like "red"? As Brandom says, the "circumstances of application need not themselves be linguistic" (119), and inferences (I would think) are transitions between linguistic (or sufficiently linguistic-like) things. So how can the circumstances figure in any inferences at all?

PART II: Discussion

I asked a question related to David's Q1. I pointed out that Brandom says that "It is the concepts 'Wednesday', 'Thursday', 'today' and 'tomorrow' that make the second inference correct, and the contents of the concepts 'lightning' and 'thunder', as well as the temporal concepts, that underwrite the third" (98). While it seems correct to say that it is the content of the concepts "Wednesday", "Thursday", "today" and "tomorrow" that make the first inference correct, it seems odd to say that the content of the concepts "lightning" and "thunder" make the inference about lightning and thunder correct. Following Rumfitt (1997), I asked whether it wouldn't be better to say that it is something about the world itself that makes the inference about lightning and thunder a good one. I think Jason B. was sympathetic to this question--arguing with David F. later, he glossed my (inarticulate) question as a worry (roughly) about frictionless spinning: "What is it about the facts that will fix content, when content is fixed by inference?"

An oh-so-very-philosophical moment occurred when Will S. asked how necessary the inference from "Today is Wednesday" to "Tomorrow will be Thursday" really is. He said that if the world were to explode, then tomorrow wouldn't be Wednesday. David and Jason simultaneously cried out, "Yes it will!" (But if time itself came to an end before midnight today [a scary thought], then would "tomorrow" even refer?)

There was some concern expressed by Zeke R. about Brandom's "K-vocabulary" (logical vocabulary). Jason B. shared the concern. He saw no principled way for Brandom to distinguish logical from non-logical vocabulary.

David F. and others tried to work out Brandom's account of observational concepts from the meager resources in the sections we read today, by thinking about how Sellars accounts for the content of observational concepts. But Zeke R. sensibly pointed out that even Brandom says we will have to wait until chapter 3 to get his account of the content of these concepts.

And wait we will. The Workshop will return during the first week of winter quarter.

Happy holidays.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ferro on Anomalous Monism

Tonight, the first hour of the workshop was devoted to discussing Chris Ferro's paper on Anomalous Monism ("The Normativity of the Mental"). Chris wrote a provocative paper. He claimed to have a short, intuitive argument for anomalous monism that was in sympathy with McDowell's claims in "Functionalism and Anomalous Monism".

I'll post a summary of our discussion of sections IV and V of chapter 2 of Making It Explicit soon.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Brandom Reading, Chapter 2, sections IV & V

The workshop will meet on November 30 at 6pm in Cobb 103 to discuss pp. 94-121 of Making it Explicit. You can get the readings here and here.
We will also be talking about Chris Ferro's paper on Anomalous Monism.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Making It Explicit, Chapter One (part VI) & Chapter Two (parts I-III)

Tonight the workshop met in Cobb 103 to discuss the last part of chapter one and the first three parts of chapter two of Brandom's Making It Explicit.

David F. wasn't at the workshop tonight because he was sick, but Jason B. did an admirable job steering the workshop in the direction of the truth. Or at least the truth about Brandom.


Jason B. said that he would open discussion by raising three potential topics to discuss arising out of the sections of Making It Explicit we read for this workshop (Chapter 1, part VI, and Chapter 2, parts I-III):

1. Jason B. claimed that Brandom was offering a transcendental argument to the effect that a certain conception of norms implicit in practice was required to fix a certain interpretation or application of a rule. Jason reminded us that there are nagging questions about whether Wittgenstein would endorse such a project: John McDowell and David F. and others (possibly many members of the workshop, including Ben M.) would say that Wittgenstein would want us to stop the regress from even getting started, so there is nothing to stop, and no need for any theoretical apparatus to do the stopping. And Brandom's appendix to chapter 1 indicates that his notion of a "rule" is much more restrictive than Wittgenstein's notion of "rule". This by itself suggests that Wittgenstein has something different from Brandom in mind when he talks about the interpretability of rules.

2. Brandom wants to endorse a kind of interpretationism akin to Dennett's "stance stance", while rejecting Dennett's view that there is no original intentionality, only derivative intentionality. But if all intentionality is (in some sense) dependent on interpretation, then how can there be original intentionality (understood as a kind of intentionality that something has in virtue or something already with intentionality)? On the face of it, this looks paradoxical.

3. On Brandom's understanding of pragmatics and semantics, "semantics must answer to pragmatics" (83). We work out the content of subjects' utterances and mental states by paying attention to how subjects act and infer. Because the pragmatic attitudes (belief, desire, intention, etc.) matter for action and inference, we therefore cannot have an independent grasp on the propositional content of those attitudes without understanding their pragmatics. Brandom wants to contrast this view of content with "representationalism", an attempt to explain pragmatics in terms of propositional content. Jason B. asked who, if anyone, would count as a representationalist. Who is Brandom arguing with here? Surely no (or very few) contemporary philosophers count as representationalists in Brandom's sense. Jason B. also asked whether Brandom's arguments targeted only the designative version of representationalism (an extreme version of representationalism that holds that content should be understood on the model of the designating relation between singular terms and the objects they stand for).


Jay E. opened discussion with a characteristically intelligent observation concerning topic #2, Brandom's version of Dennett's interpretationism. Recall that Jason B. said that Brandom's position seems prima facie paradoxical because he accepts (i) Original intentionality (which Jason glossed as the claim that not all intentionality depends on something already with intentionality) and (ii) Interpretationism (which was glossed as the claim that all intentionality depends on being interpreted). How are (i) and (ii) supposed to hold together? Jay suggested that Brandom suggests another "implicit" social response to this problem analogous to the solution he proposes to the rule-following paradox (the presence of the word "interpretation" here as in the rule-following considerations might also lead one to think such an analogy holds). Maybe, if the interpretations that are constitutive of intentionality are implicit in practice they can somehow constitute original intentionality? Though this sounded plausible as a description of what Brandom is up to here, no one felt this move was very satisfying. I could feel everyone wanting to say, with furrowed brows: "but how is making the interpretations implicit supposed to help anything?" Those members of the workshop more familiar with Brandom's work pointed out that the answer to this question is something that gets worked out "later in the book". So, we'll have to wait and see how norms implicit in practice are supposed to help avoid the seeming paradox that comes with accepting both original intentionality and interpretationism. (Ben M. was perhaps the least optimistic member of the workshop about the possibility of making these claims consistent.)

Will S. then raised a question about Brandom's comment on p. 61 that it is the community that is assigned original intentionality. What about Brandom's earlier comments about not assigning mental states to super-personal entities? Don't these remarks look inconsistent?

I feebly responded that Brandom does distinguish between the I-we and the I-thou understandings of the community, and he criticizes only the former for assigning mental states to a collective. So maybe the community he thinks can be ascribed original intentionality is some arrangement of I-thou relations. Jason B. criticized this proposal: either the thou in the I-thou relation is another individual, in which case there is no community, or the community is the I-thou relation itself, in which case we are still assigning intentionality to a collective, rather than an individual.

At this point, Jason B. gave a taxonomy of four different possible views of the proper role of the community in relation to intentionality (all of these are rough thumbnail sketches, obviously):

  1. Crispin Wright's "regularism": Whatever the community agrees is correct action is correct action. Deviations from the normal way of going on count as mistakes.
  2. John McDowell's "community as background condition": A necessary condition for intentionality is being a member of a community of a certain sort, where there are normal ways of going on, forms of life, agreements in judgments, etc. How people do in fact act is not all there is to correctness and incorrectness, however, but that they act in regular ways is a necessary condition for mindedness.
  3. Dan Dennett's community of interpreters: in order to have intentionality, a thing must be fruitfully interpretable (that's shorthand for: it must be intentionally interpretable in a way that more effectively predicts its behavior than physical or design interpretation predicts its behavior), which requires an interpreter (though might not that interpreter be the thing itself?). The "community" here seems to play a much less substantial role than it does for Wright and McDowell.
  4. Bob Brandom's "social intepretationism": The location of original intentionality is the community, but there will be (at least an attempt to generate) objective norms that outrun mere norms of communal agreement.

After Jason B. situated Brandom's project in relation to Wright, McDowell and Dennett, there was some concern about how Brandom's view differed from Crispin Wright's. After some discussion, we concluded that at the "ground level", Brandom's norms are Wright-like, in that they are constituted by communal agreement. But Brandom has a more ambitious project of "precipitating" objectivity out of "the social soup of norms that are whatever the community takes them to be" (54). That is supposed to be the project of the distant chapter 8.


Then began a long discussion of how social an interpretationist has to be, which I feel I have only a tenuous grasp on. But I will try to reproduce the discussion as best I can.

Aiden G. initiated the discussion by pointing out that an important constraint on Dennett's intepretationism is its predictive success. Aiden then asked whether it was fruitful to think of Brandom as replacing predictive success with communal proprieties as a constraint on his interpretationism.

Jason B. raised what I took to be an objection to Aiden's suggestion about Brandom (though I'm still not sure about this). He said that there were two ways of understanding interpretationism, one which required a community and one which did not:

(1) Having intentionality consists just in correctly being interpreted and having one's behavior successfully predicted by someone adopting the intentional stance.


(2) Mere interpretability and predictability by someone adopting the intentional stance.

Jason B. said that only (1) requires an actual community of interpreters (though, again, I wonder whether even that is true: one could interpret and predict one's own behavior).

Jay E. said, in response to Jason, that one might think that even (2), mere interpretability, was something that was "socially conditioned", that is, dependent on the existence of a community to be so much as possible.

Jason said that Jay's suggestion was "clever" (meaning something like "sophistical"). Jason then said that Jay's route wasn't available to Brandom, because for Brandom interpretability just is actual interpreting.

This continued for some time.

I confess that still have trouble seeing what the significance of this dispute was for our understanding of Brandom.


We chided Jason for pronouncing Pufendorf's name as "Puffendorf", rather than "Poofendorf", though both sound equally ridiculous to 21st century American ears.

Someone, I think Chris F., asked how we were intended to read the epigraph from Hamlet on p. 67:

Sure, he that made us with such large discourse
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused.

Chris suggested that Brandom had this passage at the beginning of chapter 2 because he was reading it as meaning "no discourse without use". But I wondered about the suitability of such a reading, because (just from considering the passage as it appears in the Brandom), it seems that the "large discourse" belongs to "he that made us", not to us. So I think the better reading of Brandom's intention here is something like "no reason without use".


At this point in the workshop, we turned to Jason's third concern raised at the beginning of the workshop: who counts as a representationalist? Remember that a representationalist is someone who "envisage[s] an explanatory strategy that starts with an understanding of representation and on that basis explains the practical proprieties that govern language use and rational action" (p.69). While Brandom says that this is a "common response" to the insight that intentionality has a representational dimension, we could only find a handful of examples of philosophers who would count as such: Descartes (p.73), Meinong (p.71) and maybe Fodor (though it was pointed out that in the Elm and the Expert Fodor develops a view of inference that might even disqualify him from counting as a representationalist in Brandom's sense). And Jason B. said that charging Descartes with failing to clarify the "the content of the representational commitments to which the mind's entitlement is at issue" (p.73) is a bit anachronistic.

I pointed out that even if you think almost no contemporary philosophers are representationalists in Brandom's sense, so everyone is in some sense a pragmatist, Brandom's own inferentialist view (p. 94) according to which the representationalist order of priority is reversed, will be something that almost everyone disagrees with. So there will be plenty of fodder for discussion in weeks to come.


We ended the workshop by considering the question: Who is Rebecca West? She is credited with the irritated response to the "mind as a mirror of nature" that "one of the damn things is enough" (p. 74).

The quote that "one of the damn things is enough" also appears on p. 3 of Goodman's Languages of Art, but as a part of the phrase: "Art is not a copy of the real world. One of the damn things is enough". Goodman says in a footnote that the phrase appears in an "essay on Virginia Woolf" but that he has "been unable to locate the source".

Rebecca West was an English critic. I think Brandom has managed to track down the source of Goodman's quote. But searching the web, I only find the less elegant quote "A copy of the universe is not what is required of art; one of the damned things is ample" attributed to West.

As far as I can tell, none of the quotes attributed to Rebecca West makes any claims about the "mind as a mirror of nature" as Brandom claims--she's talking about art.

The workshop will meet the week after Thanksgiving to discuss the rest of Chapter 2 in Making it Explicit.

Want to Review Some Philosophy?

There is an open call for reviews for the journal Philosophy in Review.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Brandom, Reading: Chapter 2 (updated Nov. 7)

I will drop off my copy of Making it Explicit at the library tomorrow, November 2nd, so that chapter 2 can be put on e-reserve. It will be a couple of days before it is up.

The readings for next time are up: Part 1 and Part 2.

You should read the rest of chapter one (including the appendix) and up through p. 94 of Chapter two (i.e., sections I-III of chapter two).

Monday, October 31, 2005

Graduate Philosophy Conferences

A couple fellow students have asked me about graduate philosophy conferences. I try to keep up with upcoming deadlines for my own use, but it seems the rest of you might benefit from my efforts. So I will post information here for conferences that are relevant or at least not irrelevant to the content of this workshop. If anyone knows of anything that I'm overlooking, let me know.

The dates are the submission deadlines.

Columbia/NYU, January 18

Texas, February 1

Princeton/Rutgers, January 15

CUNY, January 26

Iowa, January 20

Intermountain West, January 31

Waterloo, February 1

Semantics and Philosophy in Europe, February 15

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Making It Explicit, Chapter One

Last night the workshop met to discuss chapter one of Brandom's Making it Explicit.


David F. opened the workshop with a story from his grad student days at Pitt. It involved Brandom stroking his beard and lecturing about his account of who we are in terms of saying 'we', and a Monty Python based pun.

David then suggested three broad ways of approaching intentionality that differ from Brandom's approach:

(1) Skepticism
(2) Naturalistic Reduction
(3) Naive acceptance (after suitable therapy, presumably)

In contrast, Brandom is going to offer an account of intentionality that reduces it to social norms of a certain kind.

After proposing these options, David asked: "Who is Brandom's account for?" Meaning, I think, "What philosophical anxieties is this meant to relieve?" or "What problem is this book supposed to solve?" That is where discussion began. There were several different proposals for how to answer David's question.

1. Jay E. said that he had asked John H. the same question about Making it Explicit in the preliminary essay workshop three years ago. John replied, "He was going for the brass ring". There was a pregnant pause in discussion while we waited for an explanation of what this meant. Jay said he thought John simply meant that Brandom thought that his account was true. I take it the upshot of Jay's comment was that saying true things is a perfectly legitimate goal for a philosophical project to have.

2. Nat H. said that the fact that the first chapter was set up in terms of the problem posed by Wittgenstein's rule-following argument and various failed (regularist) solutions to it indicated that he was looking for a genuine solution to the regress problem. The solution would be found in norms implicit in practice, rather than either in normless practices or hierarchies of explicit rules. Aiden G. raised an objection to this proposal (but I can't remember what it was).

3. Ben M. said that Brandom was looking for a solution to the regress problem but didn't consider the possibility that the regress shouldn't be allowed to begin. (In conversation with Ben before the workshop, we found p.45 n. 56, which suggests Brandom is aware that one way to respond to the problem of the regress of interpretations is to not let it get started. Brandom writes: "The division of explanatory strategies arises over the question of whether the practices invoked to halt the regress can be analyzed in terms of regularities and dispositions characterized without the use of normative vocabulary". The footnote, says: "Typically, though not in every case, by not letting [the regress] begin--since in the commonest cases we understand explicit claims, rules, principles, orders and so on without interpreting them".

4. Another workshop participant suggested that Brandom's project was to "render norms less mysterious" (p. xiv) or "render less mysterious" "the normative dimension of linguistic practice" (p. xiii). I take it that what is to be made less mysterious is the "fanciest sort of intentionality", that which is involved in propositional content (p. 7). David F. asked what was supposed to be so mysterious about this kind of intentionality. Brandom doesn't say anything (or report anyone as saying anything) that makes it sound particularly mysterious.

5. Jason B. suggested that maybe Brandom was engaged in a transcendental project--one of finding the necessary conditions for the possibility of thought (or "sapience") as such.

6. There were also suggestions that Brandom was engaged in a kind of "descriptive" metaphysical project, of showing the complex but interesting interconnections between concepts like "entitlement" and "acknowledgement". This seemed the least popular account of what he was up to.


Jason B., David F., Robert B. and Aiden G. argued about norms and the constitutive ideal of rationality. Robert B. said something about Davidson that made Aiden G. nearly jump out of his seat.


At the end of the workshop, we set about trying to determine what to do next: Quine or Brandom? Or both? We voted on whether to read the Quine or the Brandom, and Brandom won by a couple of votes. Then we voted on whether to read just the Brandom or read both the Quine and the Brandom, alternating from week to week. Reading just the Brandom won by a single vote. But there was some concern about this result, so Nat H. proposed that we vote again after reading chapter two of the Brandom in two weeks.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Brandom Reading (Updated)

The next reading for the workshop will be pp. 1-46 of the first chapter of Brandom's Making it Explicit. You can get the first part (pp. 1-36) of the reading on e-reserve here, and the second part (pp.36-) here.

You can also check out a recent collection of papers on Brandom and read a less recent interview.

(I ripped off the idea for the cover on the left from John Haugeland, who made a cover for Making it Explicit based on the Norman Kemp Smith translation of the Critique of Pure Reason.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Word and Object, Chapter One

The promise of pizza, beer, and talk about whether philosophy is continuous with science drew the largest crowd in workshop history to Cobb 103 tonight.

Jason B. opened with a short introduction to some central Quinean themes: Naturalism, empiricism, stimulus meaning, holism, the social character of meaning, and meaning behaviorism. He introduced the familiar central worry about Quine's epistemology: how can surface irritations be "clues to an external world" (22)? My rough reconstruction of the central worry goes as follows:

1. For something to count as a clue, to count as evidence, it must be capable of justifying claims.
2. Only something with "content" (conceptual, propositional?) is capable of justifying claims.
3. Surface irritations have no content.
4. So surface irritations cannot count as clues, as evidence.

We started discussion by taking up the issue of Quine's naturalism. There was some debate about what it meant to say that philosophy and science were "continuous". Chris F. claimed that there was a difference between Quine's naturalism and physicalism of a type- or token-identity sort. Aidan G. said he liked science though he thought he wasn't supposed to. Chris F. said that people he has talked to in CHSS didn't see how it was possible to deny the "philosophy is continuous with science" claim. David F. observed that one could do it simply by saying that philosophy was discontinuous with science. For example, one might think, with the logical positivists, that the job of philosophy is to clear away conceptual confusion and let the scientists get on with their important work. Or one might think, with Wittgenstein, that the job of philosophy is to expose latent nonsense as patent nonsense.

So in response to the question, "Is philosophy continuous with science?" we concluded: it depends on what one means by "science" and "continuous with". No one asked what "philosophy" or "is" meant.

Nat H. asked about Quine's analogy between the sharing of "sensory supports" between sentences with the arch (p.11). How, when the arch is "tottering on an earthquake", is a "base block...supported now and again, only by the other base blocks via the arch"? Isn't the base block supported primarily by the ground? Jason B. pointed out that in asking this, Nat H. was neglecting Quine's footnote to the analogy, which says:

"The analogies of the fabric and the arch are well supplemented by the more detailed analogy of the net which Hempel develops..."

Several workshop participants (including, I believe, Tucker M.), explained that we were not supposed to imagine the ground dropping away from underneath the arch, in which case the other blocks clearly would not be of any help, but instead to imagine the ground merely shaking. In such a case one of the base blocks might be held in place by the weight of the other blocks pressing down on it. That sounded plausible.

Stina B. then asked for an explanation of how Quine's argument against sense data (pp. 2-3) was supposed to be understood. Was it merely a worry about memory, or something more significant? Chris F. said he was going to ask just the same question. David F. glossed the question as asking whether Quine comes close, in his criticism of sense data, to an insight that would have helped him detect the problems with his own account of sensory irritations. Quine's comment that "immediate experience simply will not, of itself, cohere as an autonomous domain" might be turned against his own notion that sensory stimuli count as the basic clues we have of the external world. Robert B. asked if David's proposal was part of a Resolute Reading of Word and Object.

Chris F. then recalled a possible reading of Quine from John H.'s class on Quine and Davidson five years ago. What if, Chris F. asked, Quine's sensory irritations were token identical with contentful experiences? The contentful experiences would be bound up with man's conceptual sovereignty, holistic, and so on, while the irritations, qua physical events, would remain unchanged through reconfigurations of the conceptual scheme. Jason B. objected that this wasn't consistent with Quine's statements that the irritations (qua irritations?), not conceptually contentful descriptions of the irritations, were supposed to be clues (cues?).

At this point, Chris F., the Dionysian force animating the workshop, had to leave to catch the beginning of Lost. So we wound up discussion and proposed that we read the preface and the first chapter of Making it Explicit for next week.

Quine on Maps and Dictionaries

In 1963, Quine wrote a review of the National Geographic Atlas of the World.

Here is an illustrative exerpt:

"I shall keep the old loose National Geographic maps for trips. And, since the National Geographic omits counties, I shall keep my old inferior book for counties. Grudgingly. It is before me now, a 1948 Hammond of even larger format than the National Geographic Atlas, and it is open at south central South America. The polychrome two-page spread is something between a poster and an imposture. Its detail is sparse and irresponsible. Part of Brazil is elaborately misplaced within Paraguay, and part of Paraguay in Argentina, as a glance at other pages bears out; the name of the Paranà is applied by mistake to the Iguassù, as well as to the Paranà; Aconcagua is omitted, though lesser mountains are marked; and two provinces of Chile are shown in a way that conflicts with another page. The 1954 Hammond is better, but I disagree. The point of my sad example is that such ineptitude is neither to be found nor imagined in National Geographic maps. They have an air somehow of selfevident accuracy, they are visibly as real as earth itself."

He also reviewed dictionaries.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Quine Reading

I have posted the first chapter of Word and Object to the workshop's e-reserve. It is listed as "Language and Truth".

Friday, September 30, 2005

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Plan for the Fall Quarter

Tonight we met to discuss the plan for the upcoming quarter.

Jason B. and David F. instituted some small, justified changes in the workshop format. These are: (1) Student presentations will take an hour, no more; (2) David and Jason will give short, 10-15 minute presentations at the beginning of each workshop.

Revision (1) met with no opposition, while Tom L. questioned whether (2) was possible given the garrulous character of the workshop participants. David F. and Jason B. responded by observing that they could defer questions until after they had finished lecturing if they felt like it.

In order to accommodate Jay E., we pushed the meeting time of the workshop back to 6pm.

We then discussed what text we should read. The one inviolable ground rule was that we had to read a book. Articles or collections of articles were out of bounds. David F. was in favor of reading the first four chapters of Making It Explicit. Nat H. Suggested Anscombe's Intention and Ryle's Concept of Mind; Chris F. suggested Fodor's Psychosemantics, Putnam's Representation and Reality, Kim's Mind in a Physical World, and Chalmer's Conscious Mind; Rachel G. suggested Quine's Word and Object, which turned out to be the closest competitor with the Brandom.

After a preliminary vote, we narrowed the field to the Brandom and the Quine, with Quine very slightly edging out the Brandom. We then decided to read the first chapter of each and only then decide what to continue with.

Next session we will read the first chapter of Word and Object. I will put a copy on E-Reserve at the library as soon as I can.

It was good to see everyone again.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Fall Quarter First Meeting

The first meeting of the philosophy of mind workshop will take place on Wednesday, September 28th in Cobb 103.

The agenda will be roughly the following:

1. What should we read?
2. What should we do with our money?
3. Should we begin each meeting with a student-lead introduction to the reading?
4. Should we / can we move the workshop to 6pm to accommodate Jay?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Philosophy of Mind In L.A.

While walking around the UCLA campus, guided by UCLA philosophy grad student Ben C., we spotted this salon:

I'd like to return and get the Dedekind cut.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Summer Vacation

The next meeting of the Philosophy of Mind Workshop (and the next full post to this site) will be in the first weeks of the fall quarter.

If I come across anything interesting I will post it as a comment to this entry. Feel free to do the same.

See everyone in the fall.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Waterfall Illusion

On Thursday, May 26, Nate Z. presented his paper dismantling Crane's argument for non-conceptual content. Not only did Nate give good reasons to think Crane's argument doesn't go through, he also made some provocative claims about differences between the content of experience and the content of belief.

Jay E. provided his camera so we could document the last meething of the workshop this year, and the last meeting of the workshop in the Anscombe Lounge.

Below: Nate Z. demonstrates the sprial version of the waterfall illusion.

Justin S., Rachel G. and Aidan G. are transfixed by the illusion.

David F. taxis down the runway.

Jason B. makes a claim and David F. looks on in despair.

Nat H. in the Logical Positivism shirt: Cruisewear for Neurath's Boat.

Nate Z. reads his paper.

Farewell to the Lounge.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Standard Meter Bar

standard meter bar
standard meter bar,
originally uploaded by Nat Hansen.
This is the American standard meter bar. I didn't expect it to look like this--I thought it would look like a meter ruler (with centimeter marks, e.g.) but, you know, made of platinum.

Below is the picture of the similar looking French standard meter bar (together with a standard kilogram). Thanks to an anonymous commentator for the reference.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Naming and Necessity, Lecture III

[Note added Dec 21, 2005: The second half of this post has been lost. I reconstructed the first half from notes that I made in preparing the original post.]

Last Thursday the workshop met to discuss lecture III of Naming and Necessity.

David F., Jason B., Jay E., Nat H., Chris F., Nate Z., Aidan G., Rachel G., and Will S. were present.

Discussion did not stray far from Kripke's treatment of the contingent a priori and its relation to the way reference is "fixed" or "determined" for proper names and natural kind terms (NKTs).

If there was a theme to this workshop, it was precious metals (gold, platinum) and diamonds.

Before we began, David F. asked about the parenthetical reference on p. 139 to "anti-scientific fundamentalists [such] as Bryan" casting aspersions on the "natural scientific curiosity of Man". Jay E. pointed out that the reference must be to Williams Jenning Bryan's role as the prosecutor of John Scopes in the Scopes Monkey Trial (1925). John Scopes was a biology teacher who was arrested for teaching the theory of evolution in Dayton, TN. (The character based on Bryan ["Matthew Harrison Brady"] in Stanley Kramer's Inherit the Wind is an anti-science Christian fundamentalist).

Jay pointed out another connection (probably unintended by Kripke) between Bryan and the passge from Kripke. Kripke says,

...the 'original sample' [used to fix the reference of a NKT] gets augmented by the discovery of new items. (In the case of gold, men applied tremendous effort to the task. Those who doubt the natural scientific curiosity of Man should consider this case. Only such anti-scientific fundamentalists as Bryan cast aspersions on the effort.

Besides his role in the Scopes trial, Bryan is most famous for his "Cross of Gold Speech" opposing the gold standard ("You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold"). As far as my understanding of the politics of the 1896 election go (not very far), Bryan represented farmers for whom higher inflation would be beneficial. Keeping the dollar on the gold standard would keep inflation in check.

Once we had the Bryan allusion sorted out, David F. started the workshop by asking why a speaker can know the identity "Heat = that which is sensed by sensation S" a priori (p. 136).

Obviously, Kripke cannot think that a speaker knows that identity simply in virtue of the meaning of "heat", because there are counterfactual situations in which heat is not sensed by sensation S (there are no conscious creatures, for example). But in those situations, we would not say that heat does not exist, only that there are no creatures that can sense it. So the meaning of heat cannot be tied to the sensation S.

We thought that Kripke here must be saying something about heat that was analogous to what he says about the Standard Meter Bar (p. 56). The contingent a priori is a way of knowing something that essentially involves "definition" or stipulation. Kripke says of this way of knowing something that one knows it "automatically, without further investigation" (back when we talked about this remark in lecture I, many of us worried that that was not the best way of describing the a priori).

Monday, May 02, 2005

Speaker's Reference and Semantic Reference

On Thursday, April 28, the workshop met to discuss Kripke's paper "Speaker Reference and Semantic Reference".

Attending the workshop were David F. (though he was feeling sick), Jason B., Jay E., Nat H., Chris F., Ben M., Will S., Aidan G. and Rachel G.

The workshop fell into roughly three different stages. I'll post them separately.

Stage I: Pre-Workshop Banter

Chris F. was reading a book of Wallace Stevens essays in preparation for Stanley Cavell's talk on Friday. Someone asked why Stevens was interesting and David F. said something about Stevens's poetry being about conceptual and non-conceptual perceptual content. David F. then told the story of Stevens's employment at an insurance agency (vice president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company), and how a literary agent who was trying to track Stevens down caused a stir at the insurance agency by mentioning a book of his poems to an oblivious co-worker. According to David F., his co-workers could not believe that "Wally" Stevens was an accomplished poet.

Jason B. later showed up and also told a story about Stevens, which began, "It's interesting how it's not very interesting that Stevens was an insurance salesman". Nat H. was interested in hearing more, since David F. had just reported that fact as if it
were interesting.

Jason B. said that he heard a talk (at the Franke Institute?) given by someone who had done research on early 20th century New England insurance agencies and found that it was not uncommon for them to produce in-house literary journals. So there would have been lots of insurance-salesman-poets when Stevens was writing.

"Why haven't we heard of all these other insurance poets?" someone asked.

"They weren't very good" Jason B. replied.

Discussion then moved on to a thought experiment raised in a class on perception involving a lasers, a flesh-colored bodystocking and a heliotrope sweater. There was some dispute about what color "heliotrope" was. The OED says that it's a shade of purple. Follow this link to a picture of the flowers the color is named after:

Stage II: More Discussion of the Causal Theory of Names

Jason B. got discussion moving by asking if we thought Kripke's methodological claim about purported counterexamples to linguistic analyses was right.

The methodological principle goes as follows: If you imagine a language in which the analysis is true, and the purported counterexamples still occur in that language, then the analysis (e.g. Russell's analysis of definite descriptions) has not been refuted by the counterexamples.

Chris F. bravely took a stab at assessing the correctness of the methodological principle. He got as far as describing Kripke's argument against Donnellan: (1) that Donnellan's phenomenon is meant as a counterexample to Russell's theory of definite descriptions, but (2) it is only a counterexample if it counts as a semantic distinction; and (3) it does not count as a semantic distinction--only a pragmatic one.

During this discussion there was some confusion over the proper pronunciation of "teetotaler", a word Kripke uses in describing the purported champagne quaffer in the corner in Donnellan's example. Chris F. preferred "teeto-taler" (said like "teeter-totter"), others demurred.

The methodological question not yet resolved, discussion then turned to the causal theory of names. Nat H. tried to link the topic of this paper with David F.'s worry from last time.

David F.'s worry was that I might, according to the causal theory of reference, count as satisfying the conditions for referring to the island typically referred to as "Globula" with my use of the word, but have a consistent personal use of the word to refer to Will S (say I keep a diary where I record lots of observations about what I think is Globula). Should we say, with the causal theory, that I am saying and thinking a large number of things about the island that are absurdly false (such as that it has a distinctive haircut and is a snappy dresser), or that I am saying and thinking a large number of true things about Will S.? To David F. (and others) it seemed obvious what the answer would be: I am referring to Will S., not the island.

In David F.'s case, the causal chain connecting my use of "Globula" with other members of my community seems unimportant. What is important is my consistent name-using practice.

There was then some extended discussion of the "interpretationist" (Davidsonian) alternative to the causal theory of names. Roughly, the interpretationist holds that a speaker refers to a particular object with his use of a name just in case taking him to refer to that object with that name makes the best overall sense of his behavior.

The interpretationists among the workshop attendees were Kripkean in the following way: they would include reference to causal chains in the relevant features one could rely on in making sense of a person's utterances. So, for example, if
I say things like "I wonder what Feinman's favorite breakfast cereal was", when I don't have any beliefs about Feinman other than that he's a famous physicist, I should be interpreted as referring to Feinman in virtue of having acquired the name from some other users of the language. I shouldn't be interpreted as believing that the description "the famous physicist" is uniquely satisfied and wondering about whoever uniquely satisfies that description. To that extent, then, the interpretationists agreed that Kripke was right to suggest the importance of causal connections to our name-using practices.

Jason B. worried that the interpretationists were also individualists--that they would deny the importance of pre-existing linguistic institutions to our name using practices. But Aidan G. and Nat H. objected--why wouldn't an interpretationist want to make use of every possible resource in making sense of a speaker, including the speaker's participation in all kinds of institutions and his causal imbeddedness in his social and physical world? David F. had our backs on this one.

At this point, Nat H. observed sotto voce to Jason B. that this kind of interpretationism that wants to accommodate all of Kripke's insights without embracing a causal theory of names is Evans's view in "The Causal Theory of Names".

David F. felt sicker. He said, "It was fun" and left.

At some point in the discussion after David F. left, Jason B. said that Naming and Necessity was perhaps unique among philosophical books in that it was 99% true.

Stage III: Return to the Methodological Question

Once we had gotten to the bottom of the causal theory of names, we returned to Jason B.'s original question: is Kripke's methodological principle in "Speaker's Reference and Semantic Reference" right?

Will S. and Chris F. had some concerns that the Strong Russell Language would not be susceptible to the Donnellan counterexamples, but as I left to use the bathroom during their discussion I can't reproduce their arguments.

Jason B. wondered what result Kripke's methodological principle would give if we introduced a language in which a particular analysis (e.g. Russell's) were true, and the purported counterexamples happed less often than in English (rather than never). Would the analysis be a little bit false?

At the end of the workshop we debated the merits of staying with the names discussion and reading either Evans's "Causal Theory of Names" or Davidson's "Nice Derangement". Nat H. argued that we had roughly reproduced the conclusion of Evans's paper, and that since we only had two sessions left we should move on to lecture III.

Which we will, in two weeks time.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Naming and Necessity, Lecture II

Last thursday the workshop met to discuss lecture II in Naming and Necessity.

In attendance were Jason B., David F., Jay E., Nat H., Zed A., Chris F., Ben M., Aidan G., Rachel G., Will S. and Justin S.

David F. bought Stella Artois, which was good, but a smaller number of beers than normal, which was bad.

Chris F. volunteered to recap what we learned last session and lead us into lecture II. In essence, he claimed that lecture I offered arguments against thesis (6) on p.71 and that the first part of lecture I consisted of arguments against theses (2-5).

There was some brief debate about the importance of Kripke's emphasis on individual speakers in thesis (2). Jason B. wondered whether there might be a way of generating a social account of the cluster of properties believed to correspond to a name. Such a view would be a modified description view akin to Strawson's view discussed on p. 65, n. 27. We agreed that this proposal was slightly more plausible than the individualist view Kripke is attacking but not a good enough improvement to warrant much attention.

Discussion then concentrated on whether Kripke's causal-historical "picture" of names was an improvement on the descriptivist "picture". Zed A. quickly grew irritated with the need to constantly affix the caveats "Kripke's not offering a theory", "Kripke's only proposing an alternate 'picture'", "Kripke's not giving necessary and sufficient conditions for anything" to any criticism of Kripke's account. He proposed that we all acknowledge that all our talk for the rest of the workshop would be picture-talk.

We adopted the convention, but Zed A. remained irritated.

What about the causal-historical account of how names refer? We started out with a discussion of a thought experiment proposed by Zed A, similar to some of Gareth Evans's examples in "The Causal Theory of Names". The example was described as follows:

1. I overhear you talking about something called "Globula".

2. I intend to participate in your conversation by saying various plausible-sounding things about Globula. For example, I say "I bet Globula is one sharp dresser". Since you and the other interlocutors are referring to Globula, I count as referring as well according to Kripke's picture.

3. But what I say about Globula is not only false, it is seriously mistaken in the following way. Globula as used by you and the other interlocutors refers to a small Hawaiian island. So what I'm saying about Globula is near incomprehensible ("Globula is a sharp dresser").

4. What to make of such a situation? Do I count as referring to Globula when I say "I bet Globula is one sharp dresser?" Zed A. and Nat H. (and some others) shared the intuition that I would not be referring to Globula, so the example seemed like a problem for Kripke's picture (a problem rather than a counterexample since, presumably, a picture can't be counterexampled).

Jason B. was unimpressed. His intuitions pulled him in the opposite direction and he offered the following variation on the Globula case.

1a. Suppose I find myself in a culture where talking about Globula is taboo on certain occasions (say at dinnertime).

2a. I have overheard you using "Globula" in other contexts, and one night at dinner, I utter some sentences with the word "Globula" in them, intending to use the word to refer as you have in the past (and not knowing about the taboo).

3a. Everyone at dinner listening to me is horrified by my gross breach of etiquette. A couple of my friends pull me aside after dinner and whisper, "You fool--what were you doing all night going on and on saying all those weird things about Globula? Don't you know you're not supposed to talk about it at dinnertime?"

4a. The intuition in Jason B.'s version of the example is supposed to be: I am referring to Globula, even though I am grossly mistaken about what it is and say strange, possibly incomprehensible things about it.

So, we determined (unsurprisingly) that there can be conflicting intutions about odd cases in Kripke's picture.

David F. then offered a different example, slightly different from the previous two, to suggest that Kripke's picture fails to take account of our name using practice. His example went as follows:

1b. Like the previous cases, I don't know how others are using "Globula", but I intend to use it as they do. But unlike the previous cases, I mistakenly apply it to some other object. (This case is like Evans's Madagascar example, except that it can involve only one person).

2b. I apply "Globula" consistently not to an island, but to a person. I keep a diary where I record all sorts of information about Globula--what he's wearing, what he says to me, etc.

3b. In David F's version of the example, should we say that I am constantly referring to the Hawaiian island and saying radically false things about it (like that it was rude to me and was sharply dressed)? Or that the causal historical chain leading up to my use of the name is irrelevant and what matters is actually my coherent use of the name to refer to the person?

David F. and Aidan G. both emphatically endorsed the overriding importance of our use of the name.

Jason pointed us to a footnote (pp. 85-86 n. 36) where Kripke offers what looks like his response to this kind of case. It will involve the speaker reference / semantic reference distinction. With that in mind, we decided to read Kripke's "Speaker Reference Semantic Reference" paper for next time before going on to lecture III.

This account leaves out discussions we had of Swamp Man, the general nature of offensive language, and Terry Schiavo's ability to participate in a name-using practice.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Naming and Necessity, Lecture I

On Thursday the largest group of students in workshop history assembled to discuss lecture I of Naming and Necessity. The group included several prospective graduate students. We had nicer beer this time to complement the larger numbers--Becks and Heineken instead of the usual Schlitz and Old Style.

David F. placed N&N in its philosophical context and Jason B. used his "Socratic" teaching method (which involves posing a difficult question point-blank to the group as a whole) to get discussion started. The most interesting moments of the discussion were the following:

1. David F. asked whether "That's Chris F." states a necessary truth. Answer: yes. This was the least contentious example of a necessary truth known a posteriori. Even the Kantians present could not muster a compelling response to this example. There was a brief discussion of whether propositions themselves are a priori or a posteriori or whether it is justifications of propositions that are a priori or a posteriori.

2. There was a long discussion of the contingent a priori. Several people worried that stipulation does not extend our knowledge. We focused on one footnote in particular, n. 26 on pp. 63-64. As far as I can remember, we didn't come to an agreement about why Kripke dismissed this worry.

Next time we will discuss lecture II of N&N.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Statistically Improbable Phrases

Zed drew my attention to a feature on Amazon that lists "statistically improbable phrases" (SIPS) that occur in certain books. I have organized some selected SIPS that feature in works we have read in the workshop into haikus. See if you can identify which books the SIPS haikus belong to.

1. same landmark, same ship
feline tissue, china bits
old ontology

2. invented the zip
relevant sheep, tense judgment
immune to error

3. introduce their terms
purely auditory world
descriptions, cat slice

Monday, March 28, 2005

Naming and Necessity Link

Jay has posted the first lecture of Naming and Necessity to the workshop e-reserve site.

We'll see everyone on Thursday.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Final Chapter of Sameness and Substance

Last night we (David F., Jay E., Nat H., David H., Nate Z., Tom L., Chris F., Will S.) had a spirited discussion of the final chapter of Wiggins's Sameness and Substance. The main threads of conversation were the following:

(1) David F. demanded an account of how Wiggins's argument against Q-memory was supposed to go. Tom L. and David H. favored an interpretation of Wiggins that involved the purported inability of Q-memory to be mistaken. Valiant efforts to push this interpretation through eventually failed, though David F. said that there was "something to" this criticism. Nat H. and Jay E. demurred.

(2) A second possible line of criticism that was considered involved the idea that the Q-memory advocate might not be entitled to certain kinds of theoretical and practical inferences: One might, observing rain falling outside, find oneself wanting one's raincoat. If one only has a Q-memory of someone hanging someone's raincoat on some peg, one cannot directly use the content of that Q-memory in an inference that concludes (for example) with going to get one's own coat, or knowing where to look for it if one wanted it. This was meant as one way of fleshing out the idea that Q-memory doesn't appropriately capture the epistemological role that memory plays in our lives--that it cannot place knowledge of the past in relation to our understanding of our lives as a whole. But this line of criticism was not fleshed out in detail.

(3) Two additional comments that were made about the definition of Q-memory.

First, David F. wanted to strike the word "accurate" from Parfit's definition. Wiggins makes heavy weather of the presence of "accurate" in the definition. We couldn't determine why Wiggins cared about it so much, and it didn't help that most of his discussion of its significance was taken up with a speculative psychological explanation of why Parfit included "accurate" in his definition. ("Mere verbiage" according to Jay E.)

Second, Nat H. pointed out that there could be memories that did not seem to be memories. For example, one could have a recurring, vivid image of (e.g.) falling off a swingset that one is convinced is merely imaginary, but which counts as a memory because it is caused by an actual experience in the right way. So, Nat H. asked why Parfit needed the "seem to be memories" condition in his definition of Q-memory (condition (1)).

This is not a complete report of conversations that took place last night. Comments from other workshop attendees should help fill this summary out.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Mind Workshop Website

This is meant as a place to continue discussions started in the Philosophy of Mind Workshop at the University of Chicago.

Previous Readings in the Workshop

2002: Peter Geach, Mental Acts
2003: Gareth Evans, Varieties of Reference
2003: Jonathan Bennett, Rationality
2003-2004: Various articles on animal thought by Donald Davidson, Susan Hurley, and Jose Luis Bermudez
2004: P.F. Strawson, Individuals
2004-2005: David Wiggins, Sameness and Substance

We will begin reading Saul Kripke's Naming and Necessity in the spring.