Thursday, May 31, 2007

Can You Have a Demonstrative Thought About a Color?

Last night the workshop met for the final time this academic year to discuss Rachel Goodman's paper "Demonstrative Thoughts as a Response to Lewis". Both the paper and discussion were complicated and interesting. I'll just summarize a few central topics here.

Rachel's target was anyone who wanted to respond to Jackson's knowledge argument by saying that what Mary acquires when she leaves her black and white room is the ability to have demonstrative thoughts about colors. Jason and David tentatively suggested that they were interested in that way of describing what happens to Mary when she leaves the room during the last meeting of the workshop.

Rachel's strategy was to try to show that there are disanalogies between a paradigmatic kind of demonstrative thought that concerns objects individuated according to their location in space and time and putatively demonstrative thoughts that concern colors. If the disanalogies are great enough then it would be a mistake to say that what happens to Mary when she leaves the room is that she acquires the ability to have demonstrative thoughts about colors.

First Disanalogy

The central disanalogy that Rachel wanted to argue for involved the possibility of a certain kind of failure that is present in the case of demonstrative thoughts about spatio-temporal objects that isn't present (she claimed) in the case of (putative) demonstrative thoughts about colors. That failure is the following:

It is possible to have the thought That cup is blue, while thinking about a BOTTLE, and still successfully have an object-dependent thought about the bottle. That is, you can apply the wrong sortal and still succeed in having a thought that is about an object (as long as it is in roughly the right place in space and time). Rachel wanted to say that in such a case you still succeed in having an object-dependent demonstrative thought.

In contrast, Rachel claimed, you can't have the same kind of failure in the case of a putatively demonstrative thought about a color. So, for example, it wouldn't be possible to think That color is beautiful, while getting the sortal wrong and still having an object-dependent demonstrative thought. It wouldn't make sense to say that you managed to have a thought about a TEXTURE or a SHAPE, for example, if you took yourself to be referring to a color. It was on the basis of this disanalogy that Rachel claimed it wasn't possible to have demonstrative thoughts about colors.

Members of the workshop objected to this line of reasoning in different ways.

Jason didn't think you could have an object-dependent demonstrative thought in the case where you apply the wrong sortal to the cup.

Justin suggested that there was a corresponding kind of failure in the case of a color, if the sortal was chosen correctly. So, for example, you might think That pastel is beautiful, and be mistaken about the fact that the color you demonstrated was a pastel (maybe it was flourescent or neutral).

Second Disanalogy

At another point in the discussion, Rachel said that unlike demonstrative thoughts about spatio-temporal objects, thoughts about colors didn't involve a "mapping" of egocentric features onto objective features. When you have a demonstrative thought about spatio-temporal objects, you think about That cup both as located in space relative to you and as located in objective space. But in the case of putative demonstrative thoughts about colors, Rachel claimed that there wasn't an analogous mapping of subjective features (in this case, something like color phenomenology) onto anything objective. I objected to this suggestion because insofar as someone can recognize a difference between how things seem to him (say I'm wearing 3-D glasses and everything appears either red or green) and how those things really are colored, then there is the possibility of a "mapping" of subjective features of experience onto (more or less) objective features.

There was also discussion of McDowell's notion that having a demonstrative thought about a color involved the presence of a sample. Jason and David discussed the possibility of a thought that depended not on the presence of the object that it is about, but on the presence of some other object (the sample). We didn't make much headway on this topic, however.

After the workshop, we watched a discussion between Gareth Evans and P.F. Strawson on the nature of truth, filmed for the Open University in 1973.

This was the last meeting of the mind workshop for this year. The workshop will resume in the fall, with a new grad student organizer: Will Small.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

McKinney on Biosemantics; Lewis on Experience

At this week's mind workshop, Tucker McKinney presented some of his work on Millikan, and Jason presented on David Lewis's "What Experience Teaches". Jason proposed that what happens to Mary when she leaves the black and white room is that she acquires demonstrative concepts of the colors.