Sellars on Mind and Language

I found this very interesting lecture by Sellars where he talks about dot quotes and its relation to ontology and the mind-body problem…all good stuff and worth a listen. But what really caught my interest was his comments at the beginning of part F where he seems to admit that some kind of causal theory has to be right for the way thoughts work but not for the linguistic meaning…is there any other way to interpret these remarks? Also, does anyone else feel like they are listening to Jimmy Stewart talk about philosophy??


On my way home from class today I realized that what Sellars says in these lectures vindicates something I thought of after someone objected that on my view names would fail the Church translation test. t thought you could just dot quite your way out of it so it is nice to hear Sellars talking about dot quoting ‘Socrates’.

Cognitive Phenomenology

(cross-posted at Brains)

Via David Rosenthal-

There was a conference entitled “Theory Of Consciousness In Analytic Phenomenology And Philosophy Of Mind,”

at the University of Bern, Switzerland, May 27-29, 2009.

Podcasts of the talks are, for the next 2-3 years, at

Talks are by David M. Rosenthal, Gianfranco Soldati, Andrea Borsato, David Woodruff Smith, Eduard Marbach, Sebastian Leugger, Dan Zahavi, Uriah Kriegel, Michelle Montague, and Galen Strawson.

The program is at

I only listened to David R, Uriah, and Galen’s talks and the sound quality is a little uneven, but there is a lot of interesting stuff here…well worth the listen….

This is something that I am very glad to see. I am definitely one of those who thinks that cognitive phenomenology is real (and I think David Rosenthal is committed to it so it was interesting to hear him at this conference) though I don’t think that my view is the standard one. I, like Strawson, want to distinguish between the traditional kind of externalist content (though I, like Devitt, also allow inferential content) and the cognitive phenomenology. I take the cognitive phenomenology to go with the mental attitude that we take towards the traditional content. Let’s take belief, desire, and intention. These are the basic kinds of cognitive mental attitudes (whether there are more or if all other reduce to combinations of these three is a contentious issue…I take no stand on that here). Each one of these is really the name for a family of mental attitudes. So for belief we have a range between complete skepticism to mild doubt to probably true to complete certitude. What these have in common is a subjective sense of confidence as to whether something is actually true. To believe that p is to be subjectively certain that p is true, or to be convinced that p is true. Likewise, to doubt that p is to be subjectively uncertain that p is true. Likewise to want something is to have a subjective longing for it and to have an intention to A is to feel subjectively resolved to do A.

This explains all of the relevant data; for instance one main line of evidence for cognitive phenomenology is the experience that one has when one understands a sentence in a language one speaks. I agree that there is something that it is like for the person who understands a sentence of English but I claim that this is the result of the person coming to have some conscious mental attitude held towards the traditional content. So, when Galen tells me that the Earth weighs four times more than the Moon, I might feel surprise and wonder whether that were really true. Of course one might just ‘entertain’ the content but even here one take a qualitatively neutral mental attitude towards the content. This also allows us to explain why it is so many people dismiss cognitive phenomenology. Since my belief that 2+2=4 and my belief that New York City is on the East Coast of the United States of America are both things that I take to be beyond dispute they will feel subjectively similar when I introspect. Since I am looking for a phenomenological difference between the two thoughts I overlook their similarity. Interestingly this is supported by the reports of some schizophrenics who say that they can distinguish their delusional beliefs from their ‘normal’ ones by how they feel.

What then are we to say about unconscious beliefs, desires, and intentions? My claim is that conscious beliefs are just are the beliefs which we are conscious of ourselves as having and so is a higher-order view about consciousness. To have a conscious belief that p if just for one to have a higher-order state to the effect that one believes p. One feels subjectively certain about P just because one is conscious of oneself as believing P. When the belief is unconscious I have the same mental attitude held towards the traditional content but I am no longer conscious of myself as believing it and so there is nothing that it is like for me to believe it. I think that we can at this point give a homomorphism account of the mental attitudes. The mental attitudes come in families and there will be similarities and differences between these families that preserve the similarities and differences between the illocutionary forces of utterances used to express the mental attitude+traditional content…but that is another story….

Music & Language

Though I have never studied the philosophy of music I know that one of the central problems therein is how music is related to emotions. Many people have the feeling that, say, the minor key is sad and the major key is happy. How do we explain this? I have long thought that people use music to express emotion in something like the way people use language to express emotions. In the philosophy of language we distinguish between the illocutionary force of an utterance and the semantic content of the utterance. So, I can say “I would watch the new CW show Fly Girls if I were you” as a threat, as advice, a joke, an insult, or simply as a report about my own mental states. Here we have a case of the same semantic content with different illocutionary forces. A large part of successfully performing an illocutionary act (and so achieving perlocutionary success) relies on the tone of voice that one uses in uttering the semantic content. So, I always thought that music worked like the tone of voice without the semantic content. This interesting study provides some empirical data which might support this interpretation. I wonder if this kind of broadly Gricean view about music has been advocated by anyone who does philosophy of music?

The Terminator and Philosophy: Call for Abstracts

The Terminator and Philosophy

Edited by Richard Brown and Kevin S. Decker

The Blackwell Philosophy and Popular Culture Series

Please circulate and post widely.

Apologies for Cross-posting.

To propose ideas for future volumes in the Blackwell series please contact the Series Editor, William Irwin, at

Abstracts and subsequent essays should be philosophically substantial but accessible, written to engage the intelligent lay reader. Contributors of accepted essays will receive an honorarium.

Possible themes and topics might include, but are not limited to, the following:

“Can We Really Change the Future?” or “Killing Sarah Connor”: Cyberdyne Systems, time travel and the grandfather paradox; Skynet and John Connor: philosophy of technology and creating our own enemies; “Sentience, Sapience, and Self-Awareness”: issues in philosophy of mind; Neural Net to Supercomputer to ‘Software in Cyberspace’: Skynet and multiple realization;“Is Skynet Justified in Defending Itself?” the ethics of war and artificial intelligence; “Irrefutable Delusions”: Sarah Connor, Delusional Beliefs, and Standards of Evidence in T2;“Stop Miles Bennett Dyson”: Sarah Connor’s transformation into a killer (is violence contagious?) or Sarah Connor’s transformation from ‘80’s ditz to Feminist Icon; “Judgment Day is Unavoidable” or “No Fate but what we Make”: eternalist vs. presentist perspectives on the original versus modified timelines; “John Connor is the Most Important Person in the World”: causality and the meaning of life; “To Preserve and Protect”: the contrastive values of human versus artificial life; “What is a Terminator?”: The Ontology of Fictional Objects; “I Have Data Which Could be Interpreted as Pain”: machines, consciousness, and simulated perception; The T-1000: adaptable machines and emergence; How Did They Build Skynet?: “truthmakers” and knowledge with no source; Andy and the Turk: killing the innocent to save the innocent or Are scientists responsible for their inventions?; “Terminatrix”: the T3 gynoid , feminism, and trangressive cyborgs; “Should we Stop the Future?”: Conservatism and the “Terminator Argument” in bioethics; “The Closest Thing to a Father I Have”: John Connor & the Terminator; “Desire is Irrelevant, I am a MACHINE”: Who is Responsible for the Terminator’s Actions? Or freewill vs determinism; “Assume the Shape of Anything it Touches”: The Metaphysics of Transformation in T2 & T3; The Govinator: Fantasy and reality in politics; Does the Future Exist now?: The nature of spacetime and reality; Embodied Artificial Intelligence: Is AI actually possible, and if so, how close are we to creating it?; Monstrous Technology: From Frankenstein to the Terminator.

Submission Guidelines:

1. Submission deadline for abstracts (100-500 words) and CV(s): September 8, 2008.

2. Submission deadline for drafts of accepted papers: November 3, 2008.

Kindly submit by e-mail (with or without Word attachment) to: Richard Brown at

Valid but not in Virtue of Form?

Some remarks of the Semantic Terrorist in the post on moral truthmakers got me to thinking. Here is what he said.

consider the following argument which is easily proven to be invalid despite the fact that many analytic philosophers would mistakenly classify it as valid:

1) George Bush is a bachelor.
? George Bush is unmarried.

This argument is in the same logical form as the following:

1) George Bush is a Texan.
? George Bush is unmarried.

As ST points out many analytic philosophers do take that argument to valid. It is standard in logic textbooks to point out that these arguments meet the definition of validity; it is indeed impossible for the premise to be true and the conclusion to be false, but as the point continues, this isn’t because of teh form of the argument. The form, as ST demonstrates, allows for counter-examples, and so the validity must be due to something besides the form of the argument. The reason for the impossibility of the truth of the poremises and the conjunction of the denial of the concusion is said to be due to the definition of ‘bachelor’.

All of this is standard, but why isn’t the argument above seen as having a supressed premise of the form ‘all bachelors are unmarried makes’? Then the argument is formally valid; it is just an instance of a very common categorical syllogism. The same is true of the texan argument, it just happens to have a false suppressed premise ‘all Texans are unmarried males’. I don’t see what the argument against positing the suppressed premise is supposed to be. It is clearly the only way to make the inference legitimate.

Freedom of Speech Meets Speech Act Theory

In celebration of my one year in the blogosphere I have decided to start a new (randomly published) series of posts highlighting a post from exactly one year ago that did not recieve much attention. Here is the First.


If you have been around here lately then you know that I have been working on a paper on the higher-order theory of consciousness, and right now I am supposed to be converting the paper into a PowerPoint presentation, but I was distracted by the following line of thought…ah well…why fight it?

Freedom of speech is a foundational value in American society, and indeed ought to be foundational for any free society. Yet, even so we all recognize that there ought to be some limits set of this freedom. The important question, of course, is just what these limits ought to be. Famously Mill argued for what has come to be know as ‘the Harm Principle,’ which says, as he puts it, “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” But what limits does this impose?

Here is a quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on Mill.

If we accept the argument based on the harm principle we need to ask “what types of speech, if any, cause harm?” Once we can answer this question, we have found the correct limits to free expression. Mill uses the example of speech related to corn dealers; he suggests that it is fine to claim that corn dealers are starvers of the poor if such a view is expressed through the medium of the printed page, but that it is not permissible to express the same view to an angry mob, ready to explode, that has gathered outside the house of the dealer. The difference between the two is that the latter is an expression “such as to constitute…a positive instigation to some mischievous act,” (1978, 53), namely, to place the rights, and possibly the life, of the corn dealer in danger.

This kind of argument is common is the free speech debate. It is akin to the adage ‘you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre’and the so-called “fighting words” exception to free speech. Recent times have seen an adaptation of this kind of argument (especially in Britten) with respect to inciting terrorism.

It seems to me that what this kind of an argument amounts to is an injunction on certain kinds of speech acts (i.e. an injunction against certain illocutionary forces especially when they have some harmful perlocutionary effect. (I take it for granted that you know some speech act theory (Austin, Grice, etc), if you don’t let me know in the comments and I will give you a brief introduction to the basic ideas)). In fact when one goes back and re-reads Mill with some speech act theory in mind, it becomes clear that he is defending our right to make assertions (read: express beliefs) that are unpopular/believed to be false by others and to express moral sentiments that others may deem immoral but this clearly does not apply to ever kind of act that we can perform with speech.

Once we see speech as a kind of action then it becomes obvious that we ought to prohibit some kinds of speech, in just the same way that we prohibit certain kinds of actions (this, I take it, is similar to Stanley Fish’s views and why he says that no speech is ‘free’ though he does not appeal to speech act theory). In particular it becomes obvious that some kinds of speech acts that fall under ‘hate speech’ ought to be prohibited. We would not allow someone to poke a random person on the subway with a stick repeatedly, just to annoy the person. Why, then, should we allow someone to psychologically jab at someone with a racial slur, just to annoy the person?

Let us invent a racial slur for discussion’s sake. Let us say that there is a group of people for whom to be called a ‘bagger’ is as hurtful to them as our English “n” word.  Now suppose that someone said “Baggers are less intelligent than Asians, and it is a waste of time to try to educate them.” On the view that I am advocating it would be allowable for someone to say that in the course of asserting that baggers are less intelligent than Asians, as that is the expression of a belief which is an allowable speech act no matter how repugnant the belief is, and also no matter how much it pains me to hear you express it. This is because the perlocutionary goal of assertion is to get someone to believe something and not to cause harm to that person. Any harm produced is “collateral damage.” 

But it would not be allowable, on my view, to say the same thing in the course of performing some other kind of speech act that had as its perlocutionary goal inflicting some kind of psychological damage on the person, or of inciting them to do violence. Thus what matters is not what is said, but what one is doing in and by saying it.

Language, Thought, Logic, and Existence

Well, I’m off to go present my paper at the APA! I’ll be back on Monday. I guess I have Philosophy Sucks! to thank, since I was noticing that the paper grew out of some interesting discussion I had here last year. Thanks to everyone who participated!!

You can enjoy the virtual version here (and on the sidebar with the other virtual presentations), which is a recording of a rehersal I did today (It may take a second to open since I recorded it in stereo, which I haven’t before).