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Role of Content in Mind Language and Metaphysics

The Birkbeck Workshop on the Role of Content in Mind Language and Metaphysics was held on May 3rd and 4th at Senate House. The aim of the event was to bring together philosophers working in (and sometimes across) the sub-areas of mind, language, and metaphysics in order to consider the role and nature of “content” (what’s represented by a sentence, a thought, or any other representation). Content is a central notion in the philosophy of mind and language, but it isn’t always obvious whether philosophers are working with a shared understanding. Philosophers of mind have recruited content to help make sense of the representational nature of cognition and perception as well as the phenomenology of experience. But these theorists, especially those looking to contents to guide our understanding of subjective experiences, are not obviously employing notions familiar to those working in formal semantics and the philosophy of language. Some philosophers of mind have, for example, departed from a propositional model of content in favour of ‘pictorial contents’, ‘structures of properties’, and ‘objectual contents’ when aiming to explain various features of the mind. And in the other direction, the modelling tools that allow one to theorise about successful communication, meaning, and truth-conditions found in linguistics and the philosophy of language don’t clearly look to be constrained by the same considerations one finds in the philosophy of mind. A great deal of theorising about content in language and communication aims to abstract away from the particularities of any individual. Can content tailored to the individual and her phenomenology be continuous with the contents of linguistic representations? And might advances in theorising about content in language have a place in philosophy of mind? Increasingly many philosophers of language have taken an interest in dynamic semantic systems that (at least apparently) trade propositional contents for ‘discourse representations’ or ‘context change potentials’ – items that scarcely appear in the work of philosophers of mind but perhaps should. Meanwhile, in metaphysics, there has been an uptick in the work on the nature of propositions. Some of that work dovetails with the role propositions are asked to play in a theory of language while others with considerations about the mind. The event brought together speakers and participants to discuss these and related issues:

  • Lorraine Keller (Niagara) - In Defense of Magic
  • Derek Ball (St. Andrews) - Content and the Epistemology of Measurement
  • Robbie Williams (Leeds) - Interpretation and Induction
  • Frances Egan (Rutgers) - Naturalising Intentionality Without Naturalising Content
  • Robert Matthews (Rutgers) - That-clauses: Some Bad News for Relationalists About the Attitudes
  • Corine Besson (Sussex) - Reconciling Intentionality, Emptiness and Externalism
  • Ray Buchanan (Texas) - Propositions on the Cheap
  • Jeff Speaks (Notre Dame) - Propositions, Representational Properties, and the Attitudes

Further Information

The event was made possible by generous support from the Mind Association, the Analysis Trust, the LEM group at the Institute of Philosophy, and the Department of Philosophy at Birkbeck.

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