I. Course Description The seminar will be an investigation of the kinds of conceptual resources a creature must possess if it is to represent a world of mind-independent particulars. How must such a creature be able to think of itself, of the objects it represents, and of its own relation to those objects? These are questions whose prominence in recent anglophone philosophy is largely due to the writings of P. F. Strawson and Gareth Evans, so their work will be our starting point. We will focus on three kinds of representational powers, each of which is arguably a precondition of objective representation:
(I) the power to think about locations in space (i.e., to think under such “egocentric” headings as here, there, above me, to the left, and also under such “objective” headings as in the vicinity of object O and at pointp);
(II) the power to think about particular objects as belonging to reidentifiable kinds (i.e., to think of things under such headings as an F and this F, where the relevant F determines a principle for counting something encountered on another occasion as the same F); and
Any of these powers could be the topic of a semester-length course, but there is something to be said for considering them together: it helps us to see how they form an interdependent system, and thus places some constraints on our account of any one of them. One of the main aims of the seminar will be to bring out this interdependence: appreciating it is crucial to seeing why these modes of thinking constitute basic conceptual powers, not just specialized concepts which a given thinker might fail to possess.
In addition to sharing an interest in the conditions of objective representation, Strawson and Evans share a commitment to certain characteristic theses about these conditions. The following formulations are rough, but they convey the spirit of the outlook:
(1) Thought about spatiotemporal particulars is the basic kind of objective thought: without the capacity for this sort of thought, we would not be able to think objectively at all.
(2) In the basic case, thinking about spatiotemporal particulars involves thinking of them as possible objects of perception.
(3) Our capacity to think about spatiotemporal particulars depends on our ability to think of them as belonging to reidentifiable kinds.
(4) We can think about a given object or property only if our power to represent that object or property forms part of a general system of representational powers, a system that enables us to think a range of other thoughts about the object or property in question.
(5) Our capacity to think objectively depends on our capacity to think of ourselves as such – i.e., it depends on our being self-conscious.
We might call these theses the Kantian framework, since they bear close similarities to theses Kant defended. They are theses of which the seminar leader is, let us say, fond: he would like to see them prove defensible. But each of the theses has been challenged, and we will look at various challenges to them, some from philosophers and others from psychologists. We will be asking how exactly the theses should be formulated, and what the argument for them is supposed to be.
II. Texts The following texts are available for purchase at the Coop:
1. P. F. Strawson, Individuals. Routledge, 1959.
2. Gareth Evans, The Varieties of Reference. OUP, 1982.
If you like these, you may also enjoy:
3. Gareth Evans, Collected Papers. OUP, 1996.
III. Schedule of Readings The following is a tentative list of readings. Underlined items are available on the web. Items not underlined and not contained in either of our two main texts will be made available for photocopying in Robbins Library.
Sept. 21 Introduction
Sept. 28 Individuation and Identification
Strawson, Individuals, Ch. 1
Recommended: E. Tugendhat, “Existence in Space and Time”
E. Tugendhat, Traditional and Analytical Philosophy, Chs. 23-24
D. Wiggins, “The Individuation of Things and Places”
J. Campbell, “The Role of Physical Objects in SpatialThinking”
Recommended: L. Wittgenstein, The Blue Book, pp. 66-70
J. Perry, “The Problem of the Essential Indexical”
D. Lewis, “Attitudes De Dicto and De Se”
J. Perry, “Myself and ‘I’”
Dec. 7 The Sense of Self-Reference I
Strawson, Individuals, Ch. 3
S. Shoemaker, “Self-Reference and Self-Identification”
Recommended: J. Campbell, Past, Space, and Self, Chs. 3-4
H. Ishiguro, “The Primitiveness of the Concept of a Person”
Dec. 14 The Sense of Self-Reference II
Evans, Varieties, Ch. 7
Recommended: J. McDowell, “Referring to Oneself”
S. Rödl, Self-Consciousness, Chs. 1-4
T. Burge, “Reason and the First Person”
I. Rumfitt, “Frege’s Theory of Predication”
IV. Requirements 1. One term paper (about 20 pages) on any topic discussed in the course. Please come talk to me in advance about your topic.
2. Weekly contributions to the course email discussion list. These may be very short: you can simply raise some question about the material we are discussing, make a brief objection to some claim, etc. Or you may respond to an issue raised in somebody else’s email.