Visual Experience: A Semantic Approach
Forthcoming with OUP
Here is an extract from the latest version. To get an idea of what happens in the rest of the book, see my thesis.
Forthcoming in Philosophical Studies
One common style of mathematical proof is to prove that an arbitrary number n has a certain property, and then conclude that every number has that property. What semantic role does ‘n’ play in this proof? We argue that it refers to a particular number (perhaps the number 27), although we do not and cannot know which. We argue that it is possible to arbitrarily refer to objects in this way, and that such arbitrary reference is a fundamental semantic phenomenon, the recognition of which will be important to the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind.
Against one Reason for Thinking that Visual Experiences have Representational Content
Philosophical Perspectives, 2007 issue (Philosophy of Mind)
There is a widely held view in the philosophy of perception that visual experiences have representational content. One reason that I sometimes hear given in support of this view is that when something looks a certain way, it makes sense to ask whether or not it is the way it looks. I argue that this is not a good reason to think that visual experiences have representational content.
A New Defence of the Adverbial Theory
A paper-length version of the above book, focusing on what it has to say about the nature of visual experience. In particular, I defend an adverbial account of visual experience, by appealing to the semantics of ‘look’ sentences. I argue that not only can a viable and defensible version of the adverbial theory be given, but that there are good reasons to think that it is the correct account of visual experience. I have given a presentation of this paper to a perception seminar at Cornell, and another presentation to the Discussion Club at Cornell.
The Transitivity of Looking the Same As
There has been some debate recently about whether or not looking the same as is a transitive relation. By appealing to the semantics of ‘look’ sentences that I developed in my doctoral thesis I argue that it is, and offer an explanation for why anyone might think that it is not.
Against Experiences having Representational Content
A lot of contemporary philosophy of perception proceeds on the assumption that visual experiences have representational content (e.g. my reddish visual experience of an apple represents that the apple is red). It seems to me that this assumption is wrong, and that it is becoming increasingly pressing to lay out clearly the case against it. A start has been made, by Charles Travis (‘The Silence of the Senses’), by me (‘Against one Reason for Thinking that Visual Experiences have Representational Content’), and by a few others. But the case needs to be made more strongly, and backed by an alternative account of visual experience (I have one ready to go, a by-product of my doctoral thesis).
The Metaphysical Impact of Semantic Theories
In much of the above work I appeal to semantic theories to argue for metaphysical positions. This is a survey article about the nature and scope of such appeal, to appear in Philosophy Compass.
The Meaning of ‘Seem’
In the linguistics literature there is some discussion of the meaning of ‘seem', and in particular of sentences such as ‘John seems as if he is tired’. Much of what I have to say about ‘look’ in my thesis carries over to ‘seem’, and this has implications for the claims about ‘seem’ that are made in the linguistcis literature.
In my work on the semantics of ‘look’ sentences I appeal to ways of looking. This is just one instance of many other appeals to ways in philosophy. Surprisingly, little work has been done on the nature of ways. In this paper I make a start on correcting that. I have given a presentation of a related paper to the Cornell Linguistics Department Semantics Seminar.
Ways of Knowing
In a series of recent papers Quassim Cassam has developed the idea that ways of knowing are important objects of study in epistemology - important because understanding what counts as a way of knowing is the key to understanding what knowledge is. As part of this project he has considered in detail the question of what counts as a way of knowing. I consider in detail what Cassam has to say about what ways of knowing are, in the hope that it might shed light on the nature of ways in general (I argue that it does not).
A New Theory of Fregean Sense
I develop a new theory of Fregean sense based on the old idea that the sense of an expression that has content is a way of thinking about its content. I extend the theory to expressions that lack content, by allowing that the sense of an expression is a way of thinking, simpliciter. I explain how the sense of an expression might get to be a part of the meaning of the expression.
Propositions as Properties
I argue that propositions are ways, and therefore properties, and draw some consequences about the nature of truth, predication, and entailment.
Semantic Facts are Generics
I propose that sentences such as ‘w means m’ (where w is a word and m is a meaning) are generics. I then appeal to general facts about generics to argue that ‘w means m’ means that that w is conventionally used to mean m, thereby providing a new argument for the view that w means m iff w is conventionally used to mean m. I have given a presentation of this paper to the Ockham Society at Oxford University. Here is a previous version.
It is traditionally thought that ‘cash’ in ‘I cashed a check’ is a distinct word from ‘cash’ in ‘I needed some cash’, belonging to a distinct lexical category, and used with a distinct (but related) meaning. I argue that ‘cash’ in ‘I cashed a check’ is the same word, used with the same meaning, and also with a second (distinct) meaning. Word conversion is not a process whereby a new word is created, but one in which an existing word comes to be used in a new way and acquires a new meaning. I have presented some of this paper to the philosophy department at Charles Sturt University. Some of these ideas are developed in a draft paper ‘Table six left without paying’.
The above work on word conversion suggests that we need to rethink the nature of lexical categories. I argue that being a noun, verb, etc. is primarily a property of structural positions in sentences, and only secondarily a property of words. For a word to be a noun is for it to be generically true that it is used in noun position; for a word to be a verb is for it to be generically true that it is used in verb position; and so on. Facts about the lexical categories of words are generic facts about the positions in which those words are used. I have presented some of this paper to the linguistics department at Oxford.
A distinction is often drawn between gradable predicates (such as ‘tall’) and non-gradable predicates (such as ‘unique’), on the basis that being tall comes in degrees whereas being unique does not. But it seems to me, at least at first glance, that being unique does come in degrees: Ithaca, for example, is more unique than its neighboring town Watkins Glen. It seems to me, in fact, that everything comes in degrees. Of course, it can be argued that it is not strictly speaking true that Ithaca is more unique than Watkins Glen, but the same can also be argued of being tall. The issue of what is going on the uniqueness case, and whether it differs from what is going on in the tallness case, needs a lot more careful thought.
On Generic Uses of Sentences
In much of the research that I do I make claims that are to be understood generically. It would be nice, therefore, to know more about what it is to use a sentence generically. I propose a new account, according to which: when we use a sentence generically we express a non-extensional relation between two properties.
A survey article to appear in Philosophy Compass.
A New Theory of Epistemic Modals
I offer and explore a new ‘disjunctive’ theory of epistemic modals, according to which an utterance of ‘might p’ is true iff p is true or q is true, where q is a proposition determined by the context of utterance.
Arbitrary Reference and Vagueness
We present a new theory of vagueness, according to which a vague word is one whose reference was fixed arbitrarily in a distinctive kind of way. The theory yields an epistemic account of vagueness: vague words have sharp cut-off points, although we do not and cannot know where they are. But it provides a different account of this epistemic failing from the one provided by Williamson. According to our account, we cannot know because the reference was fixed arbitrarily. But it is possible to fix the reference of a word arbitrarily without it thereby being a vague word. So this lack of knowledge is not what is distinctive about vague words. Rather, it is the manner in which their reference is fixed arbitrarily.
Knowledge as Acquaintance
We argue that we use the word ‘know’ to express the same 2-place relation in each of ‘John knows Mary’, ‘John knows that Mary likes to laugh’, and ‘John knows how to make Mary laugh’. In particular, for John to know that Mary likes to laugh is for John to stand in the very same relation to the proposition that Mary likes to laugh as he stands in to Mary when he knows Mary. We use this to explain various features of propositional knowledge, such as why it is factive and why it is not justified true belief. We argue that various phenomena to do with propositional knowledge are specific instances of phenomena to do with knowledge in general.
Building on the idea above, we argue that for Mary to know how to ride a bicycle, on the reading that interested Ryle, is not for Mary to stand in the ‘know’ relation to a proposition (as Stanley and Williamson argue), but for her to stand in the ‘know’ relation to a way of riding a bicycle.
I argue that, despite intuitions to the contrary, to make an object is not to bring it into existence. Rather, it is, for some kind k, to change it from not being a k into being a k. I make some proposals about the way that we talk about making. I use both of these to defend the position that a statue that coincides with a piece of alloy is identical to the piece of alloy, thereby illustrating the importance of getting clear about the nature of making and the way that we talk about it. I have given a presentation of this paper to the Cornell Philosophy Workshop. Here is the current version.
Against Saying what we Believe
It is very common practice in philosophy that when a philosopher presents arguments for or against a certain position she also says whether or not she thinks that position is true. I argue that we should stop doing this, and just present the arguments.
One way to argue that there is more to the meaing of a name than the object to which it refers is to appeal to a difference in informativeness between ‘Hesperus is Hesperus’ and ‘Hesperus is Phosphorus’. I argue that if there is such a difference then it tells us more about knowing the meaning of a name than it does about what the meaning of a name can or cannot be.
This is a paper about whether or not ‘or’ is ambiguous between an inclusive sense and an exclusive sense. I have given a presentation of this paper to the Ockham Society at Oxford University. Here is an old draft.
(With Peter Sutton.) We raise some concerns about the notion of vacuous truth. Here is a draft.
Intellectual Bullying in Philosophy
I argue that philosophers are sometimes guilty of intellectual bullying, and that we should tolerate it just as little as we tolerate physical bullying in schools.
I explore the issue of what analogies are, and how they should and should not be used.