Philosophy 1810C:Recent Work in Philosophy of Language

General Information

Meetings are held Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1-2:20pm, in the seminar room in Corliss-Brackett House.

The instructor is Richard Heck. Office hours are Thursday, 2.30-4.00pm.


We'll primarily be reading Rudolf Carnap's Logical Structure of the World and David Chalmers's Constructing the World. Some other papers may be posted now and again.

An audio podcast of Chalmers's John Locke Lectures, on which the book was based, is available. These do not cover all the material in the book, and they are probably somewhat compressed, but they may be helpful to some of you.


23 January

Introductory Meeting

28 January

Carnap, Parts I & II

30 January

Carnap, Part III, Chapter A

You can skip §§42–45, if you wish, though some of you may find §§43-45 interesting. (These concern what Carnap proposes to do about intensionality, namely: Follow Frege very closely.)

The main topic here is what methods are available for "constructing" more "complex" objects from "simpler" ones. We'll want to try to understand how this is supposed to work, what the relation is supposed to be between the constructed objects and the ones from which they are constructed, and the specific sense in which the constructed objects are supposed to be able to "do the work" of the ones they are supposed to represent.

4–6 February

Carnap, Part III, Chapters B and C

You can skim §§55–60. You can skip §§62 and 83.

I expect we will cover up to about §69 on Tuesday. The main issue here is what the "basis" of the system is supposed to be. Carnap settles upon the experiences of a single individual, where these are regarded as undifferentiated wholes, i.e., not as composed from specific sensations. Our main goal will be to try to understand why he makes this choice.

Regarding III.C.2, your first goal should be simply to understand what Carnap is trying to do here and, roughly, how he is trying to do it. The details are complicated and messy, especially the business about "essential" and "accidental" overlap in §81. We'll discuss that some in class.

Note that, as Carnap motivates the construction, he refers to various sections in Part IV Chapter A, where the formal construction is carried out. We are not going to read these separately, and the formal parts of the construction are carried out in a somewhat idiosyncratic symbolism I do not propose to try to unpack. However, as Carnap explains in Chapter E of this part, the construction is also paraphrased in ordinary language, expressed in the "realistic language" of science, and described in terms of an imaginary construction actually being performed by some thinker. It can be very useful to have a look at these when Carnap refers to them, as they are sometimes clearer than the "informal" account given in Part III.

11 February

Carnap, Part III, Chapter D

You can omit §§91–92. Note that the reading for this class is on the lighter side. The reading for the next class is longer, so you might want to get started on that early.

Carnap here continues to sketch the construction of various aspects of experience from the very minimal basis he has allowed himself, including position in the visual field, relations between colors, and so forth. We'll try to work through some of these in class to try to get a better sense for how the construction is supposed to go.

As mentioned above, it can be really helpful to look the the sections of Part IV.A to which Carnap refers. So you might think of yourself as reading that as well, at the same time.

13 February

Carnap, Part IV, Chapters B and C

You can skip §§141–4 and §§150–5.

In these sections, Carnap sketches the contruction of physical space, visual objects, my body, the world of physics, biological objects, the mental states of other people, and so on and so forth. Much of it, you can really skim.

We'll focus on a few things. One is Carnap's construction of physical space in §§124–7. I've produced a dual-column version of the conditions laid out in §126 and then restated in §127. (You'll need the usual username and password to access it.) The other material that is of special interest concerns Carnap's remarks about the construction of the intersubjective world in §§145-9.

Here's the main question I'd like to be able to answer: What on earth does Carnap think he's doing?

18 February

No Class: Presidents' Day Holiday

20 February

Carnap, Part V

In the final part of the book, Carnap outlines some of the philosophical implications he takes his constructional system to have. We probably won't have time to discuss all of it, but a few things that are worth discussing would seem to be:

  1. Carnap's solution to the problem of intentionality, in §164: Is there anything to be said in favor of it? Better: What does the fact that Carnap would accept such a 'solution' tell us about how he is conceiving his project?
  2. The discussion of 'the psycho-physical problem' in Chapter B: The way Carnap illustrates the problem has become quite familiar, but his solution seems in many ways simply to ignore what many people might have thought the real issue was. (See especially §169.) Is the lingering issue as non-sensical as Carnap makes it seem? Actually, does he think it non-sensical? What he says is that is is not a scientific problem.
  3. Similiar questions arise for Carnap's discussion of what would nowadays be called "metaphysical realism": the view that the objects of science are in some important sense independent of the mind. Is Carnap's attitude toward that question justified?

A larger question is just how much the perspective Carnap expresses here actually depends upon his adoption of the constuctional approach, and of the particular version of that approach he accepts. E.g., does the resolution of 'the psycho-physical problem' depend upon Carnap's choice of an autopsychological basis for his system? Does it depend upon our purusing a constructional project at all?

Finally, it may be worth our spending at least a few minutes talking about the final few sections of the book. Here, Carnap expresses a striking attitude towards questions of relgious faith:

We do not here wish to make either a negative or a positive value judgment about faith and intuition (in the nonrational sense). They are areas of life just like poetry and love. Like these latter areas, they can of course become objects of science (for there is nothing which could not become an object of science), but, as far as their content is concerned, they are altogether different from science. Those nonrational areas, on the one hand, and science, on the other hand, can neither confirm nor disprove one another. (§181)

What seems to be behind this attitude? How is it similar to, or different from, Carnap's attitude towards "intuitive metaphysics", discussed in §182? (Those of you who have read the Tractatus will note Carnap's endorsement of what he calls Wittgenstein's formulation of "the proud thesis of the omnipotence of rational science as well as the humble insight relative to its importance for practical life" in 6.5–6.522.)

25–27 February

Chalmers, Introduction and Chapter 1
The Excurses are optional, but those of you with an interest in epistemology may wish to read the First; with an interest in philosophy of language, especially Quine, the Second.

4–6 March

Chalmers, Chapter 2 and Excursus 4
Presenters: Loius and Dennis
You should feel free to skip §2.3 and §2.4. The former is concerned with issues related to Fitch's paradox that will not concern us direclty. The latter is concerned with details about how Conditional Scrutability is formulated that do not matter terribly much for what follows. If you are interested in such issues, then you may want to look at the Stanford Encyclopedia article on conditionals.
The last section, §2.8, you may save for Thursday if you wish. It discusses a series of objections to Chalmers's use of idealization and will make a good topic for that day.
The other Excurses are optional, but I recommend reading the Third, if you can. If you have an interest in epistemology, again, you may wish to look at the Fifth.

11 March

Ned Block & Robert Stalnaker, "Conceptual analysis, dualism, and the explanatory gap", Philosophical Review 108 (1999), 1–46 (JSTOR, Block's website)
If you wish, you can omit §10 for now.
If you have not read Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", Philosophical Review 60 (1951), pp. 20–43 (JSTOR), you should read that, too (and first). For our purposes, sections I–IV are the most important; you can skip or skim what follows.

11–13 March

David J. Chalmers & Frank Jackson, "Conceptual analysis and reductive explanation", Philosophical Review 110 (2001), pp. 315–61 (JSTOR, Chalmers's site)
You can skip §§6–7, which deal with issues concerning reductive explanation that are not our central focus.

The main questions on which I'd ask you to focus are these.

  • In §4, Chalmers and Jackson claim to give an argument that all macrophysical truths are scrutable from PQTI (though they do not use that language). What is that argument?
  • In what ways does thar argument depend upon the "model of conceptual analysis" that is presented in §3?
  • To what extent do Block and Stalnaker's arguments depend, as Chalmers and Jackson say in §5(1), upon the assumption that they must give an "explicit analysis" of the concept water in microphysical terms?
  • In §5(6), Chalmers and Jackson discuss the concern that some of the inferences from PQTI to macrophysical truths might depend upon empirical statements and so not be a priori. What is their response?

Throughout, you will probably find it useful to focus on specific examples, such as the case of water or the case of knowledge.

18–20 March

Chalmers, Chapter 3
Presenters: Melanie and Jae
The Sixth Excursus is optional, but those of you with an interest in context-dependence might wish to read it.

25–27 March

No Class: Spring Break

1–3 April

Chalmers, Chapter 4 and the Eighth Excursus
For Tuesday, you need only read through §4.8. For Thursday, you should also read §4.9 and the Eighth Excursus.
Presenters: Yongming and Luke
The Seventh Excursus is optional.

8 April

Sick Day

10 April

Chalmers, Chapter 5: §§5.1–5.5
If you have not read Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" (JSTOR), you should.

15 April

Chalmers, Chapter 5: §§5.6–5.9
Presenters: Philip and Jae.

17 April

Laura Schroeter, "Two-Dimensional Semantics", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (URL)
We will be most interested in the "rationalist interpretation" of the view discussed in §2.3

22 April

Chalmers, Chapter 5, Tenth and Eleventh Excurses
Presenters: Yongming and Richard

24 April

Laura Schroeter, "Considering Empty Worlds As Actual", Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (2005), pp. 331–47 (PDF, DjVu)
See also "Against A Priori Reductions", Philosophical Quarterly 56 (2006), pp. 562-86 (PDF, DjVu)

Jeff Speaks, "Epistemic Two-Dimensionalism and the Epistemic Argument", Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (2010), pp. 59–78 (PDF)

29 April

Edward Elliot, Kelvin McQueen, and Clas Weber, "Epistemic Two-Dimensionalism and Arguments from Epistemic Misclassification", Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (2013), pp. 375–89 (PDF, DjVu)

Laura Schroeter, "Epistemic Two-Dimensionalism and Empirical Presuppositions" Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (2013), pp. 391–4 (PDF, DjVu)

Jeff Speaks, "No Easy Argument for Two-Dimensionalism", forthcoming in Australasian Journal of Philosophy (PDF)

12 May Final Paper Due