Institut Jean Nicod

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Doc’in Nicod 2011

Institut Jean Nicod, salle de réunion, Pavillon Jardin, 29, rue d’Ulm 75005 Paris

23 June, 11AM-1PM: Felipe Carvalho (Phd student with François Récanati) 

Title: Are there olfactory objects?

What do we directly smell? Odors suggest themselves as the most plausible candidates for the direct objects of olfactory experience, but it is far from clear what is the nature of these odors in olfaction; are they olfactory objects, represented in experience as such, or are they mere sensational features, detected by the olfactory system and modifying consciousness in a non-representational way? 

Many philosophers argue for the latter view; although we may talk and refer to odors as if they were objects, this is to be seen either as a manner of speaking or a cognitive achievement, over and above the purely sensational features of olfaction. Two types of arguments are usually presented in favor of this view:

1. Phenomenological arguments: from a phenomenological point of view, odors do not have distinguished spatial locations, but simply fill the air around us. The qualities we perceive through smell do not afford object differentiation, but are experienced as diffused in some undifferentiated space around us. Hence, we should rather talk of olfactory features rather than objects given to us in olfactory experience.
2. Psychological-theoretical arguments: there are some constitutive conditions something must fulfill in order to count as a perceptual representation, and odors fail to satisfy these conditions. In particular, for something to be a representation as of a distal entity in the environment, over and above mere sensory registration, it is argued that perceptual constancies must be applied to it, which discount idiosyncratic perspectival sensory registration in order to focus on perspective-independent features of the distal object itself. But nothing of the sort seems to be found in olfaction, where there is no room for the notion of an “olfactory perspective”.

Despite these arguments, some philosophers have proposed perceptual-representational accounts of olfactory experience, but there is reason to be unsatisfied with these accounts. By giving too much weight to type-1 arguments, these philosophers construe representational contents as constituted by simple olfactory features like ‘fruity’ or ‘smoky’, attributed to an undifferentiated space “around the subject”. This proposal leaves no role for olfactory objects, as all smelled qualities, even if caused by different odors, would simply blend and be attributed to this undifferentiated space. In addition, these accounts do not seriously address type-2 arguments, and it is unclear what role representations are playing in the theory, over and above sensory registration of olfactory features. 

In this talk I will move beyond these views and propose a perceptual account of olfaction, defining an empirically respectable and phenomenologically adequate notion of an olfactory object – an odor – that is represented in olfactory experience and play the role of a direct object of olfactory experience. This account has resources to deal with both types of arguments seen above in a satisfactory way.

The phenomenological argument that there cannot be olfactory objects because olfaction does not spatially distinguish them simply begs the question against a non-spatial modality like olfaction. Representations of olfactory objects should be posited not because odors are perceived as occupying distinguished spatial positions, but to account for how an odor is identified and perceived as the same despite enormous variations in stimuli. Type-1 arguments usually focus on experiences where we bracket external sources and come to attend to qualities of the odor itself, like smelling a particular red wine and becoming aware of features like ‘fruity’, ‘flowery’, and so on, which type-1 arguments take as adequate phenomenological descriptions of olfaction. No doubt this is something we can do, but for this experience to occur, it is required that the system has already identified and represented an olfactory object – a ‘red wine’ odor – that is available as a unit of olfactory attention, and that remains constant as we notice its different qualities. Hence, this sort of phenomenology is compatible with the existence of olfactory objects, and in fact seems to presuppose it.

In response to type-2 arguments, I will draw on current empirical research on olfaction and show that odors do fulfill conditions for perceptual representations. Type-2 arguments have mostly focused on odor detection at the olfactory bulb, a level that can be plausibly taken to sensorily register features rather than perceptually represent them, but nowadays psychologists look beyond the olfactory bulb to the piriform cortex as the locus of odor representation, where genuinely perceptual processes like figure-ground segregation and perceptual constancies occur. 

These considerations give support the claim that olfaction may be seen as a proper perceptual modality. Through smell, the olfactory system identifies, classifies, and construes a perceptual representation of an olfactory object – an odor – that is perceived as the same across variations in stimuli, plays the role of a direct object of olfaction, and function as a unit of olfactory attention.

Past sessions

October, 29 11 am- 1 pm: Grace Helton (visiting student from NYU)
Title: Two Kinds of Cognitive Penetrability
In the face of increasing evidence that perception is cognitively penetrable, philosophers have taken an interest in working out the implications of penetrability for a number of debates, including the modularity debate, the theory-theory vs. simulation theory debate, and—most recently—the age-old debate over the epistemic status of perception. In this presentation, I make a distinction between two kinds of penetrability, corresponding to two ways in which beliefs can, at least in principle, influence perceptual states: on the one hand, a belief might ‘bequeath’ at least some of its content to an ‘inheriting’ perceptual state. In these sorts of cases, the kind of influence the belief exerts over the perceptual state is one of *inheritance*, where a given perceptual state inherits the content of a given belief only if that belief’s influence on the perceptual state could persist even if the belief itself should ‘perish.’ Alternatively, a belief might merely ‘lend’ its content to some perceptual state, in which case, the mechanism of influence would be one of *non-inheritance*. A given belief influences a given perceptual state via non-inheritance only if the belief’s influence on the perceptual would notpersist should the belief itself cease to exist.

After characterizing the inheritance/non-inheritance distinction in greater detail, I will give two reasons for thinking that the distinction is an important one for discussions of cognitive penetrability. First, I will argue that cases of non-inherited cognitive penetrability are much more
difficult to establish than cases of inherited cognitive penetrability. Second, I will suggest that perceptual states that have inherited some belief’s traits play a different role in epistemology than perceptual states that have been penetrated by, but have not inherited the traits of, some belief.

November, 12, 11 am - 1 pm: Michele Palmira (visiting student from University of Modena and Reggio-Emilia)
Title: Faultless Disagreement in Wolf's Clothing
One of the attractive features of relativism is the possibility of making room for the intuition that, in some areas of discourse, the disagreement is faultless. Relativism contends that this intuition is possible only in so-called subjective disputes, e.g. aesthetics, ethics. In the paper I challenge these two claims by making sense of a faultless disagreement situation concerning set theory. I discuss the case of two people supporting two different axiomatizations of set theory proving the same theorems about sets. In primis, I describe in which sense the two disputants are not merely proposing two alternatives but really are in disagreement. I secondly explain why the antagonists can keep on sustaining their respective views by showing that the relevant reasons in favour of one party concern set theory in its use instead of set theory per se. I thirdly provide a non-relativist answer to Crispin Wright’s semi-formal proof (Simple Deduction) that given any dispute, either it is not faultless or it is not a disagreement: I argue that the notion of being at fault has not to be taken in an absolute sense and I then account for a difference between an epistemic sense and a pragmatic sense of being at fault. On this distinction hinges the possibility of accepting the upshot of the Simple Deduction, recognizing who is at fault and, at the same time, rescuing a sense in which there is faultless disagreement.

Monday November 15 3-5PM
Sam Wilkinson (visiting student from University of Edinburgh)
Title: “Egocentric judgements, encyclopaedic beliefs, and delusional assertions”
Capgras delusion is often, rather ambiguously as we shall see, described as the delusion that “a loved one has been replaced by an impostor”. Patients suffering from this (in cases caused by brain-damage, which do not occur in the context of schizophrenia) don’t necessarily exhibit any overall reasoning deficit, and when kept away from the so-called impostor, have been known to lead ordinary lives. Any theory of belief has to explain how this delusion, which is highly tenacious, can be maintained among a set of conflicting beliefs within the mind of a seemingly rational subject. Some have held that such delusions exhibit a functional role that is so different from that exhibited by beliefs that it forces us to claim that they are not really beliefs (Currie 2000, Currie and Jureidini 2001, Currie and Ravenscroft 2002, Egan 2009). I think this is too quick. Here I present an overlooked distinction between encyclopaedic beliefs and egocentric judgements. Such a distinction contributes to a better understanding of Capgras delusion, and one on the basis of which it is genuinely doxastic. While encyclopaedic beliefs are reportable and context independent, egocentric judgements have context-dependent singular content involving perceived elements of one’s surroundings.

November, 26, 11 am - 1 pm: Chiara Brozzo (Phd student from University of Milan)
Title: Action in (the content of) perception

My talk will aim to present some conceptual challenges that the activation of mirror neurons raises under the philosophical viewpoint. Such neurons appear to be sensitive to the goal-directedness of behaviour, that is, they encode motor actions as opposed to mere movements (Rizzolatti et al., 1996a; Rizzolatti et al., 1996b; Rizzolatti & Sinigaglia, 2008; Rizzolatti & Sinigaglia, 2010). This has been suggested by a series of experiments that I will illustrate (Umiltà et al., 2008; Fogassi et al., 2005). As for the philosophical challenges, first of all the sensitivity to goals displayed by mirror neurons in perception leads us to wonder to what extent perception is cognitive, and, more generally, to reconsider what should count as a perceptual process versus a cognitive process (see, e.g., Pylyshyn, 1999). Secondly, it is to be emphasized how action constitutively shapes perception, not at the level of the perceptual process per se, but primarily as regards the content of perception (cf. Noë, 2004). Lastly, it is to be noted that mirror neuron activation belongs to the sub-personal level of explanation, whereas the ascription of aims can be more naturally characterized as belonging to the personal level (see, Dennett, 1969; Hornsby, 2000). A question therefore arises as to what the relation is between the two levels of explanation with regard to the content of perception.

Thursday December, 9, 4:30PM-6:30PM (NB: change in day and in time)

Marius Dumitru (PhD student with Pierre Jacob) 

Title: Arguments For the Phenomenology of Thought

In this talk, I shall review and analyze three classes of arguments
for the phenomenology of thought: 1) epistemological arguments, 2) phenomenal contrast arguments, and 3) new phenomenal contrast arguments. I shall argue that epistemological arguments and phenomenal contrast arguments do not satisfactorily prove the existence of a sui generis phenomenology of thought, but only that of an associated phenomenology of thought. I shall argue that new phenomenal contrast arguments, relying on the principle of cognitive-phenomenological infiltration, do prove the existence of a sui generis phenomenology of thought, even if that phenomenology is not always manifest in experience and clear-cut examples of it cannot always be adduced. I shall end by evaluating how the three classes of arguments fare with respect to the issue of the order of priority between understanding/producing and phenomenology, which, if inserted into the logical space of Phenomenology of Thought theses, leads to at least four positions on the phenomenology of thought: sui generis
phenomenology of thought first, associated phenomenology of thought first, sui generis phenomenology of thought second, associated phenomenology of thought second.

28 January: Chiara Chelini (Postdoc with Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde and Tiziana Zalla) 
Title:Economic coordination games with Autism Spectrum Disorder: reasoning about focal points, expressing individual preferences and guessing average ones.

We submitted to a population of Autism Spectrum Disorder adult subjects an economic behavioural game, namely a pure coordination game of the Schelling’s type. This is a two-persons symmetric and simultaneous game in which players are paired and need to converge on the same choice. Game
theory has not elaborated a viable normative model for explaining their solution, and several descriptive theories have been proposed, one of which is the selection of a salient feature, defined as a focal point. Moreover, game theory has not been considering the cognitive mechanism triggered in finding solutions of coordination games. This paper aims at filling in this gap, making some variations on traditional coordination games and analyzing three different treatments which, in our opinion, trigger three different reasoning mechanisms: reasoning about a common salient item, reasoning about one own preferences, reasoning about other people’s preferences.

We expected individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder to manifest some impairment in coordinating on a common item (i.e. reaching a lower relative coordination index), while showing to be more concentrated on their own preferences as a criterion to coordinate than a control group of typically developed subjects.

10 February: Nat Hansen (Postdoc with François Récanati) 
Title: On an Alleged Truth/Falsity Asymmetry in Context Shifting Thought Experiments 

Abstract: Keith DeRose has argued that contextualist context shifting thought experiments should be designed in a specific way in order to accommodate what he calls a “truth/falsity asymmetry”. I explain and critique DeRose’s reasons for proposing this modification to contextualist methodology, drawing on experimental findings about the verification of affirmative and negative statements. While DeRose’s argument for his particular modification to contextualist methodology fails, I argue that the upshot of his proposal is that there is good reason to pay close attention to several neglected aspects of the design of context shifting thought experiments. I conclude by proposing specific improvements to the standard design of context shifting thought experiments

24 February: Valentine Reynaud (Phd student with Denis Forest from University of Lyon) 

Titre: Comment établir la spécificité (domain-specificity) d’une capacité cognitive ? 

Possédons-nous une disposition spécifique au langage ou une capacité dédiée à la reconnaissance des visages? La notion de spécificité peut-elle échapper à la trivialité qui semble pourtant la caractériser (il est trivialement vrai que toute capacité cognitive s’exerce sur un objet particulier) ? Certains arguments majeurs (issus de la psychologie du développement et de la psychologie évolutionniste) en faveur de la spécificité de la capacité à reconnaître les visages seront examinés. Je montre que ces arguments sont problématiques surtout parce qu’ils restent tributaires de nos distinctions phénoménales. Je pense néanmoins que la notion de spécificité peut échapper à la trivialité, à la condition d’être conçue comme une spécificité non pas des types d’objets ou des domaines mais de certaines propriétés. Ainsi au lieu d’une capacité cognitive dédiée spécialement à l’objet « visage », nous posséderions une aptitude à distinguer spécifiquement les différents exemplaires au sein d’un type, qui s’appuierait sur la finesse de l’analyse de certaines propriétés récurrentes dans la nature. 

How can we argue for the domain-specificity of cognitive capacity? 
I explore the notion of domain-specificity of a cognitive capacity: do we possess a language-specific faculty or a capacity dedicated to face recognition? Can the notion of specificity avoid triviality that characterizes it (it is trivially true that any cognitive capacity applies to a particular object)? Major arguments, from developmental psychology and evolutionary psychology, in favor of the specificity of face recognition are reviewed. I show that these arguments are problematic especially because they rely on phenomenal distinctions. I think however that specificity can keep a substantive meaning when conceived not as an object or domain-specificity, but as a specificity of some properties. Thus, instead of a “face-specific” capacity we would possess an ability to distinguish specifically between different exemplars among a type, relying on a fine-grained analysis of certain recurrent properties in nature. 

17 March: Andrea Onofri (St Andrews)
Title: How (not) to be an atomist about concepts
*One of the main contemporary debates about the nature of concepts concerns their *structure*. According to Inferential Role Semantics (IRS), a concept is a semantically structured entity partially individuated by its relations to other concepts. "Atomistic" theories, on the contrary, claim that a concept has no semantic structure and is not individuated by its relations to any other concept.

The most developed atomistic theory on the market, Fodor's "Informational Atomism" (IA), combines conceptual atomism with Fodor's informational theory of content. On this view, concept possession does not require a subject to have any specific inferential dispositions, but simply to stand in the right counterfactual causal relations with the property expressed by the concept.

This seems to make IA a genuine alternative to IRS, but I will argue that the dichotomy between the two views is in fact illusory. There are several aspects of IA which make it a "disguised" version of IRS, but I will focus on one of them. As a recent paper by Jussi Jylkka (Jylkka 2009) points out, the counterfactual relations required for concept possession on IA can only hold for a subject who has certain specific inferential dispositions and beliefs. In particular, a subject could not stand in the relations required for natural kind concepts if he did not have "essentialist" dispositions with respect to the relevant kinds. If that's true, then IA is not an atomistic theory after all. I will consider a possible response by Fodor, show how Jylkka's reply to it does not work and then offer my own reply. This will help make clear not only that Fodor is indeed committed to IRS, but also *why *he is: in particular, I will argue that the trouble for IA is determined by its being an individualist theory of intentionality at the core.

Finally, I will point at some reasons why we should be atomists about concepts. In particular, I will argue (vs Jylkka) that IRS does not offer an adequate treatment of subjects with "deviant" inferential dispositions and cannot make sense of the homogeneity in behavior between such subjects and less deviant ones. IRS' shortcomings make it all the more urgent to develop a viable atomistic alternative to IA; I will conclude by offering a sketch of what such an atomistic theory should look like.

23 March: Francesca Ervas (Postdoc with Tiziana Zalla)
Lying by Telling the Truth.
Irony Comprehension in Autism Spectrum Disorders

In this study, I address the problem of irony and lie comprehension in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), in particular, with Asperger Syndrome (AS) and High-functioning autism (HFA), which are widely acknowledged to be variants of the spectrum, characterized by the absence of mental retardation. On the one hand, both irony comprehension and lie detection involve the ability to assess communicated information as true or false (an epistemic component) and the ability to recognize an utterance as intentionally false (a mind-reading component). On the other hand, irony is different from lie because the intentionally false utterance is used to communicate something the speaker considers as true. Moreover, irony comprehension requires the ability to understand that the intentionally false utterance is pronounced by the speaker to display her epistemic status, while lie detection requires the ability to understand that the intentionally false utterance is pronounced by the speaker to conceal her epistemic status (Wilson 2009). Previous studies investigated irony/lie distinction in normal subjects (Leekam 1988; Winner and Leekam 1991), but not much research has been done on irony/lie distinction in adult individuals with ASD.
It has been argued that a fully-fledged capacity to be vigilant towards lying should have three aspects: 1) a moral/affective aspect involved in attending to malevolence, 2) an epistemic aspect involved in attending to falsity; 3) a mindreading aspect involved in attending to the liar‘s intention to deceive (Mascaro-Sperber 2009). The present study investigate how these aspects interact in irony/lie distinction in a group of adults with AS/HFA and a group of control subjects by using a series of verbally presented stories containing either a lie or an ironic remark. Participants are asked to judge whether the speaker is lying or ironising and to provide a justification for their answers. Preliminary data show that individuals with AS/HFA perform as well as normal subjects in the epistemic and their mind-reading aspect of the task, but their justification of responses shows subtle differences in their judgments of irony and lie as regard to speakers’ moral/affective reasons.

14 April: Florian Cova (PhD student with Pierre Jacob) and Nicolas Pain (PhD student with Roberto Casati)
Title: Can Folk Aesthetics ground Aesthetic Realism?

In this paper, we discuss an argument that supports Aesthetic Realism by claiming, first, that common sense is realist about aesthetic judgments, because it considers that aesthetic judgments can be right or wrong, and second, that because Aesthetic Realism comes from and accounts for “folk aesthetics”, it is the best aesthetic theory available. We empirically evaluate this argument by probing whether ordinary people with no training whatsoever in the subtle debates of aesthetic philosophy consider their aesthetic judgments as right or wrong. Having shown that the results do not support the main premise of the argument, we discuss the consequences for Aesthetic Realism and address possible objections to our study. 

28 April: Jonas Akerman (Postdoc with François Récanati) from 12AM to 2PM 
Vagueness and Context

In this paper, I present the central ideas of what may be called “mainstream” contextualism about vagueness, and discuss some of the arguments for it. I will argue that many of the standard contextualist arguments are problematic in that they rely on certain questionable assumptions about the connections between psychological or pragmatic factors and truth. I will also consider a recent argument given by Scott Soames, according to which contextualism gains support from its being able to give a better account of the value of vagueness in the law than the epistemicist view. Although this argument does not share the defects of the standard ones, it is based on an uncharitable characterisation of the relevant kind of epistemicist view, and thus it does not seem to work as intended.

19 May: Iris Oved (visiting from University of Arizona) 
Title: Baptizing Meanings for Concepts: Meeting Fodor's Challenge

Abstract: I propose and defend a theory of concept acquisition that is motivated by two puzzles. One puzzle is revealed by tensions in the debate between Lexical Concept Empiricism and Lexical Concept Nativism. The second puzzle is the justification of conceptual beliefs on the basis of perceptual appearances. My theory, Baptizing Meanings for Concepts (BMC), is a computational process in which concepts are acquired by positing a latent, underlying kind to explain observed similarities in properties among a group of objects. The agent uses representations already in possession to formulate a mental description that picks out the kind, and then assigns a new simple mental name to the underlying kind. This process, I propose, allows for the acquisition of many lexical concepts via perception and inference, while yielding the concepts simple, in the sense that they are not themselves composed by any other concepts. The BMC is closely connected to the Kripke/Putnam/Burge/Soames process for assigning meanings to linguistic terms.1 The idea of mental baptism is not a novel one; many discussions of the linguistic process gesture at a mental version, either as a direct mental analogue of the linguistic version, or else as a prerequisite part of the linguistic process. It is only by developing a detailed model, however, that we are forced to face challenges that arise for carrying out such baptisms. Working out a model, moreover, is what reveals this overlooked solution to the on-going concepts debate. This model also allows for the justification of inferences from appearances to conceptual beliefs.

9 June: Reinaldo Bernal (PhD student with Max Kistler) 

Abstract: I argue for an emergentist view of the physical world. First, I present two rival ontologies. For “microphysicalism”, every property of a complex physical entity E is entailed by the properties of the fundamental physical entities that compose E and the fundamental laws with metaphysical necessity. In this sense, all the higher-level properties supervene over fundamental-level properties. For “e-physicalism”, some properties of a complex physical entity E are entailed by the properties of the fundamental physical entities that compose E and the fundamental laws with nomological necessity. In this sense, some higher-order properties emerge from fundamental-level properties. Secondly, I argue for emergentism and reject microphysicalism. I proceed by discussing three examples from physics: the kinetic theory of gases; the Schrödinger's cat paradox; and EPR systems. Finally, I claim that e-physicalism gives a basis for the rejection of the argument by Kim (2005) against the causal powers of the mental, the “zombie argument” by Chalmers (2006), and panpsychists views of consciousness.