Institut Jean Nicod

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Doc'in nicod

Séminaire doctoral et postdoctoral de l'Institut Jean-Nicod.
Doctoral and post-doctoral seminar of the IJN.

Doc'in Nicod is a biweekly seminar providing an opportunity for young researchers, doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows from the IJN, to receive feedback on work in progress from their fellow graduate students and from researchers of the Institute. Each session will feature one researcher of the IJN as a commentator.

Reflecting the variety of interest of Nicod's community, the content of the seminar will be highly interdisciplinary (i.e. philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and anthropology).

The seminar is open to the public.
Institut Jean-Nicod, ENS, Pavillon Jardin, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris. Conference room of the Pavillon.

Contact: Brice Bantegnie

Past Sessions

Wednesday 11 February, 4pm - 6pm
Michael Murez (IJN)
Commentator: Philippe Schlenker (CNRS, IJN)
Title: "Mental files: an empirical perspective"

Abstract: The use of the term “mental file” to refer to a distinct type of mental representation has been widely adopted in the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind. According to the recently popular mental file theory of singular thought, to think a singular thought is to think with a mental file. For example, to think directly about the individual dog Fido, you use a mental file. By contrast, when thinking a general thought about the category “dog”, or a descriptive thought about “the first dog born at sea” , you don’t use a mental file. Philosophers often present the notion of a “mental file” as being solidly grounded in empirical research. Some philosophers appeal, in particular, to object files from vision as the model for mental files. In this paper, we urge philosophers to adopt a much more cautious approach in appealing to empirical data because the notion of a “mental file” is being extended in a way that is not licensed by the relevant findings. From a cognitive perspective, the assumptions which underlie the extended philosophical usage of “mental files”/”object files” are in some cases theoretically plausible and may give rise to new and interesting empirical research – some of whose avenues we outline. Yet the most ambitious version of the mental file theory of singular thought is not currently empirically supported.

Wednesday 18 February, 4 pm - 6 pm
Błażej Skrzypulec (IJN, Jagiellonian University, Krakow)
Commentator: Uriah Kriegel (CNRS, IJN)
Title: "Visual objects and their identity conditions"

Abstract: According to the traditional view on visual objects, perceptual system represents objects in the environment as bundles of features and locations. This initially plausible idea is contested within the contemporary psychology and philosophy of perception, where it is claimed that visual system can “pick out” objects merely as numerically different “this” and “that” in abstraction from their qualities. In the presentation, I consider how different views on visual object affect their identity conditions. In particular, I investigate whether it is needed to postulate an additional, purely individualizing element, known in the philosophical tradition as ‘thisness’, within the visual objects’ structures. I argue that while synchronic identity criterion for visual objects can be formulated without invoking the notion of “thisness”, the phenomenon of asymmetry of errors observed in Multiple Object Tracking experiments strongly suggests that a reference to “thisness” is needed to provide a proper identity criterion in diachronic contexts.

Wednesday 11 March, 4 pm - 6 pm
Andreas Heise (IJN, Université de Lucerne)
Commentator: Dan Sperber (Central European University, Budapest)
Title: "Semantic versus pragmatic theories of metaphor”

Abstract: In a series of recent works, Josef Stern elaborated a semantic theory of metaphor. Elisabeth Camp raised two challenges for semantic theories of metaphor such as Stern's: 1. Semanticists need to show that metaphors exhibit certain interpretive constraints. 2. Semanticists need to show that these constraints cannot be explained in pragmatic terms. The paper raises some concerns about whether Stern's account meets these challenges.

Wednesday 25 March, 4 pm - 6 pm
Marina Trakas (IJN),
Commentator: Tiziana Zalla (CNRS, IJN)
Title: "Personal Memories"

Abstract: In this talk, I will present two of the main theses I defended in my doctoral dissertation. The first one is that personal memories are representations, which can be internal and thus purely mental, or can be the result of a coupling between internal resources and external representations, or can even be embodied; but they are always representations. Arguing in favor of a representationalist conceptualization of personal memories supposes two tasks: first, to show that the rival theory, that is, direct realism in all its different versions, do not constitute a good explanatory account of the personal memory phenomena; and second, that representationalism do constitute a better framework to understand personal memories. These are the two tasks I undertake in the first part of the talk: after analyzing some objections that direct realism cannot satisfactory face, I present then a version of representationalism based on the distinction between content, intentional object and ontological object of our memory representations that does not show the same kind of problems, mainly because it is compatible with a naturalist and scientific explanation of memory.

Personal memories are thus representations about our past. But in which sense are these memories personal? That is, in which sense past events are apprehended as being past events that have been personally experienced by the rememberer? The answer to this question corresponds to the second main thesis of my dissertation: that in our personal memories, even if they are about external past events, the self is in certain way always present and represented, more substantially through the emotional aspects related with the past remembered. In this second part of the talk, I propose an analysis of the different forms that these emotional aspects can take in a personal memory, against the natural assumption that they can be either an occurrent and present emotion or just a simple propositional memory of the emotion experienced in the past.

Wednesday 8 April, 4 pm - 6 pm
Markus Kneer (IJN),
Commentator: Roberto Casati (CNRS, IJN)
Title: "Truth-assessment and retraction of epistemic modals: Empirical data"

Abstract: Utterances involving epistemic modals, i.e. expressions like ‘might’, ‘may’ or ‘must’, express states of epistemic certainty or uncertainty regarding a particular state of affairs. Such claims are thus dependent on a contextually salient epistemic perspective. According to standard contextualism, the default perspective is the one of the speaker, and it is considered part of the content expressed. By contrast, relativists (Egan, 2007; MacFarlane 2014) argue that epistemic modals depend on the perspective of the assessor of the utterance, and that said perspective must be formalized as a parameter in the circumstances of evaluation.

The two approaches make radically different predictions regarding the truth-assessment of epistemic modals and as concerns the need to retract utterances whose embedded claims turn out false. I will present new data from a variety of experiments regarding both truth-assessment and retraction. The data suggests that radical relativists, who frequently motivate their assessment-sensitive semantics by aid of intuitions involving epistemic modals, might have considerably overplayed their hand.

Wednesday 22 April, 4 pm - 6 pm
Tristan Thommen (IJN)
Commentator: Emmanuel Chemla (LSCP)
Title: "Response-dependence and the semantics of slurs".

Abstract: Slurs are derogatory terms targeting groups or individuals on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation etc. Unlike standard predicates, slurs are not fully affected by truth-conditional operators. Under negation for example: an utterance of 'John is not German and worthy of contempt' is expressively neutral, whereas an utterance of 'John is not a boche' still expresses contempt towards Germans; that is, the derogatory content of slurs projects. I will briefly discuss different constructions in natural language which also display patterns of projection (e.g. presuppositions, supplements, implicatures etc.), and consider different attempts to assimilate slurs to such constructions. I will then argue that these attempts fail because i) they don't predict the very broad projection profile of slurs, and ii) they give center stage to properties that slurs inherit from their use for communicative purposes, neglecting at the same time the possibility of a private use of pejoratives in thought. In order to conciliate an essentially linguistic account of slurs and the possibility of pejorative thoughts, I will sketch a new direction of research calling on a completely different domain of inquiry: response-dependence. More precisely, I defend the view that slurring terms express response-dependent concepts, in virtue of which they apply to the individuals who provoke certain (emotional, social) reactions in the concept's users. Just as you can't think of an object as "that thing" unless you stand in the right perceptual relation to the thing in question, you can't think of an individual as an boche unless you have the right kind of emotional or social relation to Germans.

Wednesday 6 May, 4 pm - 6 pm
Martin Fortier (IJN)
Commentator: Joëlle Proust (IJN)

"Amazonian ethnoepistemology : Gettier intuitions, sensory modalities, and epistemic (mis)fortune".

Abstract: Since Weinberg, Nichols & Stich (2001) cross-cultural study in experimental epistemology, several philosophers have come to question the purported trustworthiness of their epistemic intuitions. In the very last years, however, a series of additional studies – including Stich & Machery’s own research programme in ethnoepistemology – have tended to qualify the cross-cultural variability of epistemic intuitions.
One limit of most of the procedures which have been so far utilised for testing lay people’s epistemic intuitions is that they uncritically assume a very parochial definition of what knowledge is, and accordingly, they present subjects with cases which only make sense in the light of this somewhat parochial view. It is hence no surprise that Western philosophers have found that, by and large, lay people’s epistemic intuitions accord quite well with their own.
My suggestion is that it would be fruitful to proceed the other way around: I will first draw upon a wealth of ethnographic data documenting hunting techniques and supernatural skills in Lowland South America, and then endeavour to unearth what it means, for a typical Amazonian hunter, to know something. My general contention will be that one’s concept of knowledge is deeply shaped by the kind of everyday practical activity one is involved in.
The exploration of Amazonian ethnoepistemology will be carried out through two main questions: (1) How do Amazonian people conceive of the epistemic value of sensory modalities (e.g., can it be that a given piece of information will qualify as knowledge only because of the specific modality through which it has been acquired)?; (2) How do Amazonian people conceive of epistemic (mis)fortune (i.e., of situations in which one’s (not) having knowledge is highly improbable)?
It will be shown that Amazonian ethnoepistemology differs from Western philosophical epistemology in many respects. For instance, Cartesian fear of systematic scepticism is virtually non-existent. As for Gettier intuitions, almost every failure to acquire valid knowledge is interpreted in terms of supernatural retaliation. Amazonian people are thereby more interested in explaining why knowledge fails when it shouldn’t rather than the opposite (in other words, they are more interested in inverted Gettier cases than in Gettier cases). Because, in the Amazon, having knowledge so crucially depends on pleasing supernatural spirits, epistemological and moral issues can hardly be disentangled. Finally, several experimental proposals will be put forward and I will make the case for a thoroughly ethnographically informed experimental philosophy.

Wednesday 20 May, 4 pm - 6 pm
Brice Bantegnie (IJN)
Commentator: François Recanati (IJN)
Title: "There is No Mental Causation".

Abstract: In his 2000 book (Kim 2000), Jaegwon Kim put forward a now famous argument against anti-reductionism in the philosophy of mind, the causal exclusion argument. Kim argued against the existence of non-reducible mental states from the premise that all the causal work is in fact done by physical properties. In the end, mental properties, unless one is ready to grant the existence of causal overdetermination, should be deemed non-existent. However, a recent theory of causation, the interventionist theory, developed in great details by Woodward (Woodward 2005), has been used to argue against this conclusion. In this presentation, I will argue that in fact, the interventionist account of causation backfires. First, contrary to what Campbell has claimed, a special feature of folk mental state concepts makes them unfitted to be causally related to one another. Second, according to the Interventionist Theory, causal relationships are contrastive, but naturalistic accounts of mental content fail to specify the relevant contrasts.

Wednesday 3 June, 4 pm - 6 pm
Cornelius Maurer (IJN)
Commentator: Nicolas Baumard
Title: "The effects of moral judgment in repeated trust game in adults with and without autism spectrum disorders".

In the present talk I will present results from a study that investigated whether individuals with High-Functioning-Autism or Asperger Syndrome(HFA/AS) were more prone, relative to a healthy control group, to rely their economic actions in a multi-round trust game on prior moral judgment.
The juncture of moral judgment and rational behavior has been widely debated. Psychologists claim that partner’s reciprocity predicts cooperativeness (King-Casas et al. 2006); however, studies of reward learning implicate that prior moral information about potential trading partners might diminish reliance on feedback mechanisms in iterated economic games (Burnham et al. 2000; Delgado et al. 2005; Stanley et al. 2012). It is also suggested that economic decision-making depends fundamentally on internally represented models of the social interaction partners (McCabe et al. 2003).  Individuals with High Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger Syndrome (AS) display difficulties in communication and social interaction, namely impairments in Theory of Mind (ToM), i.e., the capacity to attribute mental states to oneself and to others (Baron-Cohen, 2001; Zalla et al. 2009) as well as strategy building (Carruthers 1996). I will argue that the reason for why participants with autism spectrum disorders compared to healthy controls show a stronger tendency to disregard information from feedback learning is due to their disrupted connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.

Wednesday 17 June, 4 pm - 6 pm
Pedro Muniz (IJN, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro)
Commentator: Frédérique de Vignemont (IJN)
Title: "The dynamics of I-thoughts"

Abstract:  In this talk I will provide an overview of my research. The main goal of this research is to provide an theory of the dynamics of mental acts in specific cases that involve thoughts apprehended in the first person perspective, that is, a dynamist theory of the so-called "de se thoughts". I want to develop a theory of Fregean senses from a dynamic point of view, as it has already been done by other authors (Dokic 2001). But I also intend to take a somewhat different view on the notion of mode of presentation.
The underlying phenomenon of the dynamics of thought has to be presented in its key features. So I shall discuss some of its greatest difficulties for a theory of cognitive dynamics through the critical analysis of previous attempts of explanation found in the literature. Then I intend to sketch what my own take is concerning an explanation of the dynamics of thinking.
Due to its importance in accounting for cognitive dynamics in general, as well as the dynamics of I-thoughts in particular, I will examine at some length the phenomenon of indexicality that affects certain linguistic expressions. One of the presuppositions of my research is that the indexicality shows itself both in the linguistic and in the mental level, so I want to discuss and argue for this thesis.
I will then resort to the literature on intentional states in the first person to show the specificity of de se thinking when confronted with de re and de dicto thoughts. In addition, I will discuss from the point of view of a dynamic theory of content some of the most important characteristics of I-thoughts, inspired mainly by important works done by Perry, Evans and Recanati among others. With this background in place, I expect to be able to finally offer a satisfying explanation of the mechanisms involved in de se thinking, which should prove fundamentally dynamic, as is all human reasoning.