Institut Jean Nicod

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M&L Seminar

The Mind and Language Seminar



The Mind & Language seminar (M&L) is a biweekly seminar, in which IJN doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows can present work in progress in philosophy of mind or language, and receive constructive feedback in an informal environment. Some sessions will also be devoted to group discussions of recent articles on these topics.

Contact: Tomoo UEDA



Past Sessions

Thursday, 27 Nov. 14:00-16:00. ENS, 45 rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris. Salle Celan
Philippe Lusson (NYU, IJN)
“A biased-consciousness psychological mechanism for the role of (negative) intentions in willpower”.

Intentions are not just supposed to trigger behavior at the appropriate time. To fit what we do into coherent plans, intentions should also constrain, to some extent, everything we do or plan. The role is particularly salient in the case of negative intentions (intentions to omit some behavior), on which I concentrate here, but most intentions should play it. Many philosophers have taken the role for granted, but no one has, to my knowledge, looked into the mechanisms involved. One component of the role is particularly challenging, what I call the willpower role, the role of intentions in preventing you from knowingly doing something incompatible (as opposed to doing it absent-mindedly or by mistake). In a nutshell, the problem concerns the relation between intention and motivation. Shouldn’t intentions to A reflect the balance of your motivation regarding A, rather than change that balance? But if they do not change it, how canthe intention make a difference to what you do? The line of reasoning is far from air-tight, but I argue that the two most obvious mechanisms, an effect of intentions on motivation (after all) and cognitive inhibition, face too many limitations to underpin the willpower role. I defend an alternative mechanism involving the role of access consciousness in altering the strength of motives. I mostly draw on empirical research, and I suggest a few predictions for further testing.

Wednesday 17 December,  16:00 - 18:00 - Institut Nicod, ENS, Pavillon Jardin, 29, rue d'Ulm Salle de réunion, RDC.
Paolo Bonardi (Université de Genève, Université de Fribourg),
"The Identity of Modes of Presentation and Mental Files"

François Recanati (Mental Files) maintains that modes of presentation are mental files and that mental files must be individuated via their grounding acquaintance relations. Although – I think – it is important to know de facto identity conditions on modes of presentation, François’s theory of mental files lacks them: the proposed identity conditions on files in terms of acquaintance relations are just normative; as such, they have exceptions. In my talk, I will argue that this lack generates difficulties. I will then examine three candidates for de facto identity conditions on modes of presentation, respectively based on the notions of (i) de jure coreference (or coordination), (ii) internal coreference and the new notion of (iii) treating two designators as coreferring. I will criticize (i) and (ii), and defend (iii). François may adopt proposal (iii), if he agrees to make certain (non-radical) changes in his theory of mental files.

Wednesday 14 January,  16:00-18:00 - Institut Nicod, ENS, Pavillon Jardin, 29, rue d'Ulm. Salle de réunion, RDC.
Michael Murez (Institut Jean-Nicod),
"Do Mental Files Constitute A Psychological Natural Kind?"

Mental files play a major role in contemporary philosophy of mind, where they are claimed to be the vehicles of singular thought. Cognitive scientists also appeal to similar notions of a file. Some philosophers optimistically interpret this convergence of metaphors as evidence of a convergence of views. Supposedly, there is much empirical evidence in favor of the file theory of singular thought. In this talk, I attempt to dampen such optimism. Any notion of 'mental file' broad enough to encompass the wide variety of phenomena which philosophers have wanted to classify as cases of singular thought threatens to be so broad as to be empirically vacuous. A narrower notion of 'file' can be given empirical content based on a close analogy with psychologists' more constrained notion of an 'object file'. However, this narrow notion of a file threatens to be far too restricted for philosophers' purpose, which is to ground all varieties of singular thinking. Much work still remains to be done in order to show that the file theory of singular thought carves the mind at its joints

Thursday 5 February, 14:00-16:00. ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005. Salle Paul Langevin.
Lea-Cecile Salje (University College London)
"Thinking About You"

`The word ‘you’’, according to Richard Heck, ‘has no correlate at the level of thought’ (p.12). This claim is somewhat startling on first encounter; typically we treat our ways of talking about things as tracking our ways of thinking of them. Why should the second person be any different? His suggested line of reasoning, however, is remarkably persuasive: second person language is bound up with the notion of addressing, a purely linguistic phenomenon. It is, as Michael Thompson puts it, something that happens ‘in the noise, in the outward show of things’, and not ‘in the secret depths of the soul’. There could be no counterpart to this in the private domain of thought – at least, not for the non-telepathic creatures that we are.

In one form or another, the view that there is no such thing as distinctively second person thought has enjoyed a recent wave of support from such writers as Heck, Christopher Peacocke, Guy Longworth, Sebastian Rödl and José Louis Bermudez. In light of the above and other objections, this paper sets out to defend a non-reductive account of second person thought.

Heck, Richard (2002) ‘Do Demonstratives Have Senses?’ Philosophers’ Imprint, Vol. 2, no.2
Thompson, Michael (2012, 21st May)  ‘You and I’ [audio podcast, Aristotelian Society]

Thursday 5 March, 14:00-16:00. ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005. Salle Paul Langevin.
Jack Spencer (MIT),
"Attitudinal Relativism"

Abstract :
Certain puzzles concerning belief arise if we allow propositional truth to be a relative matter. One option would be to insist upon absolutism about truth. I shall pursue a different tack, suggesting that we couple truth relativism with a relativistic account of belief.

Thursday 9 April, 14:00-16:00. ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005. Salle Paul Langevin.
Daniela Tagliafico (FMSH, IJN),
"The Normativity of the Background: A Contextualist Account of Social Facts"

Abstract: The ontology of society built by John Searle consists of two parts. The first concerns the definition of a social fact as the establishment of a status function by means of collective intentionality and declarative speech acts. The second concerns “the Background,” that is, a set of capacities supporting the whole apparatus of status functions, intentionality, and speech acts. Yet in Searle’s discourse, the Background comes after the fact, when the social reality is already constructed. By contrast, I argue that in order to explain what a social fact is, the Background should take part in the formula that summarizes the establishment of the status function. The Background is to be characterized in terms of social practices establishing implicit norms that precede and ground the explicit rules instituted by intentionality and language. Therefore, the original formula for the constitution of social facts, namely, “X counts as Y in C,” should be rephrased as “X-in-C counts as Y”— and C should be related to the Background. The solution lies in conceiving of X no longer as a mere object but as a causal-historical process that embodies a status function Y in virtue of its being sustained by the Background within a context of social practices.

Thursday, 18 June 14:00-16:00. Salle de réunion, RDC, Institut Nicod, Pavillon Jardin, ENS, 29 rue d'Ulm 75005.
Stephen Neale (CUNY)
“Natural and Nonnatural Interpretation”

We routinely talk about “interpreting” natural events, which include the behaviour of particles and tectonic plates, for example, and also the behaviour of animate creatures, much of which we classify as intentional action. Just as routinely, we talk about “interpreting” artefacts, construed as the products of human behaviour. In this talk I shall argue (1) that the distinction between physical and abstract artefacts is far from straightforward, (2) that the difficulties involved in trying to articulate such a distinction are tied to the difficulties involved in distinguishing what Grice called natural and non-natural meaning—roughly, scientific interpretation is the epistemic quest for natural meaning, and utterance interpretation is the epistemic quest for non-natural meaning—and (3) that understanding why puts us in a position (a) to tackle the question of whether there is, as Dennett, for example, has argued, a single project of interpretation addressed to different objects (people, pots, paintings, texts, laws,…), or whether, as Lamarque, for example, has argued, there is only superficially a single project (that of “making sense”) because modes of interpretation and objects of interpretation are inextricably interlinked, and (b) to isolate what is really at issue in debates between processualists and post-processualists in archaeology. Rejecting the idea of general theories of meaning and interpretation does not require rejecting the possibility of a non-normative architecture within which various pairs of theoretically robust notions of meaning and intepretation can be located. And the right sort of an architecture opens up the possibility of providing (i) a generalized meaning-interpretation distinction characterized in terms of a single domain-independent evidential relation obtaining between domain-specific pairs of notions of meaning and interpretation, and (ii) a substantive intentional hierarchy of artefacts.