Meaning, Reason, and Possibility
Office hours (Spring 2002): Wednesday 1:30-3pm (Social Sciences 226A)
Class meetings: Monday/Wednesday 3:30-5pm, Social Sciences 311.
This seminar is nominally listed as metaphysics, but it will address issues in the philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind. The seminar will explore the constitutive connections among reason, meaning, and possibility.
Frege's notion of sense tied meaning to reason. Carnap's notion of intension tied meaning to possibility. In conjunction with a Kantian view connecting reason and possibility, this yielded a golden triangle of connections among the three notions. Kripke's work broke the triangle by severing meaning and possibility from reason. One might see the central focus of this seminar as the project of once again articulating an approach to meaning and possibility on which they are constitutively tied to reason, thus restoring the golden triangle.
We will be discussing a fair amount of my own recent work on these topics, as well as work by others. Topics to be discussed include:
There is no textbook. Many readings will be available on the web, and other will be made available for photocopying in a folder in the department office.
The web page for the class is at
I will set up a mailing list, firstname.lastname@example.org, for class discussion. Everyone enrolled in the class is expected to make reasonably regular contributions to this list: at least one reasonably substantial posting every week (you can miss three weeks without penalty), discussing issues arising from the readings, from class discussion, and from the mailing list itself. Of course people are welcome and encouraged to post more often. These postings substitute for biweekly short papers of 1-2 pages each.
Assessment will be based most heavily on a final paper, and will also be based on in-class presentations, mailing list contributions, and class participation.
Here is a very approximate plan for the course, with associated readings. This is very likely to be revised as things develop.
Note that I will be out of town on quite a few meeting dates: Wed 1/23 (Cornell), Wed 2/6 (Rutgers), Wed 2/20 (ANU), Mon 2/25 (ANU), Wed 3/21 (North Carolina), Mon-Wed 4/8-10 (consciousness conference). These dates will be made up either by having double meetings on neighboring dates, or by rescheduling. I hope to have a more precise schedule of meetings soon.
Meeting 1 (Wed 1/9): Introduction
PART I: SENSE AND INTENSION
Meeting 2 (Mon 1/14): Frege on sense
Meeting 3 (Mon 1/14): Carnap on intension
Meeting 4 (Wed 1/16): Epistemic intensions
Meeting 5 (Tue 1/22, 6:30pm): Indexicality and centering
Meeting 6 (Mon 1/28): Kripke's modal argument
Meeting 7 (Wed 1/30): Two-dimensional intensions
Meeting 8 (Mon 2/4): Kripke's epistemic argument
Meeting 9 (Mon 2/4): Variability
PART II: CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS AND THE SCRUTABILITY OF TRUTH
Meeting 10 (Mon 2/11): Conceptual analysis and scrutability
Meeting 11 (Wed 2/13): Block and Stalnaker against scrutability
Meeting 12 (Mon 2/18): Yablo against scrutability
Meeting 13 (Mon 2/18): Hard cases
PART III: APRIORITY AND EPISTEMIC SPACE
Meeting 14 (Wed 2/27): Apriority
Meeting 15 (Wed 2/27): Quine against apriority Quine, Two dogmas of empiricism
Meeting 16 (Mon 3/4): Epistemic possibility and epistemic space
Meeting 17 (Wed 3/6): Scenarios as possible worlds
Meeting 19 (Mon 3/18): The epistemic construction of scenarios
PART IV: TWO-DIMENSIONAL SEMANTICS
Meeting 20 (Mon 3/25): Stalnaker's diagonal construction
Meeting 21 (Wed 3/27): The contextual and epistemic understandings
3. Other approaches
PART V: MENTAL CONTENT
1. Arguments for externalism
2. Narrow content
3. Epistemic content as narrow content
4. Belief ascriptions
PART VI: CONCEIVABILITY, POSSIBILITY, AND THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM
1. Varieties of conceivability
2. Does conceivability entail possibility?
3. The mind-body problem
4. Two-dimensionalism and the mind-body problem
5. Materialist responses
6. Strong necessities and modal monism