Papers on Meaning and Modality (David Chalmers).

This page contains some papers around the borders of the philosophy of mind and language, metaphysics, and epistemology. These papers (except "The Extended Mind") mostly presuppose significant philosophical background (non-philosophers might prefer my page of less technical papers on consciousness). The papers mostly deal with interwoven issues concerning meaning and modality, sometimes against a background of issues in the philosophy of mind.

The first six papers all involve the two-dimensional framework for thinking about meaning and possibility. For an introduction, "On Sense and Intension" or the review piece "Two-Dimensional Semantics" are the best places to start. The papers on epistemic space and conceptual analysis set out important foundational elements. Two more papers give application to issues about belief content and the conceivability-possibility relation. The foundations paper gives philosophical context and fine details. All this and more will eventually be cannibalized for a book.

Two-Dimensional Semantics

A review piece on various approaches to two-dimensional semantics, and especially on the epistemic two-dimensionalism that I favor. This is a good place for an overview. Forthcoming in Lepore and Smith's Oxford Handbook to the Philosophy of Language.

On Sense and Intension

This paper motivates a two-dimensional approach through the defense of a Fregean conception of meaning. I articulate some Fregean theses about sense, develop an intensional account of sense on which it is constitutively connected to epistemic possibility, and use this account to deal with various objections to Fregean views. Along the way, the two-dimensional framework as I understand it emerges. This paper was published in Philosophical Perspectives, vol. 16, 2002. There have been discussions of this paper by Alex Byrne and Jim Pryor and Diego Marconi, among others.

The Nature of Epistemic Space.

This unpublished paper takes a more foundational approach to some of these issues, grounding some of the key ideas in a notion of epistemic possibility. The central idea is that of epistemic space: the space of maximal epistemic possibilities, or "scenarios". I explore various ways of constructing this epistemic space -- one tied to centered possible worlds, and one tied directly to epistemic notions. And I outline some applications of the framework from this perspective: e.g. to Fregean sense, narrow content, indicative conditionals, and hyperintensionality.

The Foundations of Two-Dimensional Semantics

This monster paper (written for the Barcelona conference on two-dimensionalism, and forthcoming in Garcia-Carpintero and Macia, Two-Dimensional Semantics: Foundations and Applications, OUP 2006) is a sort of "compare-and-contrast" on the various versions of two-dimensional semantics. It starts by motivating this sort of framework, and then discusses in detail the two main sorts of available understandings of the framework: contextual and epistemic understandings. I argue that contextual understandings (e.g. that of Stalnaker) can't do the work that is required, but that an epistemic understanding can. I set out my own understanding in detail, and then locate existing versions of the framework in the conceptual space as set out. An abridged version of this paper appeared as "Epistemic Two-Dimensional Semantics" in Philosophical Studies in 2004, with an interesting response by Laura Schroeter (who also has related critiques here and here).

The Components of Content

This paper tries to do for thought what some of the other papers do for language: give an account of the contents of thought on which content is closely tied to reason and cognition. I decompose content into epistemic and subjunctive content, both of which are truth-conditional. Epistemic content is generally internal to a cognitive system, and governs rational relations between thoughts, so it can play the role of "narrow" or "cognitive" content. I apply this framework to a number of puzzles (Frege's puzzle, Kripke's puzzle, the problem of the essential indexical, the mode-of-presentation problem, etc.) in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language. The unpublished 1995 version of this paper has been fairly widely cited. The revised version was published in my 2002 anthology Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings. A closely related paper appeared as "The Nature of Narrow Content" in Philosophical Issues in 2003. Here are a couple of replies, by Stephen Schiffer (and my response) and by Alex Byrne.

Does Conceivability Entail Possibility?

This paper addresses the epistemology of modality, and argues for a sort of modal rationalism (a priori access to modality). It distinguishes a number of sorts of conceivability, and with these distinctions in hand argues that certain sorts of conceivability plausibly entail sorts of possibility. The second half of the paper addresses potential gaps between the two, and gives a positive argument for modal rationalism. Lots of interesting issues come up along the way. This paper was published in Conceivability and Possibility, edited by Tamar Gendler and John Hawthorne (Oxford, 2002). There have been discussions of the ideas in this paper by Lauren Ashwell, George Bealer, Brian Weatherson, and Stephen Yablo, among others.

Conceptual Analysis and Reductive Explanation

This paper, co-authored with Frank Jackson, is a reply to Ned Block and Robert Stalnaker's paper "Conceptual Analysis, Dualism, and the Explanatory Gap". It doesn't presuppose knowledge of that paper. It defends from first principles the thesis that there is an a priori entailment from microphysical and phenomenal truths (plus or minus a bit) to macroscopic truths; it addresses Block and Stalnaker's objections to this thesis; and finally argues that a priori entailment is required for reductive explanation and for physicalism. The paper appears in Philosophical Review 110:315-61, 2001. There have been a couple of replies, by Peter Carruthers and Laura Schroeter.

Materialism and the Metaphysics of Modality

This paper was my response in a symposium on my book The Conscious Mind in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research in June 1999 (the corresponding precis of the book is also online). The commentators were Sydney Shoemaker, Brian Loar, Chris Hill & Brian McLaughin, and Stephen Yablo, all of whom take a "type-B materialist" position on which there is an epistemic gap between physical and phenomenal, but no modal gap. This gets quickly into issues about the 2-D analysis of a posteriori necessity, and whether there are "strong necessities" that escape it. I argue that there are not, and argue for a sort of modal rationalism.

The Tyranny of the Subjunctive

This is just an extended outline at the moment. I argue for a parallel between indicative and subjunctive conditionals, on the one hand, and the two dimensions of possibility in the 2-D framework. The standard contemporary analysis of possibility and necessity is grounded in subjunctive conditionals. I suggests that this is entirely arbitrary, and has had a distorting effect on many areas of philosophy.

The Extended Mind

This paper (jointly written with Andy Clark) argues that cognitive states are not necessarily "in the head", for reasons quite independent of the reference-based considerations of Putnam and Burge. Instead, we advocate an "active externalism", focusing on situations in which an organism is coupled with their environment into what is effectively a single cognitive system (as with a person who relies on a notebook as memory, for example). We argue in detail that mental states such as beliefs can be externally constituted in this way. This leads to a reconception of the relation between mind and world. (Reconciling the externalism of this paper with the internalism of "The Components of Content" is left as an exercise for the reader.) This paper was published in Analysis 58:10-23, 1998, and was reprinted in The Philosopher's Annual, 1998. Here is some literature responding to this paper and on related ideas.

Is There Synonymy in Ockham's Mental Language?

This is my sole venture into the history of philosophy so far. It was written when I was a graduate student in Paul Spade's medieval logic class at Indiana. William of Ockham held that we think in a "mental language", not unlike the language of thought that some contemporary philosophers believe in. The question arises whether the mental language can contain synonyms, or whether these are just artifacts of ordinary language. Most people have said no. Here I give some reasons to say yes. This paper is published in The Cambridge Companion to Ockham, edited by Spade, published by Cambridge University Press in 1999.


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