Transparency Workshop 2018

June 13, 2018 - June 14, 2018
Linguistics & Philosophy, Université Libre de Bruxelles

50 avenue Franklin Roosevelt
Brussels 1050

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  • Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS)


New York University
Institut Jean Nicod
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Université de Fribourg
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Université Libre de Bruxelles
University of Liège
Université Libre de Bruxelles (PhD)
Université Libre de Bruxelles

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Topic: The epistemic transparency of mental and linguistic content

Areas: Philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, epistemology

Description: According to externalism (or anti-individualism), the contents of mental states are individuated in part by facts about the physical and/or the social environment in which the states are embedded. Externalism has become the dominant view in the philosophy of mind. Putnam’s (1975) and Burge’s (1979) thought experiments convinced most philosophers that subjects situated in relevantly dissimilar environments could be in the same (narrow) psychological states and yet think thoughts whose contents are true under different conditions. However, Boghossian (1994, 2015) argued that externalism conflicts with (comparative) transparency, the thesis that a thinker is able to know on a priori grounds, without the benefit of further empirical investigation, whether two of her occurrent thoughts have the same or different content(s). If the individuation of our mental contents depends on the environment, then, providing that we do not know a priori how our environment is, it seems to follow that (in the relevant, comparative sense) we cannot know a priori what we are thinking.

This result threatens a traditional account of self-knowledge which grants that subjects have privileged access to the contents of their own thoughts. One problem here, Boghossian claimed, is that externalism thereby blurs the line, to which assessments of rationality and psychological explanations are sensitive, between logical and factual errors (see also Kripke 1979). Given externalism, it appears that subjects who look intuitively rational will not be able to avoid some simple contradictions and invalid inferences without receiving more factual information about their environment. In response to this challenge, and among many other attempts, Stalnaker (2008) and Recanati (2012, 2016) have recently developed different compatibilist strategies purporting to reconcile externalism and transparency. Stalnaker’s contextual and attributor-dependent account of content invokes tacit identity presuppositions to rescue the rationality of the subjects in the hardest cases (see the ensuing discussions in Boghossian 2011 and Stalnaker 2011). Recanati concedes that contents are opaque but argues that mental files, construed as vehicles of thoughts supposed to play some of the traditional roles of modes of presentation, are transparent. The aim of this workshop is to continue those ongoing debates and to seek new ways of reconciling externalism and transparency.

Selective bibliography: Boghossian, P. (1994) The transparency of mental content. Philosophical Perspectives 8: 33-50. / Boghossian, P. (2011) The transparency of mental content revisited. Philosophical Studies 155: 457-465. / Boghossian, P. (2015) Further thoughts on the transparency of mental content. In S. Goldberg (Ed.), Externalism and skepticism. Cambridge University Press, 97-112. / Burge, T. (1979) Individualism and the mental. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4(1): 73-122. / Kripke, S. (1979) A puzzle about belief. In A. Margalit (Ed.), Meaning and use. Boston/Dordrecht: Reidel, 239-283. / Putnam, H. (1975) The meaning of ‘meaning’. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7: 131-193. / Recanati, F. (2012). Mental files. Oxford University Press. / Recanati, F. (2016). Mental files in flux. Oxford: Oxford University Press. / Stalnaker, R. (2008) Our knowledge of the internal world. Oxford University Press. / Stalnaker, R. (2011) Responses to Stoljar, Weatherson, and Boghossian. Philosophical Studies 155: 467-479. 

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