The Birkbeck Workshop On The Role of Content in Mind, Language, and Metaphysics

May 3, 2018 - May 4, 2018
Institute of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, University of London

Montague Room, G26
Senate House
United Kingdom

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities


  • Mind Association
  • Institute of Philosophy
  • Birkbeck Philosophy
  • Analysis Trust


University of St. Andrews
University of Sussex
University of Texas at Austin
Rutgers University - New Brunswick
Saint Joseph's University of Pennsylvania
Brown University
University of Vienna
University of Notre Dame
University of Leeds


Birkbeck, University of London

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The Birkbeck Workshop On The Role of Content in Mind, Language, and Metaphysics

With generous support by The Mind Association and The Analysis Trust; Hosted at the Institute of Philosophy in connection with the Logic, Epistemology, and Metaphysics Forum

The workshop will be bridge-building event focused on content and the roles content is asked to play in various sub-areas of philosophy.

Thursday May 3rd


10:00-11:30Lorraine Keller (Niagara) - In Defense of Magic

11:30-11:45Short Break

11:45-13:00Derek Ball (St. Andrews) - Content and the Epistemology of Measurement


14:30-16:00Robbie Williams (Leeds) - Interpretation and Induction


16:30-18:00Frances Egan (Rutgers) - Naturalising Intentionality Without Naturalising Content

18:00-19:30Pub (College Arms, Store Street)

Friday May 4th


10:30-12:00Robert Matthews (Rutgers) - That-clauses: Some Bad News for Relationalists About the Attitudes

12:00-12:15Short Break

12:15-13:30Corine Besson (Sussex) - Reconciling Intentionality, Emptiness and Externalism


15:00-16:30Ray Buchanan (Texas) - Propositions on the Cheap


17:00-18:30Jeff Speaks (Notre Dame) - Propositions, Representational Properties, and the Attitudes

18:30-19:30Pub (College Arms, Store Street)


Content is a central notion in the philosophy of mind and language, but it isn’t always obvious whether philosophers are working with a shared understanding. As specialisation in our discipline increases, it is easy to get the sense that distance is growing. Philosophers of mind have recruited content to help make sense of the representational nature of cognition and perception as well as the phenomenology of experience. But these theorists, especially those looking to contents to guide our understanding of subjective experiences, are not obviously employing notions familiar to those working in formal semantics and the philosophy of language. Some philosophers of mind have, for example, departed from a propositional model of content in favour of ‘pictorial contents’, ‘structures of properties’, and ‘objectual contents’ when aiming to explain various features of the mind. And in the other direction, the modelling tools that allow one to theorise about successful communication, meaning, and truth-conditions found in linguistics and the philosophy of language don’t clearly look to be constrained by the same considerations one finds in the philosophy of mind. A great deal of theorising about content in language and communication aims to abstract away from the particularities of any individual. Can content tailored to the individual and her phenomenology be continuous with the contents of linguistic representations? And might advances in theorising about content in language have a place in philosophy of mind? Increasingly many philosophers of language have taken an interest in dynamic semantic systems that (at least apparently) trade propositional contents for ‘discourse representations’ or ‘context change potentials’ – items that scarcely appear in the work of philosophers of mind but perhaps should. Meanwhile, in metaphysics, there has been an uptick in the work on the nature of propositions. Some of that work dovetails with the role propositions are asked to play in a theory of language while others with considerations about the mind.

This event will bring together philosophers working in (and sometimes across) the sub-areas of mind, language, and metaphysics in order to consider what content is for and what content might be. A crucial aim of the event is to provide an opportunity to bridge what appear to be growing gaps in the use of this central notion, a notion that looks to be asked to perform a great many tasks and that continues to guide a great deal of theorising. A sampling of the more specific questions to be taken up at this event are:

-What are contents being asked to do in the various sub-areas?

-Must we have a single notion of content across the sub-areas of philosophy?

-Can a story about the nature of content be consistent across the aforementioned sub-areas?

-Can a story about content determination be consistent across these sub-areas?

-Are contents one and the same as propositions?

-Can propositions (and other possible contents) be theorised about on their own terms or only with respect to the theoretical roles they are asked to play?

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April 25, 2018, 7:45pm BST

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