Representation

I am interested in what constitutes a representation, what sorts of things count as representations, what sorts of things might not be representable, how the contents of various forms of representations are structured, and how these lead us to come to know things. In particular, I am interested in non-conceptual and non-propositional representational content, or ways in which something can be said to be accurate or inaccurate about something else without being true or false.

Logic and Perceptual Content

We may be tempted to hold that perceptual content has logical structure – that conjunctions, disjunctions, negations, conditionals, and quantifiers are all part of how we represent the world as being, when we perceive it. If the world is all that is the case, and what is the case has logical structure, then how we see the world as being must, to be accurate, also have a logical structure. I argue against this temptation. Instead, I argue that the accuracy conditions for the representational content of perception involve relations other than those of conjunction, disjunction, negation, conditional, and quantifier.

On Burge on Evans

Philosophical accounts of perception are many and diverse, and often it is difficult to translate the claims of one side into the claims of another. One may interpret this as indicating serious or even intractable disagreement between competing and mutually-exclusive views. In contrast, I propose a kind of pluralism: philosophers are discussing different aspects of perception under the same heading. To illustrate this pluralism, I dissect Tyler Burge’s recent critique in Origins of Objectivity of the account of perception given by Gareth Evans. I offer a more charitable interpretation of Evans than Burge, and propose that Evans’s work is about a different, albeit less central, phenomenon involved in perception. I suggest that both accounts have a legitimate place in answering questions about the perceptual justification of our beliefs.

Emotional Content

Do emotions have representational content? If so, what do they represent? I argue that our emotional states do have representational content, but that this content is non-conceptual and non-cognitive. Although our emotions may non-inferentially give rise to judgements, and may be influenced by our judgements, our emotions are not in themselves judgements and are non-propositional in structure. In this regard, the content of emotions is more like that of perception than the content of belief. I then argue that the natural and social role played by human emotion best supports that the content of human emotion is most basically normative: emotions represent consistency with norms, violations of norms, or evaluations according to norms. This, in turn, offers a realists about norms a means to reply to Humean sentimentalism.

Speaker Intentions and The Cooperative Principle

One longstanding criticism of H. P. Grice's maxim-based theory of conversational implicature, offered by Wayne Davis and others, is the conditions Grice gives for a successful implicature are insufficient to entail that a speaker intends, as opposed to merely foresees, the hearer's uptake of implicated content. This is thought to be problematic, since on Grice's theory of meaning what a speaker means must be intended by the speaker. Relatedly, it is argued that speakers need not be presumed to be observing the cooperative principle at all in order to generate implicatures. I argue that these objections to Grice have been accepted too hastily by his critics. I offer a defense of some of these challenged aspects of Grice's theory of implicature.

Acquaintance with the Facts

Epistemologists draw a familiar distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and propositional knowledge. I argue that propositional knowledge is a form of knowledge by acquaintance: namely, acquaintance with the facts. I first consider what it takes to count as being acquainted with a fact through perception, memory, or testimony, and what sorts of transmission preserve knowledge by acquaintance. I consider the representational content of knowledge by acquaintance and the importance of direct reference for acquaintance. I then turn to consider those cases in which the representational content of a speaker's perception or belief may be accurate, but not due to acquaintance, and thus fail to count as knowledge. I argue that cases in which one's belief results from appropriate acquaintance with the facts lead it to tend to tend to track the truth.

Relative Transcendence

It is difficult to pin down what some philosophers of religion mean when they claim a certain part of reality is "transcendent". Do they mean it is outside of space and time? Do they mean it is outside of any possible experience? Is being transcendent a property? These approaches prove problematic. I suggest a good way to clarify this mysterious notion is by developing a more familiar and accessible notion describing much of our everyday experience, which I call relative transcendence. One mode of representation may be transcendent relative to another mode of representation when some representational contents in the former fails to map onto any possible representational content in the latter. For instance, some contents of perceptual experience fail to be representable conceptually, and some contents which can be represented conceptually can't be represented by any possible perceptual experience. I suggest many other cases in which ordinary experience seems to involve instances of relative transcendence. Using this notion, we can then define a clearer notion of absolute transcendence, on which something is absolutely transcendent when it is transcendent relative to every possible mode of representation.

Music and What can only be Shown

This paper develops an interpretation of Wittgenstein's account of music based on his writings about the subject, on which music has no representational content. The paper then argues against this Wittgensteinian account of music. While it is correct that the content of music can only be shown and cannot be said, I argue that this isn't best explained by music lacking representational content, but by music's being a distinct form of representation from propositional or linguistic content. Many other forms of artistic representation, I suggest, fall into the same category. Although we can't accurately say what it is that they represent, they do meaningfully represent something, and we are able to understand and learn from them.

Arguments from the Absence of Experience

Arguments from religious experience typically reason from the premise that one has had an experience as of something supernatural to the conclusion that something supernatural exists. The reverse sort of argument is also common, which reasons from the premise that one has not had any experiences as of something supernatural to the conclusion that nothing supernatural exists. I present a very different sort of argument, which reasons from the premises of the latter argument to the conclusion of the former argument.

Representation and Explanation

I propose that a tight relationship holds between what is representable and what is explainable. I argue that we should assume in our world that something is representable if and only if it is potentially explainable. Although humans may be faced with seemingly inexplicable mysteries, we should not work on the assumption that our world really contains in principle inexplicable mysteries. Accepting this close identification requires revising and reconsidering classical arguments concerning the actuality of our world and the principle of sufficient reason.

Idealism and Mental Causation

I begin by offering a novel argument for a novel form of idealism. On this form of idealism, unlike traditional idealism, perception does represent external states of affairs independent of the mind of the perceiving subject. The view nonetheless qualifies as idealism, because the states represented are fundamentally mental rather than physical. This form of idealism evades all of the traditional realist objections to idealism, and enjoys two advantages over realism: it is more ontologically parsimonious, and it offers a more perspicuous account of what the veridicality of a perceptual state consists in. I then offer a rebuttal to this argument for idealism, on the basis of mental causation: I argue that subjects can only causally influence the external world they perceive if that external world is not itself fundamentally mental. I conclude that these arguments for idealism remain a threat to realists who are epiphenomenalists, eliminativists, or otherwise deny genuine mental causation.

These are works in progress. For more information, please contact me.