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The Context and Content Lectures

Ecole normale supérieure, Paris

October- November 2014

Imogen Dickie (University of Toronto)  

Thought's anchor: reference as a cognitive achievement

Institut Jean-Nicod, Pavillon Jardin, Ecole Normale Supérieure - 29, rue d’Ulm 75005 Paris. Salle de réunion.

October, 8, 10, 13 & 14 - November, 5 and 7, 3pm-5 pm.




The Context and Content Lectures

Ecole normale supérieure, Paris

June 2013

Kit Fine
(New York University)  
Truthmaker Semantics

Ecole Normale Supérieure - 45, rue d’Ulm 75005 Paris.
June 3
, Salle des Actes. June 12, 19 & 24, Salle Dussane, 45 rue d’Ulm, 11am-1 pm

Lecture 1: The General Framework

Lecture 2: Partial Content and Partial Truth

Lecture 3: Permission

Lecture 4: Confirmation


Paul Pietroski
(University of Maryland & ENS)     Meanings First

Les 6, 13, 20 et 27 juin 2013 de 14h30 à 16h30

Institut Jean Nicod, Pavillon Jardin, Ecole Normale Supérieure - 29, rue d’Ulm 75005 Paris. Salle de réunion au RDC.

Lecture 1:  Framing Event Variables

Lecture 2: I-Languages, T-Sentences, and Liars

Lecture 3: Word, Concepts, and Conjoinability

Lecture 4: Meanings as Concept Assembly Instructions

Sponsored by the ERC Advanced Grant ‘Context, Content and Compositionality’ (F. Recanati) and by the Labex IEC (program ‘New Ideas in the Philosophy)




Semantics: the thin notion

John Collins

(University of East Anglia/EHESS)


Abstract of the lectures: The general idea is to offer a very thin, syntactic notion of semantics, and let the determination of content be delivered by wider pragmatic processes.



First lecture, January 16, 15.00-17.00: A Plausible Linguistic Internalism for Syntax and Semantics

Second lecture, January 23, 15.00-17.00: Three Grades of Variable Involvement

Third Lecture, February 6, 15.00-17.00: Weather Reports

Fourth Lecture, February 13, 15.00-17.00: Indefinites


The lectures will be part of François Recanati's EHESS seminar.

Venue: EHESS, 105 Bd Raspail, salle 7.




PAST LECTURES (2011-2012):



Propositions as Types

Peter Hanks

(University of Minnesota)


Abstract of the lectures: In this series of talks I develop an account of propositional content according to which propositions are certain types of spoken and mental actions.  According to this account, the proposition that Obama is eloquent is a type of action a subject performs when she predicates the property of eloquence of Obama. 



First lecture, March 6, 16.30-18.30: Propositions as Types I. Predication and the Content-Force Distinction

Abstract: Here I focus on the act of predication. Predication, as I understand it, is a type of action a subject performs when she attributes a property to an object, where this commits the subject to the object’s having the property. Conceiving of predication in this way, and including it in propositions, amounts to a rejection of Frege’s content-force distinction and a rejection of Frege’s conception of judgment and assertion. My aim in this talk is to motivate my approach over Frege’s. I also contrast my account of propositions with the one given by Scott Soames in his recent book What is Meaning?.


Second lecture, March 13, 16.30-18.30: Propositions as Types II. Proper Names

Abstract: Here I apply my theory of propositions to give a new account of the semantic contents of proper names.  I argue that the semantic contents of names are certain types of reference acts. I call these types "semantic reference types". This is neither a Millian nor a Fregean approach to names. Distinct co-referential names are assigned distinct semantic contents, but not because these names are associated with different modes of presentation. I show how this account offers an intuitive solution to Frege’s puzzle about identity statements without sacrificing the rigidity of names. The account extends easily to empty names and offers a new solution to the problem of negative existentials. In addition, I show how the account handles co-referential names in different languages, e.g. 'London' and 'Londres'.


Third Lecture, March 20, 16.30-18.30: Propositions as Types III. Propositional Attitude Reports

Abstract: In this talk I apply my theory of propositions to give an account of the semantics of propositional attitude reports. My aim is to explain the complicated, contextually sensitive facts about substitutions in that-clauses. The view that propositions are types of actions offers a rich and systematic way of understanding these facts. The approach is consistent with semantic innocence and does not treat that-clauses as names of propositions. It also solves Kripke’s puzzles about belief, both the London-Londres and Paderewski puzzles. In addition, I relate this approach to what John Perry has called the "classificatory conception" of content, which is based on analogies between attitude reports and sentences about weights and lengths.


Fourth lecture, April 6 (as part of the workshop Propositions and Propositional Attitudes): First-Person Propositions

Abstract: A first-person proposition is a proposition that is accessible to only a single subject, in the sense that only that subject can judge or assert that proposition. Many philosophers are skeptical about first-person propositions, despite the fact that they would solve problems about de se belief.  Here I show how to make sense of first-person propositions without relying on first-person Fregean senses or anything else in the vicinity, such as individual essences or haecceities. The view is a development of the more general idea that propositions are types of spoken and mental actions. On this account, first-person propositions are certain types of actions we perform when we make utterances using the first-person pronoun 'I'.


All lectures will take place at Institut Jean Nicod, Ecole Normale Superieure, 29 rue d'Ulm, Pavillon Jardin, salle de réunion.




A series of four talks by

Galen Strawson 

(University of Reading)


First talk, May 2, 46 rue d'Ulm, Salle de Conférences, 14.00-16.00: "Self-Intimation, Phosphorescence (svaprakasa)"

Abstract: (1) Aristotle, Dharmakīrti, Dignāga, Descartes, Arnauld, Locke, Hume, Sartre and many others are right: all (conscious) awareness comports (conscious) awareness of itself (I use ‘awareness’ to mean ‘conscious awareness’). (2) This is a constitutive condition of awareness being genuine awareness at all (All higher-order accounts of what makes conscious states conscious are incorrect.) (3) But how can (2) be true? Must awareness be already all there in order to be available to itself as object of awareness in such a way as to be constituted as awareness in the first place? Can anything be related to itself in this way? (4) More particularly: can there be a relation that is (i) necessarily one-term, (ii) reflexive, (iii) non-logical (non-trivial), (iv) concretely realizable, (v) dynamically real, (vi) such that its holding is constitutive of the existence of the thing it holds of? (5) It may be helpful to consider the thought this very thought is puzzling. (6) Many accept the reality of the kind of awareness of awareness posited in (1) and (2), and think it must be not only ‘pre-reflective’ and ‘non-positional’, but also irrelational or non-intentional. (7) But perhaps such awareness of awareness can be fully relational and fully intentional, and can legitimately be said to be its own object or content, even while being pre-reflective and non-positional.


Second talk, May 4, 45 rue d'Ulm, Salle Dussane, 9.15-10.30 (as keynote speaker at SOPHA): "Real Naturalism"

Abstract: (1) Many current formulations of naturalism  are profoundly anti-naturalistic. They still favour some sort of reductive approach to experience (sc conscious experience), although the bedrock of any remotely realistic naturalism, hence any serious or real naturalism, is outright non-reductive realism about experience. This is the bedrock of any real naturalism because the existence of experience is a certainly known natural fact (it’s the most certainly known general natural fact). (2) By ‘realism about experience’ I mean real realism about experience. What is real realism about experience? Real realists about experience take experience to be essentially what they took it to be before they did any philosophy, e.g. when they were 6 years old. (3) Physicalism is the view that concrete reality is entirely physical in nature. I take physicalism to be part of naturalism, so I take it that experience is entirely physical. (4) Obviously physicalist naturalism rules out anything incompatible with the truths of physics, but there’s a crucial respect in which physics only gives structural information about the nature of concrete reality and has nothing to say about the intrinsic nature of the concrete reality in so far as its intrinsic nature is more than its structure. (5) It follows that physicalist naturalism can’t rule out panpsychism or panexperientialism, which is the simplest theory of the nature of reality. (6) There is in fact zero evidence for the existence of any non-experiential reality, so truly hard-nosed physicalism has no reason to posit its existence, although it must admit the existence of the certainly known natural fact of experience.


Third talk, May 9, 105 Bv. Raspail, salle 7, 14.30-17.00: "Narrababble"

Abstract: (1) Many hold that all ordinary people experience their lives as a narrative or story of some sort (psychological Narrativity thesis). Many add that we ought to do this in order to live a good life (ethical Narrativity thesis). Both these claims seem false. Many go on to claim something more specific: we not only experience our own lives as a narrative of some sort, we ‘constitute our identity’ as a person or self in this way (narrative self-constitution thesis). Many add that we ought to constitute our identity in this way (ethical narrative self-constitution thesis). Again both claims seem false. Suppose Socrates is right that ‘the unexamined life is not a life for a human being’; suppose he’s right that self-examination is always a good thing. Even so, the narrative approach is not the only way to do it, nor the best way. (2) But surely there must be a way of interpreting the four theses that shows them to have some plausibility? Perhaps there is, at least in the case of the psychological Narrativity thesis. But the price is high. It may be that we can confer some plausibility on the thesis only by understanding the term ‘narrative’ in such a way that the thesis turns into a platitude on a par with the platitude that ordinary human beings think about past and future, plan actions, and act. Furthermore: examination of the relevant philosophical and psychological literature suggests that once we leave the home domain of the term ‘narrative’ (sc. literary theory), 95+ per cent of the supposedly theoretically distinctive and substantive uses of the term can be replaced with zero semantic loss by terms like ‘account’, ‘view’, ‘description’, ‘theory’, ‘explanation’, ‘understanding’, ‘belief’, ‘concept’, ‘theme’, ‘conception’, ‘picture’.


Fourth talk, June 15, 29 rue d'Ulm, Pavillon Jardin, Salle de réunion, 11.00-13.00 (as part of the IJN Colloquium series): "Real Direct Realism (Apparentism)"

Abstract: (1) Direct realism is true, when properly understood. Descartes and Arnauld are good guides, although their writings are open to different interpretations. (2) The issue of the truth or falsity of direct realism must be kept scrupulously apart from the issue of scepticism regarding an external world: any version of direct realism that permit the refutation of scepticism about the external world—either scepticism about its existence, or about our knowledge of its nature—is ipso facto refuted. (3) No defensible version of direct realism denies the existence of existents that can be correctly called ‘mental representations’ (nb this claim is compatible with Arnauld’s fierce rejection of ‘êtres représentatifs’). (4) Direct realism neither requires nor entails ‘disjunctivism’, and ‘disjunctivism’ neither requires nor entails direct realism. (5) Direct realism does not require the truth of ‘transparentism’, and is incompatible with transparentism when ‘transparent’ is understood in the most natural way. (6) There is some truth in the doctrine of transparentism, but we need to distinguish the Moore version from the Reid-James version. (7) Furthermore, a defensible version of transparentism must acknowledge (i) the sense in which we are aware of our sensations in conscious perceptual experience, and necessarily so, and (ii) the fact that we are in everyday life often aware of our experiences considered specifically as such, even as we are in direct perceptual contact with objects.




Rationality, Transparency, Intuition and the A Priori

Paul Boghossian

(New York University)


First lecture, May 16, 46 rue d'Ulm, salle de conférences, 14.00-16.00: "Transparency about Mental Content"


Second lecture, May 23, 46 rue d'Ulm, Salle de Conférences, 14.00-16.00: "Externalism about Justification"


Third lecture, May 30, 46 rue d'Ulm, Salle de Conférences, 14.00-16.00: "Intuitions and the A Priori"