Study Questions

Unit 1 – Thought and language

Grice, “Meaning”

  1. Give some examples of natural meaning and nonnatural meaning. How would you characterize the difference? Give some nonlinguistic examples of nonnatural meaning.

  2. In what sense is Grice’s account of nonnatural meaning reductive? To what does it seek to reduce nonnatural meaning? Why might we believe that this kind of reduction is possible?

  3. Distinguish between speaker’s meaning, sentence meaning, and word meaning. Give examples of each. Which is most basic, according to Grice? (Draw arrows showing what reduces to what.) Are there alternatives to Grice’s order of explanation?

  4. What does Grice mean by an “utterance”? Explain the act/object ambiguity of “utterance.” Could one mean that p by an utterance (in the act sense) without meaning that p by the utterance (in the object sense)? If yes, give an example. If not, explain why not.

  5. Without looking at Grice’s article (or lecture notes), try to reconstruct his analysis of speaker’s meaning. Explain why each clause is necessary. Then check yourself by looking at the text (or lecture notes).

  6. Describe some counterexamples to Grice’s analysis. For each one, say whether it is directed at the necessity or the sufficiency of Grice’s conditions, and say how Grice’s analysis might be modified to block the counterexample. Which counterexamples are the most difficult for a Gricean to handle?

  7. Grice’s account of meaning comes out of reflection on communication. But there are other possible starting points. One might say that the meaning of a sentence is determined by the role it plays in one’s thought (e.g., what sentences it implies, what sentences it is implied by, how it affects one’s actions, how it is hooked up to one’s sensory inputs). Or one might say that the meaning of a sentence is determined by the speech acts one can make using it: the various practical differences its use might make (e.g., committing oneself to the truth of a claim, promising to do something). Is there anything to be said for starting with communication rather than thought or speech acts? Can a Gricean account of meaning explain the significance of the use of language in thought? Are these three approaches incompatible? How might they be fit together?

Searle, “Meaning”

  1. What is Intentionality? How, on Searle’s view, does the Intentionality of beliefs, desires, and other mental states differ from the Intentionality of meaningful utterances?

  2. In what respects is Searle’s account of meaning like Grice’s? In what respects is it different from Grice’s?

  3. In what ways is Searle’s account of meaning (in Intentionality) an improvement on Grice’s? How does Searle’s account fare against the counterexamples that are most troubling for Grice’s account?

  4. What (if any) are the advantages of Grice’s account over Searle’s? Does Searle lose anything by departing from Grice’s original analysis of meaning in the way that he does?

  5. How would Grice and Searle, respectively, meet the following challenge? “If speaker’s meaning is just a matter of the speaker’s intention, then I could mean ‘four foxes are better than three chickens’ by uttering ‘there are black dogs in Zurich’!”

Lewis, “Coordination and Convention”

  1. What is a coordination problem? Give two examples.

  2. One way to solve a coordination problem is by explicit agreement. (For example: we all explicitly agree to drive on the right side of the road.) What are some other ways? Give two examples.

  3. What is the difference between a convention and a mere social regularity, according to Lewis?

  4. Reply to the following objection: “There could not possibly be conventions of language, because no such conventions could possibly be established without the use of language. Convention requires prior language use, so language cannot require prior convention.”

Grice, “Logic and Conversation”

  1. In classical formal logic, the sentence ‘A ⊃ B’ is true iff A is false or B is true. Give some reasons for thinking that ‘A ⊃ B’ does not fully capture the meaning(s) of ‘if A, then B’ in English.

  2. Why might you think that the word ‘and’ has different meanings in these two sentences? (i) “Jack and Jill got married and had a baby.” (ii) “Jack and Jill are intelligent and talented.”

  3. Using a couple of examples, distinguish between the literal meaning of a sentence, the proposition expressed by the sentence in a context, and the proposition meant by the speaker in uttering the sentence. Which of these is, on Grice’s terminology, “what is said”? Under which category do conversational implicatures go?

  4. What is the “Cooperative Principle”? What is the relation between the CP and the practice of conversation? What would count as breaking the CP (give some examples)? What happens if someone breaks the CP? Can you think of an analogue to the CP for other practices, e.g. playing soccer?

  5. Without looking back at the text or your notes, try to reconstruct Grice’s conversational maxims (maxims of Quantity, Quality, Relation, and Manner). Summarize the main idea of each category in your own words. Check yourself and repeat.

  6. What are the conditions for a speaker to conversationally implicate that q by saying that p? Give several examples of conversational implicature and explain how they meet these conditions. (Try to take at least one example from an actual conversation you’ve heard recently, or from a TV advertisement.) Give a “derivation” for at least one of these implicatures, following Grice’s schema on p. 31 of “Logic and Conversation.”

  7. What is the difference between particularized and generalized conversational implicature? Give some examples of generalized conversational implicature.

  8. Grice says that conversational implicatures can be “cancelled” without contradiction. For each of the examples you gave in your answer to question 6, show how the implicature can be cancelled.

  9. Apply Grice’s theory of conversational implicature to your answers to questions 1 and 2, above. Show how Grice’s theory might be used to give us a way to avoid saying that ‘ ⊃ ’ and ‘&’ in logic diverge in meaning from the ordinary English words ‘if…then’ and ‘and’.

Unit 2 – Thought, behavior, and programs

Turing, “Computing Machines and Intelligence”

  1. The question “can computers think?” might be interpreted in at least three different ways: (a) “can computers solve problems intelligently?”, (b) “can computers have thoughts (beliefs, intentions, and other intentional states)?”, (c) “can computers have consciousness?” What is the relation between these questions? Is it conceptually possible for them to have different answers, or must the answers be “yes” or “no” to all three? What do you think Turing would say?

  2. Describe the Turing Test. Does Turing regard passing the test (or being able to pass the test) as a necessary condition for intelligence, or just a sufficient condition?

  3. Imagine a Turing-like test for happiness. (You try to guess whether a hidden human answerer is happy, on the basis of typed answers to typed questions.) Couldn’t a skilled actor fool the questioner into thinking she was happy, even if she wasn’t? Does a parallel objection work against Turing’s Test?

  4. How does Turing reply to the objection that no mechanical device could be conscious?

  5. How does Turing reply to the objection that computers can always be distinguished from humans, because computers can never make mistakes?

  6. Describe Lady Lovelace’s objection. How does Turing reply? Is his reply adequate?

  7. Turing predicted that by the year 2000, a computer with no more than 125 MB storage would be able to fool questioners at least 30% of the time in a five-minute Turing Test. This prediction has turned out to be false. Does that show that Turing’s Test is too stringent, or that making a machine that can think is much harder than Turing anticipated?

Dennett, “True Believers”

  1. Explain Dennett’s contrast between realism and interpretationism about belief attribution. What does Dennett think is right and wrong about each of these views?

  2. Explain the difference between the physical stance, the design stance, and the intentional stance. What is a “stance”?

  3. What principles guide our attributions of beliefs and desires when we adopt the intentional stance?

  4. Dennett says that “[a]n implication of the intentional strategy…is that true believers mainly believe truths” (p. 63). Why is this?

  5. What does Dennett’s story about attributing beliefs have to do with having beliefs? Can’t we attribute beliefs to things that don’t really have them? On Dennett’s account, what is it for something to be a believer? Is a thermostat a believer?

  6. What is the point of Dennett’s thought experiment involving the Martian (pp. 68-71)? What does he take this thought experiment to show?

  7. On the basis of this article, what do you think is Dennett’s view on the Turing Test as a test for intentionality (having beliefs, etc.)?

Block, “Psychologism and Behaviorism”

  1. Block notes that one could (in principle) program a computer to pass a half-hour Turing Test using a dumb look-up table or search tree. Explain how such a program could be constructed.

  2. Is Block right that a machine that passed the Turing Test in this way would not be intelligent? What moral does he draw from this objection?

  3. What does Block think an intelligent being must have that the search tree program does not? Is Block saying that no computer could count as intelligent?

  4. A program constructed using Block’s search tree method to pass an hour- long Turing Test would need to store more strings of text than there are particles in the entire universe. Does that mean that Turing’s Test is a good test for intelligence after all? How does Block reply?

  5. A search tree program would only be able to pass a Turing Test of a certain pre-specified length. Keeping this limitation in mind, how might you restate the Turing Test to exclude dumb search tree programs? How might Block respond?

Searle, “Minds, Brains, and Programs”

  1. Describe Searle’s “Chinese Room” thought experiment.

  2. What does Searle take his Chinese Room thought experiment to show? (Hint: not that a machine cannot think, or even that a digital computer cannot think.)

  3. Searle says: “For the purposes of the Chinese, I am simply an instantiation of the computer program” (p. 185), and “in the Chinese case the computer is me” (p. 186). He claims that the man in the Chinese Room is analogous to a computer running a computer program. Explain the analogy. Is it a good analogy? In what respects are the two cases different? Do the differences matter for Searle’s purposes?

  4. What is the Systems Reply, and how does Searle respond to it? Is his reply convincing? Is he right that if the man internalizes (memorizes) the system of rules, then “the system is just a part of him”? Is he right to argue that if the system is just a part of the man, and the man doesn’t understand, then the system doesn’t understand either?

  5. How might Turing reply to Searle’s argument? How could Searle reply to Turing?

  6. What is the Robot Reply? Why might you think adding perceptual and motor devices would make a difference? How does Searle reply?

  7. What is the Brain Simulator Reply? How does Searle reply?

  8. Searle claims that the reason we should attribute intentionality to animals, and not to robots that exhibit the same kind of behavior, is that “we can see that the beasts are made of stuff similar to our own” (p. 196). Why should this matter? On p. 198, Searle says: “perhaps, for example, Martians also have intentionality, but their brains are made of different stuff. That is an empirical question, rather like the question whether photosynthesis can be done by something with a chemistry different from that of chlorophyll.” Is he right that this would be a straightforward empirical question?

Searle, “Intentionality and the Brain”

  1. Searle says that dualists and physicalists alike share the assumption that “by granting the reality and causal efficacy of the mental we have to deny any identity relation between mental phenomena and the brain; and, conversely, if we assert an identity relation we have to deny any causal relations between mental and physical phenomena.” Explain why Searle thinks that this assumption is wrong.

  2. Consider the two diagrams on pp. 269-270. These diagrams amount to a kind of argument by analogy that there is nothing particularly puzzling about the relation between intentional states and the brain. Explain and critically evaluate the analogy.

Unit 3 – Semantic externalism

Putnam, “Brains in a Vat”

  1. Describe Putnam’s “Turing Test for Reference.” Why doesn’t Putnam think that a computer program with no perceptual devices could be referring to, say, trees? Are his reasons the same as Searle’s?

  2. Putnam thinks that it’s physically possible that all sentient beings could be (and could always have been) brains in a vat, their experiences controlled by a giant virtual reality machine connected directly to their nerve endings. But he thinks that we can know, just by reasoning philosophically, that we are not brains in a vat. Explain his argument. Do you think his reasoning is cogent?

  3. Putnam suggests that the sceptic’s worry that we are and always have been brains in vats can take hold only if we accept a “magical theory of reference.” What is a magical theory of reference, and why does Putnam think such a theory is required for the intelligibility of the sceptic’s doubt?

  4. In the movie The Matrix, Neo breaks out of the “virtual world” and finds himself encased in a sticky cocoon. He goes back and tells people, “We’re all encased in sticky cocoons!” What should Putnam say about this? Has Neo said something true? Has he even thought something true?

  5. Searle says that “[e]ach of our beliefs must be possible for a being who is a brain in a vat because each of us is precisely a brain in a vat; the vat is a skull and the ‘messages’ coming in are coming in by way of impacts on the nervous system” (Intentionality, p. 30). Is this a good argument against Putnam?

Putnam, “Meaning and Reference”

  1. Putnam is trying to debunk the traditional view that “meanings are in the head.” What does it mean to say that “meanings are in the head”? Why might one think that they are?

  2. Describe Putnam’s Twin Earth thought experiment. What is it supposed to show?

  3. Why shouldn’t we say that ‘water’ in both English and Twin-English applies to both H2O and XYZ?

  4. Putnam says that my molecule-for-molecule identical Doppleganger will have exactly the same psychological states as I do. Why should we think so?

  5. Putnam thinks that the word ‘water’ referred to H2O (and only H2O) even before experts had any reliable test that would have discriminated H2O from a qualitatively very similar substance XYZ. How can this be?

  6. What does Putnam mean by “the division of linguistic labor”? Give an example.

  7. Putnam says that it is conceivable, but not possible, that water isn’t H2O. Explain.

  8. Putnam says that on his theory, “words like ‘water’ have an unnoticed indexical component.” Explain.

  9. If environmental and social factors play a role in determining what a speaker’s words refer to, how can we know what we are saying when we use these words?

Searle, “Are Meanings in the Head?”

  1. What exactly is the disagreement between Putnam and Searle? They both agree that the thinkers in the Twin Earth cases have type-identical psychological states, and that they nonetheless refer to different things by their “water” thoughts because their mental states have an “indexical” component (Searle, 206-7, Putnam, 33-4). They agree that Hilary and Twin- Hilary can both pick out water as “whatever substance is identical in its underlying structure to this” (focusing on a paradigm sample). So what do they disagree about?

Burge, “Individualism and the Mental”

  1. Why are issues in the philosophy of language often relevant to the philosophy of mind? How are the two disciplines connected?

  2. What is a propositional attitude? Give some examples. What is the “content” of a propositional attitude?

  3. What does Burge mean by anti-individualism?

  4. Describe Burge’s “arthritis” thought experiment. Explain how it is supposed to establish anti-individualism.

  5. Burge says that the key to his argument is the possibility of attributing a mental state “whose content involves a notion that the subject incompletely understands.” Give some examples of incomplete understanding. Is Burge right that we can attribute contents involving notions that the subject incompletely understands?

  6. Does Burge’s “arthritis” thought experiment really establish its conclusion (anti-individualism)? How might one resist saying that Bert believes that he has arthritis in his thigh? What other beliefs might he be expressing when he says “I have arthritis in my thigh”? What does Burge have to say against this kind of “reinterpretation” (sec. IIIc)?

  7. Burge argues (p. 109) that anti-individualism shows the Gricean analysis of conventional meaning in terms of speaker’s intentions to be circular. Explain. Is Burge right? Would it help Grice if he said he’s only talking about normal speakers (i.e., those who have complete understanding of all their words)?

Unit 4 – Indeterminacy of meaning and reference

Quine, Word and Object and “Ontological Relativity”

  1. What does translation have to do with meaning?

  2. What is the “myth of the museum”? How does the “myth” explain synonymy and translation?

  3. What is wrong with the myth of the museum, on Quine’s view?

  4. State Quine’s thesis of the indeterminacy of translation. Is it just a claim about what we can know?

  5. What is stimulus meaning? Why does Quine talk of stimulus meaning?

  6. Compare stimulus meaning with meaning in the ordinary, intuitive sense. Is sameness of stimulus meaning necessary for sameness of meaning in the ordinary sense? Is it sufficient? Why or why not?

  7. Quine claims that even if ‘Gavagai’ is stimulus synomymous with (has the same stimulus meaning as) ‘Rabbit’ in English, that doesn’t settle it that ‘gavagai’ and ‘rabbit’ are coextensive terms (apply to all the same things). Explain Quine’s argument.

  8. Why doesn’t Quine think that ostension (pointing) can help settle indeterminacies in translation?

  9. In what sense is Quine a behaviorist? Is his behaviorist approach to language justified?

  10. How would Quine respond to the following objection? “Sure, there’s a fact of the matter about which translation of ‘gavagai’ is best. All you’d have to do to find it out is bring up a child speaking both languages, and ask her.”

  11. Quine uses some observations about radical translation to make some very general points about translation and meaning. What justifies this methodology? Most translation isn’t radical translation: why should we think that non-radical translation is indeterminate?

  12. Why does Quine think that questions about reference must be relativized to a “background language”? How is this relativity different from relativity to a translation manual? What work does each kind of relativity do?

Searle, “Indeterminism, Empiricism, and the First Person”

  1. Explain the structure of Searle’s argument. What conditional do both Quine and Searle accept?

  2. Why does Searle think that Quine’s indeterminacy considerations lead to absurdity if applied to our own language?

  3. Explain how Searle criticizes Quine’s analogy to the relativity of position and velocity to a frame of reference. How could Quine respond to this criticism?

  4. What facts, besides facts about stimulus meaning, does Searle think are relevant to the correctness of translation manuals? What would Quine say about these facts?

Unit 5 – Meaning and interpretation

Davidson, “Radical Interpretation” and “Belief and the Basis of Meaning”

  1. What is a theory of meaning? What is the aim of such a theory?

  2. Why does Davidson think that a theory of meaning should take the form of a Tarskian truth theory? Why not an infinite list of T-sentences? Why not a recursively specified translation manual?

  3. How does Davidson handle indexicals, demonstratives, and tense?

  4. What are T-sentences? Compare Davidson’s use of T-sentences with Tarski’s.

  5. Davidson says that theories of meaning are empirical theories. How is such a theory tested? What counts as evidence for the truth of the T- sentences?

  6. How do we move from judgments about which sentences speakers “hold true” in which circumstances to judgments of the truth of the T- sentences? What two factors affect which sentences speakers “hold true”?

  7. Explain the problem from decision theory Davidson mentions in “Belief and the Basis of Meaning,” and explain the parallel problem about interpretation.

  8. Do all true T-sentences give the meanings of the sentences mentioned on their left sides? If not, then under what conditions does a true T- sentence give the meaning of a sentence?

  9. What is the role of “the principle of charity” in radical interpretation? What is the status of this principle? Is it a hypothesis about speakers, or something else?

  10. Compare Davidson’s views on meaning with those of Grice and Searle (on the one hand) and Putnam and Burge (on the other hand).

  11. Compare Davidson’s approach to meaning with Quine’s. What are the similarities? What are the differences?

Davidson, “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs”

  1. What does Davidson think is wrong with the traditional picture of language as a system of rules and conventions shared by those who talk to each other?

  2. What does Davidson mean by the “prior theory” and the “passing theory”? How doe these relate to each other?

  3. Why doesn’t Davidson think that malapropisms (like Archie Bunker’s “a few good laughs break up the monogamy”) can be handled by appeal to Gricean speaker’s meaning or conversational implicature?

Unit 6 – Reductive naturalism

Dretske, “If You Can’t…”, “Nature of Thought…”

  1. Describe Dretske’s project. What is he trying to get a recipe for? What ingredients is he allowing himself to use, and what ingredients is he denying himself?

  2. What is intensionality (with an ‘s’)? How is it related to intentionality (with a ‘t’)?

  3. What is it for one thing to indicate or carry information about another? Does this relation depend on our purposes in using the thing?

  4. What would be wrong with saying that representation is indication? That is: for A to represent B is for A to indicate A?

  5. How does Dretske combine the two ingredients indication and function to give an account of representation? How does appeal to function make misrepresentation possible?

  6. Why is it important for Dretske that there be natural functions? How could something come to have a natural function?

  7. Explain how a brain state that indicates mushrooms could come to represent mushrooms. What would be required for that to happen, on Dretske’s account?

  8. In what ways is Dretske’s account of content externalist?

  9. What is epiphenomenalism about mental content? Why is it a particular threat for externalists?

  10. How does Dretske argue that information can figure in a causal explanation of behavior? What does he mean by behavior?

Millikan, “Biosemantics”

  1. Millikan says that “‘normal conditions’ must not be read as having anything to do with what is typical or average or even, in many cases, at all common” (p. 285). Give some examples of conditions that are typical, but not “normal” conditions for the performance of some function, and of conditions that are “normal,” but not typical.

  2. Millikan notes that many animal signals that we might naturally interpret as meaning “danger” or “predator”—for example, the slapping of a beaver’s tail against the water—have a high rate of false positives. Why does she think this fact favors her view over views, like Dretske’s, that start with the notion of indication or information?

  3. Millikan notes that “representations manufactured in identical ways by different species of animal might have different contents” (p. 291). For example, the same swift image on the retina might have the content “bug” for a toad and “female hoverfly” for a male hoverfly. What accounts for this difference, on Millikan’s view? Can Dretske’s view account for this difference?

Fodor, “A Theory of Content I”

  1. In what way is Davidson’s view of mental content holistic? In what way is Dretske’s view atomistic?

  2. What is the “disjunction problem” for naturalistic accounts of mental content?

  3. Fodor writes: “…all standard attempts to solve the disjunction problem exhibit a certain family resemblance. The basic idea is to distinguish between two types of situations, such that lawful covariation determines meaning in one type of situation but not in the other.” Explain how Dretske’s theory falls into this pattern.

  4. Why does Fodor think that you can’t solve the disjunction problem by appealing to natural functions (whether underwritten by evolution or by learning)? Is his criticism successful against Dretske’s theory?

Dennett, “Evolution, Error, and Intentionality”

  1. We have seen Dretske and Fodor take opposing views on whether appealing to functions is useful in an account of representation. What is Dennett’s view of the matter? On what issues does he agree with Fodor, and on what issues does he agree with Dretske?

Fodor, “A Theory of Content II”

  1. What is the difference between a cow, a “cow” token, and a COW token?

  2. Why is the following an inadequate account of content? “X means Y if it’s a law that Ys cause X-tokens”

  3. Describe Fodor’s asymmetric dependence theory of content. How does it solve the problems for the simple theory in question 2, above? Why is it called an “asymmetric dependence” theory?

  4. What does Fodor’s theory say about the fly/fleebee problem? Does the frog’s brain state represent flies or black dots? Why not patterns of retinal stimulations?

  5. Fodor’s theory makes heavy use of counterfactual conditionals. Why does Fodor think that it’s legitimate to use counterfactuals in a naturalistic account of content?

  6. How should one evaluate the truth of a counterfactual conditional? What does the pair “If Obama and Romney had been in the same party, they would have been Democrats”/“If Obama and Romney had been in the same party, they would have been Republicans” show about counterfactuals?

  7. What do you think are the most serious problems for Fodor’s theory? (And how might he respond?)