Seminar on Narrow Content
Instructor: Jonathan Cohen
(joncohenREMOVETHIS@aardvark.ucsd.edu (omit text in caps, which reduces automated spam))
office: (732) 445 6163
home: (718) 499 1213
Office hours: Tuesday, 12:30 to 2:00, in
Psychology A132, on Busch Campus.
What The Seminar Is About
Among the more interesting properties of mental states, it is widely
agreed, is their intentionality: mental states, unlike most everything
else in the universe, can be about other things, and in this sense may
be said to have intentional content.
In the 1970s, philosophers such as Putnam, Kripke, and Burge argued
persuasively that the content of mental states depends crucially on
various aspects of the extra-dermal environment of the thinker (hence,
Putnam's slogan: content ain't in the head).
On the other hand, views of content respecting such insight (so-called
externalist views about content) seem to conflict with equally
plausible intuitions about the role of content in intentional
Content appears to figure essentially in intentional explanations of
behavior of this form: he ate the pizza because he desired that he
would gain weight and believed that his eating the pizza would cause
him to gain weight.
And, it seems reasonable to think that such an explanation would serve
equally well as an explanation of the identical behavior of molecular
duplicate individuals in quite different environments (why do both of
them start munching on pizza at precisely the same moment?).
However, prima facie, it's hard to see how to reconcile this intuition
with content externalism: if content ain't in the head, then the
variations in the two environments would have the consequence that we
cannot explain the identical behavior of our molecular twins by
attributing to them states with identical content.
This clash, among other motivations, has led some to think that there
must be some aspect of content in the head, or that there is something
in the head which determines content.
This they have dubbed `narrow content'.
Of course, this term is just a placeholder so far.
The interesting theoretical question, at this point, is what a viable
notion of narrow content could look like.
In this seminar I want to study narrow content in some detail.
I want to consider arguments concluding that there must be some such
notion and also arguments concluding that there can't be any such
And, of course, I want to consider several proposals for understanding
We shall be asking what (if anything!) we should be looking for in a
conception of narrow content, and then attempting to assess the
various proposals in light of these desiderata.
If you are taking the class for credit, you may choose either to
write one long paper (~25 pages) at the end of the semester, or else
two shorter papers (~12 pages).
In addition, everyone attending the seminar will be responsible for
at least one presentation of the week's reading.
- Preliminaries and Motivation, Classic Cases
- Fodor, Psychosemantics, ch1
- Frege, "On Sense and Reference"
- Putnam, "The Meaning of 'Meaning'"
- Burge, "Individualism and the Mental"
- Must/Need There Be Narrow Content?
- Fodor, "Methodological Solipsism Considered as a Research
Strategy in Cognitive Science"
- Fodor, "A Modal Argument for Narrow Content"
- Stalnaker, "On What's in the Head"
- Fodor, The Elm and The Expert, ch2
- Prinz, "Is Narrow Content Superfluous?"
- Aydede and Robbins, "Are Frege Cases Exceptions to Intentional
- Conceptual Role
- Block, "Advertisement for a Semantics for Psychology"
- Harman, "(Non-solipsistic) Conceptual Role Semantics"
- Fodor and LePore, Holism: A Shopper's Guide, ch6
- Block, "Holism, hyper-analyticity, and hyper-compositionality"
- Boghossian, "Does an inferential role semantics rest on a
- Fodor and LePore, "Reply to Block and Boghossian"
- Possible Worlds and Diagonals
- Lewis, "Attitudes De Dicto and De Se"
- Stalnaker, "Indexical Belief"
- Robbins, "To Structure or Not to Structure?"
- Field, "Stalnaker on Intentionality"
- Kaplan, "Demonstratives", 529--536
- Fodor, Psychosemantics, ch2
- White, "Partial Character and the Language of Thought"
- Aydede, "Has Fodor Really Changed His Mind on Narrow Content?"
- Phenomenal Takes, Non-Conceptual Content
- Loar, "How to Conceive Mental Content"
- Loar, "Self Interpretation and the Constitution of Reference"
- Peacocke, "Scenarios, Concepts, and Perception"
- Peacocke, A Study of Concepts, ch3
- Shoemaker, "Phenomenal Character"
- Block, "Inverted Earth"