Coordination, Content, and Conflation. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, forthcoming.
The subjective appearance of coreference is not perfectly reliable, as is familiar to anyone who has conflated twins. However, I argue that there are some thoughts which get their content wholly determined by the subjective appearance of coreference. These thoughts are formed through broadly "internal" processes like inference and imagination. They are, in a special sense, impervious to conflation. I draw some lessons for the theory of content determination and the problem of error.
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There are at least two job descriptions for concepts in philosophy of mind and philosophy of cognitive science: the first is to act as recombinable building blocks for thought, and the second is to ground the inferential profiles of attitudes. In this paper, I show that there is no mental particular that can play both of these roles. The reason stems from what I call partial distinction, in which we grasp the fact that a ≠ b but still treat a and b as the same in certain contexts, as when we treat weight and mass as the same physical magnitude via the concept HEAVY. Such cases arise frequently in science and philosophy. I develop a model of concepts and thought that accommodates partial distinctions – on this model, concepts disambiguate into other concepts, and recurrence of one and the same concept is not necessary for logical communicability.
In Progress (email for drafts)
If It Looks Like a Duck: The Replication Polysemy
Sometimes we use words like 'duck' to refer, not to real ducks, but toy ducks, painted ducks, people wearing duck costumes, etc. In this paper, I show how this "Toy Duck Usage" does not easily reduce to more familiar linguistic phenomena like metaphor and meaning transfer. I then develop the view that such usage is a language-wide form of polysemy, and propose a semantics for such usage. The semantics entails that looking, quacking, and other ways of resembling a duck are not sufficient for being aptly called a duck, even in the context of Toy Duck Usage.
Explanatory Goodness and Mental Content
A metasemantic theory tells us why a particular concept has the content that it in fact has, e.g., why the concept ORANGUTAN has orangutans as its content, rather than, say, Sumatran orangutans or apes. Many believe that the content of a concept has some important causal explanatory connection to that concept. But a plethora of properties stand in a causal explanatory connection to our concepts without being their contents - this is the filtering problem. In this paper, I leverage work on causal explanation to make progress on the filtering problem. In particular, I draw on insights from the discussion of proportionality and stability to weed out problematic contents. The picture that emerges is one where much of the work of metasemantics can be accomplished by appealing to general principles in the theory of good explanation rather than the particularities of mental representation itself.
Underspecificity and Conceptual Change
Not every revision in our representational practices stems from discovery: intuitively, the revision to the practice of treating Pluto as a planet did not involve a discovery about Pluto or planets, but a decision about how we wanted to use our words and concepts going forward. While many theorists have been sympathetic to this practical account of cases like Pluto, there is no general agreement on the formalism for understanding these cases, or the philosophical basis for distinguishing practically-induced revision from epistemically-induced revision. In this paper, I leverage recent work on vagueness and communication - work on underspecificity - to provide a formal foundation for understanding practically-induced revision. I also develop a story as to what grounds the difference between decision and discovery when it comes to conceptual change. t