Reminder: SSPP submission deadline approaching

The Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology announces a call for papers for its One Hundred and Eighth Annual Meeting to be held Louisville, KY from March 10-12. SSPP meetings feature concurrent programs in Philosophy and Psychology, as well as plenary sessions jointly sponsored by the Philosophy and Psychology Program Committees. The deadline for all philosophy submissions is December 1, 2015.

(To view the CFP, see here.)


CFA: Rethinking the Taxonomy of Psychology

Call for Abstracts for Poster Presentations

Rethinking the Taxonomy of Psychology Workshop

University of Western Ontario April 15-17, 2016

Workshop Description:

This workshop will focus on an emerging research project in the cognitive neurosciences wherein the traditional scientific approach of using psychological investigations to enhance our understanding of the brain has been flipped, and instead scientists are using neuroscientific investigations to challenge and change the conceptual foundations of psychology. Specifically, it has become possible, using sophisticated machine learning, factor analysis and related techniques to generate empirical constructs based on neuroimaging data that predict brain activity much better than current psychological concepts. Continue reading CFA: Rethinking the Taxonomy of Psychology


Templeton-sponsored “Academic Cross-Training” for philosophers and theologians

This looks like a terrific program (note that it is only for the recently tenured):

The John Templeton Foundation invites applications for its Academic Cross-Training (ACT) Fellowship program beginning November 9, 2015, with fellowships to begin Fall 2017. The ACT Fellowship program is intended to equip recently tenured philosophers and theologians with the skills and knowledge needed to study Big Questions that require substantive and high-level engagement with empirical science.

Each ACT Fellowship will provide up to $217,400 for up to 3 contiguous years of support for a systematic and sustained course of study in an empirical science such as physics, psychology, biology, genetics, cognitive science, neuroscience, or sociology. Acceptable courses of study might range from a plan to audit undergraduate and graduate-level courses to a plan to earn a degree in an empirical science. Fellows may undertake their study at their home institution or another institution. All fellows must have a faculty mentor in their cross-training discipline.

More details on the program are available here.

CFP: International Conference on Thinking

The International Conference on Thinking is now accepting submissions.

Date: August 4-6, 2016 (Note: The Cognitive Science Society conference will be in Philadelphia the following week).

Location: Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

Submission deadline: 31st of March 2016 at 23:59 GMT

This conference brings cognitive scientists, psychologists,
philosophers, decision-making researchers, and others together every four years to discuss the latest research and ideas about how people think. Next summer will be the conference’s first foray outside Europe. Continue reading CFP: International Conference on Thinking


New MA Program in Philosophy at George Washington University

The George Washington University Department of Philosophy is very happy to announce its new M.A. in Philosophy.  This new graduate program complements our longstanding and highly successful M.A. in Philosophy and Social Policy.

The GW Department of Philosophy’s pluralist faculty spans both analytic and continental traditions, and the new M.A. in Philosophy will provide ideal preparation for students who intend to go on to philosophy doctoral programs.  The curriculum is designed so that students can take advantage of courses offered by other departments within GW and the Washington, D.C. consortium of other local universities (including Georgetown University and Catholic University of America).

Every applicant will be considered for a tuition award that will offset the costs of attendance.  Applications for Fall 2016 will be considered on a rolling basis, with financial aid priority given to those received by February 1, 2016.  For more information, visit or e-mail Dr. Laura Papish, Director of Graduate Studies, at


On Some Current Controversies in Philosophy of Mind

Kriegel, ed. (2014), Current Controversies in Philosophy of Mind, Routledge.

I just used this volume in my Phil Mind class, hoping to find useful introductions to some current debates. The volume has five parts. Each part contains two essays. Ideally, the two essays would present opposite points of view so as to represent a current controversy. Continue reading On Some Current Controversies in Philosophy of Mind


Explaining Representation in New Ideas in Psychology

new-ideasA special issue of New Ideas in Psychology on Explaining Representation, edited by Marcin Miłkowski and Konrad Talmont-Kaminski is just out, with contributions by Bill Ramsey, Paweł Gładziejewski, Rob Clowes and Dina Mendonça, Wayne Christensen and John Michael, Witold Hensel, Krystyna Bielecka, Paweł Grabarczyk and myself. Some of the contributions are based on talks from the Kazimierz Naturalist Workshop 2011: Varieties of Representation. Well, it took some time to put it together but I think the whole shows that representationalism is still a fruitful research program in philosophy and cognitive science.


Applications for the Summer Seminars in Neuroscience and Philosophy are now open!

Applications are now being accepted for the Summer Seminars in Neuroscience and Philosophy (SSNAP), to be held at Duke University from May 22 to June 5, 2016. The SSNAP consist of two weeks of intensive training in philosophy and neuroscience with the aim of fostering collaboration between the two disciplines. A total of 20 positions are available: 10 for applicants from philosophy and 10 for applicants from neuroscience. Fellows will be encouraged to form interdisciplinary teams to develop a joint research project, with which they can apply for a sub-award of up to $30,000. Continue reading Applications for the Summer Seminars in Neuroscience and Philosophy are now open!


What can we learn from Minds Online about the future of online conferences in philosophy?

minds-online-logoThat’s the question Cameron Buckner, Nick Byrd, and I raise in a guest post written for Daily Nous.

We hope you will read our post and join the discussion, especially of the following questions — you can answer them in the comments here or there, or privately via e-mail:

  1. In Minds Online, we closed comments on each session after a week, when the new session began. In several cases, we received excellent comments after the period had closed that we would have liked to have posted, but did not want to get in the practice of making special exceptions. Our reasoning for closing comments after a period of time was so that previous sessions did not detract attention from the next one. Was this worry well-founded? Should we have left comments open for a longer time?
  2. An innovation of our conference was the decision to space out sessions over four weeks, with one session per week (rather than posting all the papers and commentary simultaneously). Was this a good decision? Was the pacing and number of sessions about right?
  3. Is there more we could have done to bring in philosophers from other areas of the world?
  4. Is there more we could have done to be more equitable?
  5. We chose to have short introductory videos for each paper; the idea was that they were to provide a brief introduction that could help participants decide if they wanted to attend to that session. Were the videos helpful? Could they have been done better?

It goes without saying that we are very grateful to everyone who participated in the first Minds Online conference, and made it such a success!


Symposium on Hayley Clatterbuck, “Chimpanzee Mindreading and the Value of Parsimonious Mental Models”

I’m happy to initiate our latest Mind & Language symposium on  Hayley Clatterbucks’s  Chimpanzee Mindreading and the Value of Parsimonious Mental Models,” from the journal’s September 2015 issue, with commentaries by Cameron Buckner (Houston), Shannon Spaulding (Oklahoma), and Jennifer Vonk (Oakland).

There has been a long-standing debate about whether apes, dogs, corvids, and possibly other animals have the capacity to engage in “mind-reading,” that is, the capacity to form beliefs about the mental states of others based on behavioral cues, environmental context, or other sources of evidence. Continue reading Symposium on Hayley Clatterbuck, “Chimpanzee Mindreading and the Value of Parsimonious Mental Models”


Conceptualism Can’t Account for the Phenomenology of Hallucination

The argument from fineness of grain is probably the most discussed argument for nonconceptualism. (To name but a few discussants: Peacocke 1998, 2001a, 2001b; McDowell 1994, 1998, Brewer 1999, 2005, Tye 2005, Coliva 2003, Kelly 2001a, 2001b, Veillet 2014.) To account for the fine-grained phenomenal character of visual experience in terms of the concepts of the perceiver, conceptualists appeal to demonstrative concepts. So even though a subject doesn’t possess the general concept teal, say, or even the concept shade, she will be able to perceptually represent a teal dress. Two subjects who possess different concepts for the shade of the dress, for instance teal and blue-green (or this color and this shade) can still have visual experiences of the dress with the same content: this is thus. This conceptualist strategy, of capturing the fine-grained content of experience with the help of bare demonstrative concepts, can be called the ‘pure demonstrative strategy’.

I believe that this is the best strategy available to the conceptualist to counter the argument from fineness of grain. As Brewer (2005) argues, we can say that the demonstrative involved in the subject’s experience determinately picks out certain properties – for example the shade of the dress rather than its shape – because the subject can track this property and focus her attention on it. There is an attentional and tracking relation that underlies the demonstration to the shade and fixes the corresponding perceptual content. I believe that even in cases of misperception this attentional and tracking relation can help to provide a determinate perceptual content. Imagine that I am looking at a yellow dress, but to me the dress looks to be teal, where the content of my experience is this is thus. In such a case, the conceptualist might insist that the reference of the demonstrative thus involved in this purely demonstrative experience is to the shade that this demonstrative concept would track under normal conditions.

But there is a further problem lurking here, which is not about reference or determinate content, but about the phenomenology of misperception. Compare a veridical experience with a case of hallucination. In one situation, I see a teal dress lying before me; in the other I’m in a pitch-black room, but hallucinate that there is a teal dress lying in front of me. Now in the veridical situation, the conceptualist can give a very appealing account of the phenomenal character of my visual experience. She can say that I attend to the teal dress and it is the teal of the dress itself that constitutes the feel of my experience (and the shape of the dress etc.). When I hallucinate the teal dress, however, there is no teal dress present that could be the basis of my teal phenomenology. Moreover, the teal of the dress that my demonstrative that would track under normal circumstances doesn’t help. In the hallucination case, I’m in complete darkness, and the conceptualist can’t say that the teal that my demonstrative would normally track is present somehow to provide the phenomenal character. Or if she does so, it looks like she introduces a level of nonconceptual content after all. For it is then some uninstantiated property, not a concept, that constitutes the phenomenal content of the experience.

Alternatively, the conceptualist might insist that it is the modes of presentation of our pure demonstrative concepts that give rise to the phenomenal character of experience (cf. Brewer 1999, 156). Since the same demonstrative thus is involved in veridical perception and in hallucination, it can be insisted that they thereby have the same content and phenomenal character.

Here is just one problem with this strategy – it conflicts with the transparency of perceptual experience. When looking at the teal dress, it doesn’t strike me as thought it is a mode of presentation, a feature of my experience itself, that provides the teal-y feel. Rather, when I focus on my experience of the teal dress, it is the dress itself whose particular shade provides the phenomenal character of my visual experience.

Another option for the conceptualist would be to endorse direct realism / metaphysical disjunctivism (cf. Martin 2004/2009). There is a version of this view on which veridical perceptions and corresponding indiscriminable hallucinations don’t have the same phenomenal character. The subject just mistakenly thinks that they have the same phenomenology – she is unable to distinguish them. The phenomenal character of veridical perception is constituted by the objects and properties to which it relates the perceiver; since in hallucination, this relation is lacking, it doesn’t have the same phenomenal character. This move, however, is incompatible with the conceptualist claim that veridical perception and hallucination have the same conceptual content or, otherwise put, are identical appearances that the world is a certain way.

So, to do justice to the phenomenology of hallucination, the conceptualist has to abandon the view that perceptual content is conceptual – either in favor of nonconceptualism or in favor of direct realism, thereby rejecting the content view altogether. (Notably, this was done by Brewer 2006.)


Brewer, B. (1999), Perception and Reason, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Brewer, B. (2005), ‘Perceptual Experience has Conceptual Content’, in M. Steup & E. Sosa, eds, Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, Blackwell, Malden, pp. 217–230.

Brewer, B. (2006), ‘Perception and Content’, European Journal of Philosophy 14, 165–181.

Coliva, A. (2003), ‘The Argument from the Finer-Grained Content of Colour Experiences: A Redefinition of Its Role Within the Debate Between McDowell and Non-Conceptual Theorists’, Dialectica 57, 57–70.

Kelly, S. (2001a), ‘Demonstrative Concepts and Experience’, Philosophical Review 110, 397–420.

Kelly, S. (2001b), ‘The Non-Conceptual Content of Perceptual Experience: Situation Dependence and Fineness of Grain’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62, 601–608.

Martin, M. (2004/2009), ‘The Limits of Self-Awareness’, in A. Byrne & H. Logue, eds, Disjunctivism: Contemporary Readings, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 271–317.

McDowell, J. (1994a), Mind and World, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

McDowell, J. (1998), ‘Reply to Commentators’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 58, 403–431.

Peacocke, C. (1998), ‘Nonconceptual Content Defended’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 58, 381–388.

Peacocke, C. (2001a), ‘Does Perception Have a Nonconceptual Content?’, Journal of Philosophy 98, 239–264.

Peacocke, C. (2001b), ‘Phenomenology and Nonconceptual Content’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62, 609–615.

Tye, M. (2005), ‘On the Nonconceptual Content of Experience’, in M. Reicher & J. Marek, eds, Experience and Analysis: Proceedings of the 27th International Wittgenstein Symposium, öbv&hpt, Vienna, 221–242.

Veillet, B. (2014), ‘Belief, Re-Identification and Fineness of Grain’, European Journal of Philosophy 22, 229–248.


Yes, We Can: Get from the State View to the Content View

In my previous post, I referred several times to the state view/content view distinction. As has been argued by authors such as Byrne (2005) or Crowther (2006), the distinction is problematic for nonconceptualists to the extent that they want to make a claim about perceptual content. For central pro-nonconceptualist arguments such as the argument from fineness of grain or the argument from animal and infant perception show, at most, that there are mental states that a subject can be in even if she doesn’t possess the pertinent concepts. They have no bearing on the kind of content that these mental states have.

In my view, we should think of nonconceptual states as states that one can undergo without exercising all of the concepts needed to specify their contents. By contrast, conceptual states are states that one can undergo only if, in undergoing them, she exercises all of the pertinent concepts. Given this exercise version of the state view, conceptual content-bearing mental states have conceptual contents (viz. Fregean propositions) and nonconceptual content-bearing mental states have nonconceptual contents (viz. scenario contents). – Or so I’ll argue now. I’m trying to distill a rather complex argument from the book here, so if anything remains unclear, feel free to ask about it in the comments! Continue reading Yes, We Can: Get from the State View to the Content View


Introducing Modest Nonconceptualism

First off, I want to thank John Schwenkler for inviting me to contribute a few posts on my new book, Modest Nonconceptualism: Epistemology, Phenomenology, Content, this week.

As I’m sure readers of the Brains blog are well aware, there is an intricate debate over whether perceptual experience is conceptual or nonconceptual. I defend a particular version of nonconceptualism, viz. Modest Nonconceptualism. Instead of providing a detailed presentation of the debate or of the different options for the nonconceptualist (if you are interested in such detail, you should read the book!), let me start out with the essentials of my view: Continue reading Introducing Modest Nonconceptualism


Concept Possession Isn’t Good Enough

Typically, nonconceptualism is introduced in terms of concept possession. Take for instance, the first claim from the recently updated SEP entry on nonconceptual content:

The central idea behind the theory of nonconceptual mental content is that some mental states can represent the world even though the bearer of those mental states need not possess the concepts required to specify their content.(Bermúdez and Cahen 2015)
Continue reading Concept Possession Isn’t Good Enough


The sensory-based theory of conscious thinking

Many thanks to John Schwenkler for this opportunity to talk about some of my recent work, especially my book The Centered Mind: What the Science of Working Memory Shows Us About the Nature of Human Thought, published earlier this year by Oxford University Press. In this post I’ll sketch the theory that I defend in the book, and then in subsequent posts I’ll talk a bit about some of the component ideas.

The goal of the book is to develop a theory of the causes and contents of reflective thinking, and indeed of the stream of consciousness more generally. Continue reading The sensory-based theory of conscious thinking


Attention, conscious experience, and working memory

One argument for the view that all access-consciousness depends upon sensory representations is an inference to the best explanation (or rather, a series of them) that brings together recent work on consciousness with recent work on working memory. The argument builds on the findings of Bernard Baars, Stanislas Dehaene, and others who have amassed a large and convincing body of data in support of the “global broadcasting” or “global workspace” theory of conscious experience. Across a wide variety of unconscious forms of perception there can be local reverberating activity in both mid-level and high-level sensory cortices. (In the case of vision, in occipital cortex and posterior temporal cortex.) Stimuli in such cases can be processed all the way up to the conceptual level. They can give rise to semantic priming effects, for example. But when this activity is targeted by attention the percepts become conscious, and there is widespread coordinated activity linking it also to frontal and parietal cortices. Continue reading Attention, conscious experience, and working memory


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