Several key philosophical questions form the backbone of this project, and provide the theme for each year:
- The explanatory role of representation
For what explanatory purposes do we need to appeal to (mental or linguistic) representation?
- Grounding representation
Can we say in nonrepresentational terms what the world must be like, in order for there to be representation?
- Representational media
How are the vehicles of representation (e.g. words, sentences) to be individuated? Does mental content have such vehicles?
- Knowing what’s represented
How do we find out about what represents what?
We will be engaging with extant approaches in this area: from the deflationary position that representation has no explanatory role; to positive causal and teleological theories of content; to contemporary interpretationist theories with their distinctive appeal to “naturalness” as a determinant of content. We’ll be exploring and expanding the small literature (in analytic philosophy) on the metaphysics of words and representational media; and looking at topics in the epistemology of representation; for example, first and third personal asymmetries in knowledge of meaning; and whether it’s right to think of understanding as involving (justified?) beliefs about the meaning of words.
The project is also concerned to demonstrate the relevance of these questions for debates throughout philosophy. Some of the subprojects we will be looking at include:
- Belief vs. degrees of belief.
If we’re trying to explain how mental states acquire representation properties, it would be helpful to know what kind of state is in question… is belief all or nothing; or does it come in degrees? If both, how are they related?
- Norms of representation.
Is meaning normative? And what would that even mean? We’ll be looking at how best to characterize normative claims about representational states (norms of truth, of gradational accuracy) and the bearing they may have on developing a theory of the nature of representation.
- Phenomenal character and intentionality.
Is phenomenal character something that can be characterized independently of the representational content of experience?
Some detailed information about the project is available here.