What we did

The following page records the principal activities conducted by the Nature of Representation project in its five year span. These are drawn from original posts in the “News” tab. See the outcomes page for the research carried out, and the seminars page for detail on week-by-week readings.

The nature of representation first year: 2012-13

This was the start-up year for the project, before project post-docs or research students were recruited. The PI (Robert Williams) focused on individual preparatory research and reading. The main project-level activity was a pilot seminar series held with colleagues with the philosophy department at Leeds.

Recruitment got underway for two postdoctoral fellows, one in philosophy of mind, and one in philosophy of language, and two PhD students, and interviews and appointments were made.

There was one project visitor, Imogen Dickie (giving three talks).

One conference was organized (jointly with the logic group in mathematics) on the philosophy of Michael Dummett.

  • Douglas Bridges (Canterbury, NZ).
  • Imogen Dickie (Toronto)
  • Daniel Isaacson (Oxford).
  • Per Martin-Loef (Stockholm).
  • Michael Rathjen (Leeds).
  • Philip Welch (Bristol).
  • Crispin Wright (Aberdeen/NYU)

The nature of representation second year: 2013-14

With postdocs (Carr and Goodman) and research students (Gamester and Tasker) in place, the NatRep core group was formed, and the seminar series got into full swing, with a focus initially on classic work on the metaphysics of representation (e.g. Dretske, Millikan, Lewis). Colleagues from the wider philosophy department continued to participate and support our activities. With the additional resource, we started organizing workshops and more visits. In this year, as well as four international workshops, we had several visitors. They either gave a single talk or (on the model of Dickie’s visit from the previous year) a series of linked papers.

We found that workshops are most effective if the number of talks per day is kept comparatively low (three or at most four talks/day). This allows room for a relaxed question period and lots of informal discussion in the period between talks. It also means that energy-levels remain high at every talk, and the temptation of participants to “skip” talks is reduced, keeping the conference together. A nice pattern for a four-person workshop is to split it over two days—starting and finishing at lunchtime. That allows for participants to travel up and back within working hours, and means that everyone is fresh for every talk.

In 2013-14 our visitors included:

  • Damian Rochford (MIT).
  • Gurpreet Rattan (Toronto).
  • Richard Holton (Cambridge).
  • Wolfgang Schwarz (ANU) (three talks).
  • Zoe Drayson (Stirling) (three talks).
  • Mahrad Almotahari (UIC).

Workshops in this period included:

  • Belief and Credence.
    • Scott Sturgeon (Birmingham).
    • Hilary Greaves (Oxford).
    • Hannes Leitgeb (Munich).
    • Jonathan Weisberg (Toronto).
    • Daniel Greco (Yale).
  • Propositions.
    • Lorraine Juliano Keller (Niagara University)
    • Jeff King (Rutgers)
    • Kris McDaniel (Syracuse)
    • Friederike Moltmann (CNRS/NYU)
    • Scott Soames (USC)
    • Jeff Speaks (Notre Dame)
  • Singular thought and perception.
    • John Campbell (Berkeley).
    • Kathrin Gluer-Pagin (Stockholm).
    • Jason Leddington (Bucknell University).
    • M.G.F Martin (UCL).
  • Conditional thinking workshop.
    • Dorothy Edgington (Birkbeck).
    • Arif Ahmed (Cambridge).
    • Daniel Elstein and Robert Williams (Leeds).
    • Richard Bradley and Orri Stefansson (LSE).

We also co-sponsored a conference on Naive Realism in perception (speakers: Alex Byrne, M.G.F. Martin, Thomas Raleigh, Susanna Schellenberg, Charles Travis).

The nature of representation third year: 2014-15

Goodman and Carr continued as postdocs, and Tasker and Gamester as research students, with Williams as project PI. Laura Crosilla’s PhD work was also supported by the project, which concerned technical constraints on mathematical and logical systems,  motivated by issues in the foundations of representation. Crosilla had been the co-organized of the first project workshop, “Dummett day”.

The previous year had seen lots of conferences organized, but also solo visits by international speakers. We had got a lot out of the conferences, but the chance to interact at length with speakers over a few days was particularly valuable. And the visitors always seemed to get a lot out of it too! We tended to dedicate some time in seminars to reading some of an uncoming visitor’s work to gain general familiarity with it. While they visited us, we would have a mixture of sessions: typically pre-reads (either of published classic work or work in progress) and at least one talk accessible to colleagues beyond the department.

One of the real attractions of this format is that one gets to explore in depth the visitor’s research programme, connecting-dots and moving past initial misunderstandings in a way that’s impossible in the traditional single conference talk. The time between sessions is used in informal interactions exploring connections between the work we do within the NatRep group and the visitor’s research.

This year, a lot of our interaction with external visitors was in this format.

In 2014-15 our visitors were:

  • Janice Dowell (Syracuse). Two talks.
  • Hartry Field (NYU). Three talks.
  • Liz Camp (Rutgers). Three talks.
  • Richard Heck (Brown). Three talks.
  • Tyler Burge (UCLA). Two talks.
  • John Hawthorne (Oxford)
  • Lisa Bortolotti (Birmingham). Two talks.

We organized the following workshop:

  • Workshop on Radical Interpretation.
    • Wolfgang Schwarz (Edinburgh).
    • Robert Williams (Leeds).
    • Anandi Hattiangadi (Stockholm).

The nature of representation fourth year: 2015-16

Personnel switched around this year as Jennifer Carr and Rachel Goodman secured tenure track positions in the USA (Goodman remained part-time on the project during this period). They had done fantastic work on the project, and it was sad to see them go. In their place, we appointed Daniel Elstein, who as a lecturer in the department of philosophy had been working with the project from the beginning, and Gail Leckie. Daniel’s background in metaethics (as well as his direct interest in developing an anti-realist metaphysics of representation) was an ideal fit with the increasing interest in the project with the interaction of normativity and representation. Gail’s work ties directly to the research items on the agenda for the final two years of the project, particularly in her interest in accounts of understanding (and their relation to inferentialist theories of meaning) and the vehicles of representation. We were also able to appoint Ed Elliot to a short-term postdoc, and his expertise in representation theorems and formal philosophy of mind added another angle to the project team. In his time with us he secured both a Marie Curie incoming fellowship to work on the Nature of Belief–and a continuing lectureship at Leeds.

The seminar series continued, with one focus being a series of presentations by the PI, Williams, of core papers on the main project themes. These kicked off the final writing-up phase of his project work.

The year had a balanced schedule of two large workshops and three extended visits, drawing on what we’d found worked best in the previous two years of the project.

In 2015-16 our visitors were:
  • David Chalmers (NYU). Three talks.
  • Guy Longworth (Warwick). Three talks.
  • Tim Button (Cambridge). Three talks.

We organized the following workshops:

  • The nature and understanding of sense.
    • Francois Recanati (Paris).
    • Robert Williams (Leeds).
    • Laura Schroeter (Melbourne).
    • Richard Heck (Brown).
    • Gail Leckie (Leeds).
    • Imogen Dickie (Toronto).
  • Mental representation in linguistics.
    • Georges Rey (Maryland).
    • David Adger (QMU).
    • Frances Egan (Rutgers).
    • John Collins (UEA).
    • Ianthi Tsimpli (Cambridge).
    • Wolfram Hinzen (ICREA, Universitat Pompeu Fabra).

The nature of representation fifth year: 2016-17. 

Leckie and Elstein continued as project postdocs for the final year of the project, and both project PhD students, Nick Tasker and Will Gamester, secured Jacobsen studentships to support the fourth year of their research (so the NatRep project alone hosted a 1/4 of the awards of this prestigious studentship in this year). The team was joined by Simon Hewitt as project postdoc whose expertise in logic and the philosophy of mathematics assisted the case study into the metasemantics of quantification that Williams was pursuing. Also joining was Thomas Brouwer (1/3 time) who brought a special interest in the metaphysics of groups and group representation. During the final year, Elstein secured a continuing lectureship at Leeds, Leckie a position at Oxford, and Hewitt a three year Leverhulme early career fellowship.

The seminar series continued, with a particular focus in 2017 on scoping out and planning follow-up research beyond the time-scale of the current project. This ultimately led to a new 5-year project plan, “Group thinking: new foundations” which takes the progress made on the foundations of *individual* representation, and seeks to extend this to the foundations of representational states of collectives and groups (small teams, whole organizations, or nations).

The final year of the project again saw a balanced schedule of two international conferences and a series of visitors, three of whom gave seminars/talks in the extended “solo workshop” format of which we have become so fond.

In 2016-17 our visitors (so far):

  • Jason Turner (Arizona).
  • Adam Pautz (Brown). Three talks.
  • Ian Rumfitt (Oxford). Three talks.
  • Sarah Sawyer (Sussex). Three talks.
  • Brian Epstein (Tufts). Three talks.
  • Amie Thomasson (Miami). Three talks.
  • Florian Steinberger (Birkbeck). Three talks.
  • Herman Cappelen (Oslo). (By skype). One talk.
  • Oystein Linnebo (Oslo). One talk.

We organized the following workshops:

  • Bad Ideas
    • Derek Ball (St Andrews).
    • Delia Belleri (Hamburg/Vienna).
    • Esa Diaz-Leon (Barcelona).
    • Katharine Jenkins (Nottingham).
    • David Plunkett (Dartmouth).
    • Kevin Scharp (St Andrews)
  • Metaphysics of Words.
    • Stefano Predelli (Nottingham).
    • Lee Walters (Southampton).
    • Linda Wetzel (Georgetown).
    • Nick Tasker (Leeds).
    • Robert May (UC Davis).
    • Mark Richard (Harvard).
  • Foundations of Conceptual Engineering.
    • Alexis Burgess (UCLA).
    • Herman Cappelen (Oslo).
    • Catarina Dutilh Novaes (Groningen)
    • Amie Thomasson (Miami).