SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Perfect Speakers and Reinterpretation of Thought Content
(Epistemology, English)

It seems that there are cases where one does not fully understand a concept yet she is a reliable user of sentential expressions invoking that concept. Consider Thumbelina: when she looks after a sick swallow, she advises the bird to stay in her ''warm bed''. This bed is actually composed of ''a carpet of hay'' and a leaf serving as a counterpane. I imagine that under normal circumstances, it would be strange to include ''leaves'' in the concept COUNTERPANE and ''hay stacks'' in the concept BED. Nevertheless, when Thumbelina does it, it seems only natural.

Bearing this example in mind, I turn to a problem surrounding Burge_s social externalism about mental content, namely: how much understanding should be sufficient in order for us to say that a subject S successfully grasps a concept C? If only full understanding qualifies, concept mastery will be imperative when deciding whether S possesses some kind of propositional attitude involving C as an element of her thought content. In the case of Thumbelina, it follows that any attribution of a mental state involving BED is unwarranted due to incomplete understanding. Burge provides solid grounds to reject such supposition and to grant partial understanding the role of sufficient condition for concept possession. However, Burge's arguments gave rise to another concern. In a recent debate with Åsa Wikforss, Sarah Sawyer raised an objection against externalism because it rests on the assumption that subjects possess only incomplete understanding about their own concepts.

I argue that Sawyer's attack requires that concept mastery is accepted as a necessary condition for understanding and thus, it begets the mythical figure of the perfect speaker --- a creature that possesses infallible knowledge about the concepts it operates with. I hope to show that even if externalism suggests that we possess incomplete understanding about our thoughts that should not be a problem, because (usually) we are not perfect speakers.

Time: 10:40-11:10, 19 September 2019 (Thursday)
Location: HS E.002

Madelaine Angelova-Elchinova 
(Sofia University, Bulgaria)

Madelaine Angelova-Elchinova is a pre-doc student in Sofia University, Bulgaria. The title of her dissertation is "Epistemology in XXth century Bulgarian philosophy". In her dissertation she defends a version of externalism about mental content, externalism about justification and externalism about experience. One of her goals is to provide a solid argument against appeal to intuitions and a priori justification in general.

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