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180221 SE Internalism vs. Externalism About Mental Content (2021W)

5.00 ECTS (2.00 SWS), SPL 18 - Philosophie
Continuous assessment of course work
Tu 25.01. 18:00-19:30 Digital


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 25 participants
Language: English


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

Tuesday 12.10. 18:00 - 19:30 Digital
Tuesday 19.10. 18:00 - 19:30 Digital
Tuesday 09.11. 18:00 - 19:30 Digital
Tuesday 16.11. 18:00 - 19:30 Digital
Tuesday 23.11. 18:00 - 19:30 Digital
Tuesday 30.11. 18:00 - 19:30 Digital
Tuesday 07.12. 18:00 - 19:30 Digital
Tuesday 14.12. 18:00 - 19:30 Digital
Tuesday 11.01. 18:00 - 19:30 Digital
Tuesday 18.01. 18:00 - 19:30 Digital


Aims, contents and method of the course

• Content
Internalism about meaning (or 'semantic internalism') might be understood as the following claim: the fact that a competent speaker means that such and such by a sentence S does *not* entail any proposition about the external environment the speaker finds herself in. Put in simpler terms, what a speaker means by her words is a wholly 'internal' affair. In a similar vein, internalism about mental content (sometimes called 'individualism') might be understood as the thesis that true propositional attitude ascriptions – that is, true sentences of the form ‘X believes/desires/fears/… that p’ – do *not* entail any proposition about the external environment X finds herself in. Both theses go hand in hand with a claim of first-personal privileged access, according to which meanings, mental attitudes and their contents are wholly within the thinker’s ken.

Prompted by seminal work on semantics by Kripke, Putnam and Burge, the denial of both theses grew into one of the hallmarks of analytic philosophy. Externalism about meaning (also 'semantic externalism') and externalism about mental content (also 'anti-individualism') call for important revisions on classical positions regarding self-knowledge, apriori knowledge, the explanation of action, moral responsibility, and reasoning, the extent and acceptability of which is still a matter of intense debate.

• Goals
In this seminar, we will discuss the main motivations and arguments for internalism and externalism about meaning and mental content, aiming at a basic understanding of what is at stake in these debates. We will consider seminal texts by Frege, Kripke, Putnam and Burge, as well as some recent contributions about the consequences of these positions.

• Methods
Reading, interpretation and critical discussion of texts; reconstruction of arguments.

IMPORTANT: questions, reflections and essay may be submitted in German or English.

Assessment and permitted materials

• Active participation (including submission of questions and own reflections on assigned texts before the sessions)
• Short essay (± 4000 - 6000 words) on a topic related to the seminar
• There is no attendance control.

IMPORTANT: questions, reflections and essay may be submitted in German or English.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

Minimum Requirements:
• Minimum grade for passing the course: 3 (50%)
• Submission and approval of the final essay is mandatory for passing the course.
• There is no attendance control.

Assessment Criteria:
• Active participation (30% of the final grade); Students are given the possibility to send their questions and comments on required readings during the seminar. Comments and questions will not be graded, but in rare cases may be judged insufficient (for instance, if they do not show proper engagement with the text). Sufficient comments/questions sent count fixed points that compose the active participation grade. (Example: if there are 5 required readings, comments/questions for each reading count 20% of the active participation grade.)
• Final essay (±6000 words) (70% of the final grade) (minimal grade: 4, corresponding to 50%; essays graded insufficient (i.e. below 50%) will not be computed in the final grade).

Final Grade = Participation x 0.3 + Short Essay x 0.7.

Minimal final grade for approval in the course is 4, corresponding to 50% of the points

Examination topics

Presentations, slides and texts.

Reading list

(To be updated during the seminar; not all listed references will be discussed in class.)
• N. Block (1991). What narrow content is not. In Barry M. Loewer & Georges Rey (eds.), Meaning in Mind: Fodor and His Critics. Blackwell.
• P. Boghossian (1994). The Transparency of Mental Content. Philosophical Perspectives 8:33-50.
• P. Boghossian (1998). What the Externalist Can Know A Priori. Philosophical Issues 9:197-211.
• J. Brown (1995). The Incompatibility of Anti-individualism and Privileged Access. Analysis 55.3: 149–56.
• T. Burge (1979). Individualism and the mental. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4 (1):73-122
• T. Burge (1982). Other bodies. In Andrew Woodfield (ed.), Thought and Object. Oxford University Press.
• K. Farkas (2003). What Is Externalism? Philosophical Studies 112(3): 187–208.
• G. Frege (1892). Über Sinn und Bedeutung. Zeitschrift für Philosophie Und Philosophische Kritik 100 (1):25-50.
• B. Gertler (2011). Self-Knowledge and the Transparency of Belief. In Anthony Hatzimoysis (ed.), Self-Knowledge. Oxford University Press.
• J. Kallestrup (2011). Semantic Externalism. Routledge.
• S. Kripke (1980). Naming and Necessity. Harvard University Press.
• B. Loar (1988). Social Content and Psychological Content. In R. Grimm and D. Merrill (eds.), Contents of Thought (Tucson: University of Arizona Press), 99–110.
• M. McKinsey (2002). Forms of Externalism and Privileged Access. Philosophical Perspectives 16: 199–224.
• H. Putnam (1975). The meaning of ‘meaning’. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7:131-193.
• A. Srinivasan (2015). Normativity without Cartesian privilege. Philosophical Issues 25 (1):273-299.

Association in the course directory

Last modified: Su 16.01.2022 12:48