24.401 S13 Proseminar in Philosophy II

Alex Byrne & Agustín Rayo


General Information



General Information

Stellar Site:



TF 10-1, 32-D831


These will be distributed for each session; students will take turns in presenting answers. (At least one presentation should be in slide format.)


10 page paper due April 1; 15 page paper due before end-of-term meeting. (No incompletes allowed.)


5 February


8 February

The Great Blizzard of 2013

12 February (AR)

Hempel, ‘Problems and Changes in the Empiricist Criterion of Meaning

15 February (AR)

Carnap, ‘Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology

19 February 

NO CLASS (Monday Schedule)

22 February (AB)

Ryle, The Concept of Mind

26 February (AB) [AR away]        

Ryle, The Concept of Mind

1 March (AB) [AR away]        

Quine, ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’ / Grice and Strawson, ‘In Defense of a Dogma

5 March (AR) [AB away]        

Goodman, Fact, Fiction, and Forecast  (chapter 1)

8 March (AB)

Goodman, Fact, Fiction, and Forecast (chapters 2-3)

12 March (AR) 

Quine, ‘On What There Is’

15 March (AB)

Quine, Word and Object

19 March (AR)

Quine, Word and Object

22 March (AB)

Foot, ‘Morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives’, McDowell/McFetridge, ‘Are moral requirements hypothetical imperatives?

26 March

NO CLASS (Spring Vacation)

29 March 

NO CLASS (Spring Vacation)

2 April (AR)

Davidson, ‘Truth and Meaning’

5 April (AB)

Davidson, ‘Mental Events’

9 April (AB)

Sellars, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind

12 April (AB) [AR away]        

Sellars, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind

16 April

NO CLASS (Patriots Day)

19 April 

The Great Manhunt of 2013

23 April (AR)

Kripke, Naming and Necessity

26 April (AR) [AB away]        

Kripke, Naming and Necessity

30 April (AR)

Kripke, Naming and Necessity

7 May (AR)

Grice, ‘Logic and Conversation’

8 May (AR)

Grice, ‘Meaning’/‘Meaning Revisited’

10 May (AB)

Anscombe, Intention

14 May (AB)

Anscombe, Intention




Hempel, ‘Problems and Changes in the Empiricist Criterion of Meaning

  1. What is an analytic sentence? What is an observational sentence?
  2. Why is it ‘useless to continue the search for an adequate criterion of testability in terms of deductive relationships to observational sentences’? Why should a translatability criterion fare any better?
  3. What is so ‘problematic’ about dispositional terms?
  4. Consider some object x that has never been been, and never will be, in contact with a thermometer. On the ‘alternative way of dealing with the definitional problems raised by dispositional terms … suggested … by Carnap’, does x have a temperature?
  5. Hempel suggests that ‘the statements of empirical science have surplus meaning over and above what can be expressed in terms of relevant observational sentences’. What does he mean by this?
  6. What kind of sentence is the empiricist criterion of meaning?

Carnap, ‘Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology

  1. What does Carnap mean by a framework? (How are frameworks individuated?  How is a framework related to a language, a theory, a domain of discourse?)
  2. What, according to Carnap, is an external question?  (There may be more than one thing that he means by this term.)
  3. Carnap’s nominalist argues that because there are no numbers (or other abstract objects), numerals are not names, and “therefore, the word ‘number’ and numerical variables must not be used.”  But consider instead a nominalist who agrees that there are no numbers, but argues that mathematical discourse, with numerical variables, is perfectly fine as it is; one just shouldn’t interpret it as talking about a domain of objects.  What is wrong, according to Carnap, with each kind of nominalist?
  4. According to Barry Stroud (The Significance of Philosophical Skepticism p. 192), Carnap “opposes the view that there are truths that hold quite independently of our adoption of this or that framework, and this suggests that for Carnap, statements about external things would not be true or false if we had not adopted the thing language.”  He then asks if it follows from Carnap’s view that the statement that there are mountains in Africa would no longer be true if we failed to adopt the thing language. “If that does follow from Carnap’s view it is difficult to see how his view could possibly be right.”  Does it follow?  Should Carnap accept the conclusion that there would not be mountains in Africa if we didn’t adopt the framework of the thing language?

Ryle, The Concept of Mind

1. What is a “category-mistake” (ch. I)? Is it at all plausible that a category-mistake is the source of the mind-body problem?


2. What is the “intellectualist legend” (ch. II)? Assess Ryle’s account of its motivation, and his argument against it.


3. Is “the problem of the Freedom of the Will” a “tangle of largely spurious problems” (ch. III)?


4. Explain and evaluate Ryle’s account of dispositional statements (ch. V).


5. Is it true that “the official theories of consciousness and introspection are logical muddles” (ch. VI)?


6. What is the difference between sensation and observation, according to Ryle? Is he right to claim that the Sense Datum Theory rests on a “logical howler” (ch. VII)?

7. “It will be asked, ‘How can a person seem to hear a tune running in his head, unless there is a tune to hear?’” (Ch. VIII). What is Ryle’s answer? Is it correct?

8. Is Ryle a behaviorist? Is one of his ambitions to give a reductive account of the mental?

Quine, ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’ / Grice and Strawson, ‘In Defense of a Dogma

1. Explain and evaluate Quine’s argument in sections 1-4 for the conclusion that the analytic-synthetic distinction is a “metaphysical article of faith”.

2. Explain and evaluate Grice and Strawson’s argument that sections 1-4 “do not establish the extreme thesis for which he appears to be arguing”.

3. Why does Quine think the two dogmas “are, indeed, at root identical”? Is he right? Evaluate Grice and Strawson’s claims about the relations between (1) and (2) [p. 154] and the analytic-synthetic distinction.

4. What is Quine's “empiricism without the dogmas”? Is it plausible? In what sense is it “pragmatic”?

Goodman, Fact, Fiction, and Forecast  (chapter 1)

  1. What does Goodman mean by a counterfactual conditional, and what should one mean by this term? That is, what kind of category is the category of counterfactual conditionals? In this context, consider also what semi-factual conditionals are.
  2. After setting up his project, Goodman distinguishes two subproblems, the problem of relevant conditions, and the problem of law. Are there really two problems here? How should they be characterized?

    In the end, Goodman argues that his project cannot succeed, but does he really show that it cannot (or does he just give up after trying everything he can think of.) Think of how the requirements of the project might be characterized, and shown decisively to be impossible to satisfy.


Here is an optional exercise, due to Bob Stalnaker. It concerns Goodman’s project of analyzing counterfactuals (and might make a good short paper).

Goodman’s final move, before giving up, was to consider an analysis that goes roughly like this: (using ‘>” as the conditional operator):

A > C is true if and only if there is a set S of truths cotenable with A such that A + S + the laws entail C, and there is no set of cotenable truths, S* such that A + S* + the laws entail ~C.

But this is circular, and so inadequate, since cotenability is defined in terms of the conditional:

B is cotenable with A if and only if ~(A > ~B).

But suppose, at this point, instead of scrapping the project, Goodman had taken the conditional connective as a primitive, and the “analysis” in terms of cotenability as a postulate. While the result would not be an eliminative reduction, it would have consequences for the logic of conditionals. What would the logic look like? Would it be plausible, or if not, are there ways to modify it so that it would be plausible? (There may be alternative ways of turning this rough account into a precise theory.)


Goodman, Fact, Fiction, and Forecast (chapters 2-3)


  1. The second chapter is called “the Passing of the Possible”. Things that are possible, but not actual, are among the things that Goodman says are in need of analysis or elimination, and he concludes this chapter by saying “Thus passes the possible.” In what sense has “the possible” been explained away, or eliminated in this chapter?

  1. How is the old problem of induction solved or dissolved? Do you think the solution or dissolution is satisfactory? How is the new riddle different from the old problem?
  2. How should the difference between projectible predicates such as “green” and unprojectible ones like “grue” be explained?
  3. Consider a dispute between a sensible theorist (who thinks that predicates like “green” are projectible) and a theorist who argues that grue-like predicates should be systematically projected. Is there a way to resolve the dispute? Will it be settled, after the arrival of the notorious time t that marks the difference in extension between the grue-like predicates and their counterparts?

Quine, 'On What There Is'


1. What is Plato's Beard, and why is it tangled?

2. What is Quine's criterion of ontological commitment, and what is he trying to acieve by setting it forth?

3. The world has to contain some object or other in order for 'there are objects' to be true, but there is no particular object that the world needs to contain. Does this mean that, according to Quine, 'there are objects' is free from ontological commitments?

4. When Quine says that "the alleged presuppositum has to be reckoned among the entities over which our variable range", what does he mean by "has"? Is 'has' to be read as some sort of modal operator? (In a later formulation of the principle Quine uses 'must' instead of 'has'.) Can Quine's criterion be restated with no appeal to modal notions?

5. According to Quine, what are the ontological commitments of a sentence like 'there are daughters'? Is this sentence committed to females? Is it committed to parents? Are these the right results?

6. According to Quine, what are the ontological commitments of a logical contradiction? What are the ontological commitments of 'there might have been purple elephants'?

7. What is a conceptual scheme?

8. "Viewed from within the phenomenalistic conceptual scheme, the ontologies of physical objects and mathematical objects are myths." What does this mean? Does Quine think that there are really no physical objects?

Quine, Word and Object chapters 1-3

1. In chapter 1 Quine ponders our talk of physical phenomena as a physical phenomenon. What is the result of Quine’s ponderings? What is the relevance of (a) Neurath’s boat, (b) language learning, (c) elephantine bushes, (d) surface irritations (a.k.a. the nerve-hits of mankind), (e) pragmatic definitions of truth?

2. What is radical translation? What is Quine’s thesis of the indeterminacy of translation? Just how radical is this thesis? What is his argument for it?

3. Is the argument for indeterminacy at all persuasive? Does it lose all appeal once Quine’s behaviorism is rejected? Is there some sense in which the conclusion is self-defeating or otherwise paradoxical?

4. How does Quine explain the difference between mass and count nouns? Is it plausible that the young child does not think of its mother as an integral body who, in an irregular closed orbit, revisits it from time to time?

Quine, Word and Object chapters 4-7

1. Regimentation seems to be a project of philosophical analysis, explication, or definition. How does Quine reconcile this kind of project with his rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction?

This is the general question. To help answer it we will want to look at some of the details - the way Quine develops the project of regimentation. Specifically, we should consider what he has to say about ambiguity, quantifiers and pronouns, referential opacity, tense and time, singular terms. A few questions about the details:

1a. What exactly is referential opacity, and why is it a problem?

1b. Quine’s regimented language is tenseless. Is it adequate for expressing what is said with the tensed sentences of natural languages?

1c. Quine’s regimented language contains no singular terms. How does he propose to eliminate them?

2a. What are intensions and what (according to Quine) is wrong with them? What exactly is

the double standard (section 45) that Quine seems to be advocating as a response to

intensional expressions?

2b. What is the significance of Quine’s famous slogan, “to be is to be the value of a bound

variable” (or as he puts it more prosaically in section 49, “The objects we are to be understood to admit are precisely the objects which we reckon to the universe of values over which the bound variables of quantification are to be considered to range”)? Is this a thesis with content? What views about ontology does it exclude? Is it plausible?

Foot, McDowell, and McFetridge on morality and hypothetical imperatives

1. Are moral requirements hypothetical imperatives?

2-4. See (1).

Davidson, ‘Truth and Meaning’

1. What does Davidson think a theory of meaning should achieve?

2.  How does Davidson think one should counteract the ‘failure of nerve’ that (S) threatens to gives rise to?

3. Why does Davidson worry about the phrase ‘believes that’?

Davidson, ‘Mental Events’

1. How does anomalous monism reconcile Davidson's three principles?

2. Is nomological slack between the mental and the physical essential as long as we conceive of man as a rational animal?

3.(a)  How does Davidson argue for the identity theory?

(b) When S believes p, there does not seem to be an "event" of believing p occurring in S: believing is a state, not an event. How should Davidson's overall argument be amended to accommodate this?

4. A standard objection to anomalous monism is that it leads to epiphenomenalism. Does it?

Sellars, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind

1. The argumentative structure of E&PM is tangled. Prepare a handout that untangles it.

2. What is the ‘ambiguity in sense-datum theories’? What is the Myth of the Given? Which of A, B, and C should we choose to abandon?

3. Assess Sellars’ treatment of ‘looks’. What does he mean by saying that experiences involve ‘propositional claims’?

4. Does empirical knowledge have a foundation?

5. What is the Myth of Jones supposed to show?

6. What is the solution to the problem of section 45?

Kripke, Naming and Necessity

We'll have three sessions on Kripke, one on each lecture.

Lecture I


1.​"Does the 'problem' of 'transworld identity' make any sense? is it simply a pseudo-problem?" (Kripke, p. 50)  Kripke suggests that we can make sense of some questions about transworld identity, but that most straightforward questions about identity across possible worlds are confused. What exactly is the alleged problem, and to what extent is it a pseudo-problem? (There is some discussion of this issue in the preface, as well as in Lecture I.)


2.​Before Kripke, it was generally taken for granted that necessary truths coincided with a priori truths. How, according to Kripke, can there be necessary a posteriori truths and contingent a priori truths? Does he make a plausible case for the existence of both kinds of truths? (Is it clear what it means to say that something is a priori true? And what is the something that is said to be a priori true?)


Lecture II


1.​There are six theses stated at the beginning of Lecture II that together constitute the description theory that Kripke is criticizing. One of them is dismissed early in the discussion, and most of the criticism is directed at a version of the description theory defined by the first five theses. Does Kripke make a persuasive case for rejecting this version of the theory?


2.​Here are three related but different questions: (1) Can identity statements be contingently true? (2) Can identity statements containing no referring expressions other than proper names be contingently true? (3) Could there be things x and y that were related by the identity relation, but only contingently? (We will want to consider the relations between these questions, and more generally between semantic and metaphysical questions.)


Lecture III


1.​What does it mean to say that whales are essentially mammals, or that Socrates was essentially human? How do we tell whether such claims are true?


2.​What is Kripke's argument against the mind-body identity thesis? What assumptions does it make? Is it, or some version of it, persuasive?

Grice, “Logic and Conversation”

Please have a look at chapters 1 and 2 of Grice’s Studies in the Way of Words. Here are some questions to consider:

  1. What exactly is the “maneuver” - the form of argument - that the A-philosopher uses? What kind of conclusion is this maneuver used to argue for? How does Grice argue against some uses of this maneuver? (We should take a close look at the example that Grice discusses on p. 17).

  1. What is the cooperative principle? What is the basis for the claim that this is a principle that governs conversation? Is the claim plausible?

  1. How is a conversational implicature distinguished from other kinds of implicatures? How is a conventional implicature different from an entailment?

We will want to consider both the general nature of Grice’s project - what he is trying to explain in terms of what - and the details of the examples and counterexamples to various specific proposals - whether they help to bring out different features of the general problem.

Grice, “Meaning”

  1. Some effort is expended in the first part of the paper on identifying the target concept, meaningNN, before analyzing it. Do the tests Grice proposes succeed in identifying a clear concept? Is there a clear distinction between natural and nonnatural meaning?

  1. Grice seems to be looking for a reductive analysis. What, in general terms, is being reduced to what? (Grice allows himself to make free use of the concepts of belief and intention. Is this appropriate for a reductive analysis of meaning?)

  1. Do the broad outlines of Grice’s analysis seem right? Are there counterexamples that require at least some revision and refinement?

  1. Grice says: “I must disclaim any intention of peopling all our talking life with armies of complicated psychological occurrences.” (p.221). Can he get away with this disclaimer? Is it plausible to hypothesize that ordinary speakers have the complex intentions that Grice’s analysis attributes to them?

Anscombe, Intention

1. Explain §§1-4. What is the contrast at the end of the last para of §4?

2. Explain and assess Anscombe’s view that intentional actions are those “to which a certain sense of the question ‘Why’' is given application” (§5).

3. What does Anscombe mean by saying that actions are “not called ‘intentional’ in virtue of any extra feature”? (§19) What is her argument for it?

4. ...look more closely into the formula which has so constantly occurred throughout our investigation: ‘known without observation’.

5. Explain and assess Anscombe’s treatment of the murderous pumper (§§23-6).

6. What’s the point of the shopping list example (§32)? You might want to mention the literature on ‘direction of fit’, especially http://fitelson.org/epistemology/humberstone.pdf.

7. What is Anscombe’s view of practical reasoning?

8. Is the primitive sign of wanting “trying to get”? Could someone simply want a pin, or a saucer of mud?