Theory of Meaning

Philosophy 135


Bence Nanay's Sections


 First handout

Second handout

Third handout

How to write a philosophy paper: Guidelines

Fourth handout

Fifth handout


Section Times:

Tuesday 2-3pm 254 Dwinelle

Tuesday 3-4pm 235 Dwinelle

Wednesday 3-4pm 24 Wheeler




This page is NOT the official homepage of the course.

The official home page is here.

The purpose of this page is to provide information on the readings, section, assignments, and post announcements for the students in my section.

If you have any questions or comments about the course, section, readings, website, etc. write me an email



Office Hours this week:

Tuesday 12.30-1.30

Wednesday 2-3pm


Café Strada (Bancroft and College)




April 27, 2003


The question topic:


1.  A common objection to Quine's indeterminacy thesis is that even if a linguist could not, on the basis of behavioral evidence, choose between a translation manual that translates 'gavagai' as 'rabbit' and one that translates it as 'undetached rabbit part', there are further facts that would determine which translation manual is correct.  Pick one kind of fact that might be thought to resolve the indeterminacy, and discuss whether it does.  Be sure to consider how Quine might reply to the claim that such facts resolve the indeterminacy.


2.  In “If You Can't Make One, You Don't Know How it Works” and “The Nature of Thought,” Dretske develops an account of thought according to which creatures without language or society can have thoughts.  How might Davidson argue against Dretske's account?  (You should be sure to look at Davidson's article “Rational Animals.”)


3.  Drawing on “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs” and “Knowing One’s Own Mind,” explain what Davidson might say about Burge’s “arthritis” thought experiment (in “Individualism and the Mental”).  What do you think is the main point of contention between Davidson and Burge?  Who do you think is right, and why?


April 20, 2003


An even newer handout on Davidson is now on the web (this time on his anomalous monism).


April 17, 2003


Alas, the next Wednesday section (April 23, 2003) is going to be cancelled. If you can, please attend one of my Tuesday sections:

Tuesday 2-3pm 254 Dwinelle

Tuesday 3-4pm 235 Dwinelle



April 12, 2003


A new handout on Davidson is now on the web.


April 9, 2003



If you have a question about the grade you got for the paper or for the study questions, don't hesitate to contact me. I am very happy to give you a better grade if you convince me that your paper/SQ deserves a better grade.

The way to do it is to send me an email with your reasons why your paper/SQ deserves a better grade. An important constraint based on my painful past experiences: I will only consider your email if you send it more than 48 hours after you got your paper/SQ back (to filter out emotional reactions).


March 20, 2003


A couple of things before the spring break breaks out.

1.     The next installment of study questions is due on the 3rd of April (not on the 1st)

2.     If you have not picked up your previous study questions yet, you can do so after the break.

3.     If you have not submitted the first paper to me today at class, please put it into my mailbox. I don't know whether Moses Hall will be open during the break, so I encourage you to put it there by Friday the 21st.

4.     I will be absolutely away from my mail during the break. Sorry about this, but if you have any questions, I can answer them on the 31st.

5.     Have fun and see you in April.


March 10, 2003


I posted some supposedly useful guidelines for writing philosophy papers (a courtesy of the philosophy head GSI, Diana Fleming). See above.


March 7, 2003


Here are the paper topics for the first paper (in case you lost your copy of it or something):



On Grice’s and Searle’s accounts of speaker’s meaning, what a speaker means by an utterance depends entirely on his or her intentions in making it. But it seems that what we can mean by an utterance is affected by the availability of conventional resources (like a common language). It seems that we can mean more when we have the use of a common language than when we are in a foreign country where we don’t speak the language. How can this be, if speaker’s meaning is determined entirely by the speaker’s intentions?


Explain and critically evaluate the "Systems Reply" to Searle’s Chinese Room argument. In setting out the Systems Reply, try to make it as plausible and compelling as possible. The evaluative part of your paper can either defend or criticize the Systems Reply. In either case, you should take account of Searle’s response to it in "Minds, Brains, and Programs."


How would Searle and Dennett, respectively, approach the question "Do birds have beliefs?" What kinds of considerations would each appeal to in trying to answer it? Which approach do you favor, and why?


Consider the following argument:

Sara and Lara are molecule-for-molecule duplicates. Each says to herself, "I am tired." Sara’s word "I" refers to Sara, while Lara’s word "I" refers to Lara. But their psychological states are the same (they are, after all, molecule-for-molecule duplicates). Thus one’s psychological state doesn’t determine what one’s words are referring to.

Does Putnam’s Twin Earth thought experiment establish anything that this simpler argument does not? If so, what more does it show? If not, why does its conclusion seem surprising or counterintuitive? Discuss.


Everyone would agree that Bertrand, the protagonist in Burge’s thought experiment, is getting something wrong. Burge thinks his mistake concerns arthritis: Bertrand believes (falsely) that he has arthritis in his thigh. An alternative interpretation is that Bertrand’s mistake concerns language: Bertrand does not believe that he has arthritis in his thigh, but rather that ‘arthritis’ in English is the name for the disease he has in his thigh. What can be said for and against each of these interpretations of the thought experiment? Which interpretation do you think is correct, and why? (Be sure to take into account what Burge says in section III of his paper.)


February 19, 2003


The third handout is on the web, this time on Searle's Chinese room and the system reply (see above)


February 17, 2003


Study questions deadline: the 25th of February at class.

However, if you put the study questions into my mailbox in 301 Moses Hall by 6pm Friday the 28th, I'll still accept them.


February 12, 2003


The second handout is on the web, this time on Grice's fascinating example of being an Englishman and what follows from this. (see above)


February 6, 2003


The first handout is here, check it out. (see above)


February 5, 2003


Some of you indicated that you had problems understanding the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions, so here is a short summary:

Let's take the claim

if A then B

In this case, A is the sufficient condition of B and B is the necessary condition of A.

So if all humans are mammals, then being a mammal is a necessary condition for being human, and being a human is a sufficient condition for being a mammal.

If x is human, then x is mammal, but not vice versa.



February 4, 2003


I finally have the rooms for the sections assigned. Here they are:

Tuesday 2-3pm 254 Dwinelle

Tuesday 3-4pm 235 Dwinelle

Wednesday 3-4pm 24 Wheeler


Office hours this week: see above. They'll change almost every week so that those who cannot make it this week could come too.


January 29, 2003


My office hours for Thursday will take place from 2.30pm to 3.00pm, due to the strong and severe disinterest towards my O.H. on Wednesday (noone showed up). write me an email if you have any questions.