Workshop in Philosophy of Language and Metaphysics

June 27 and 28, 2024


DATE:  June 27 and 28, 2024

VENUE FOR THE 1st DAY:  Konferenzraum (room A222), Political Science Department of the University of Vienna (NIG Building, second floor), Universitätsstrasse 7, Vienna

VENUE FOR THE 2nd DAY:  Hörsaal 2 (room A218), Political Science Department of the University of Vienna (NIG Building, second floor), Universitätsstrasse 7, Vienna


  • 11:30am(CET) - 12:45pm
    Tim Crane (Central European University)
    Talk title: “Truth and Meinong
    Abstract: Many philosophers claim that the notion of a non-existent object is absurd or even incoherent. In arguing for this, they often argue against what they take to be the only version of this, which they attribute to Meinong: that when we think or talk about something that does not exist, we are related (by thought or reference) to an entity that has a kind of being which differs from existence. This view lacks plausibility indeed, but as many others have pointed out, it is not Meinong’s. In this talk I do not defend Meinong’s view, but I will investigate how this misrepresentation has come about, and I will argue that once we understand this, we can see why the notion of a non-existent object is neither incoherent nor absurd.
  • 1:00pm   Lunch at Café Diglas im Schottenstift, Schottengasse 2.
  • 2:30pm - 3:45pm   
    Zsófia Zvolenszky (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest)
    Talk title:The process of making a fictional character
    Abstract:What if you want to get to a certain local train stop and are told that no local service is running to that destination; meanwhile the express trains you could board take you way further than you had planned? It’s well to choose the train ride only if you are in a position to embrace the express stop available. This is the situation that has recurringly been confronting philosophers over the past half century with respect to one form of realism about fictional characters (FCs): artifactualism, according to which FCs are non-concrete human-made objects, that is, non-concrete artifacts. Various influential arguments suggest that FC-artifactualism is an unavailable local stop on the artifactualism train which offers express service only. Once on board that train, it inescapably wizzes one to a further-away express stop: artifactualism about the posits of failed scientific hypotheses like Babinet’s and LeVerrier’s hypothetical planet Vulcan. Some philosophers, among them Nathan Salmón and David Braun, have embraced that destination point. Others cautioned to stay off the artifactualism train altogether.
    Can we instead find the elusive local train and disembark at FC-artifactualism without taking a stance on artifactualism about the likes of Vulcan? I will argue that we can. Though the task is especially challenging in the light of a phenomenon I had discussed in prior papers: I envisioned a (contrary to fact) scenario T in which Tolstoy, while writing War and Peace, “was under the mistaken impression that the protagonist, Prince Bolkonsky, like Napoleon (also featured in the novel), was a real person. Introducing the name ‘Andrei Bolkonksy’, Tolstoy intended to refer to a historical figure he thought existed quite independently of his novel” (Zvolenszky 2016, “Fictional characters, mythical objects, and the phenomenon of inadvertent creation”). If one is an artifactualist about FCs then in T, due to Tolstoy’s error, his novel-writing activity launched an FC-making process whose outcome was a new FC, Andrei Bolkonsky. Crucially, in T, Tolstoy’s process-launching was unintended, inadvertent. I had argued that such inadvertent authorial launchings are unmysterious and even expected given Saul Kripke’s general arguments about name-users’ potential error that can, on occasion, afflict authors as well.
    A recent challenge for passengers who favor local trains: Jeonggyu Lee (2023, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Table”) proposed a form of FC-artifactualism according to which inadvertent launchings (like Tolstoy’s in T, above) crucially rely on accepting also artifactualism about the likes of Vulcan. In assessing Lee’s account, I reflect on and distinguish among (i) an instance of someone referring with a proper name and two kinds of processes: (ii) a process of establishing a name-using practice, and (iii) a process of making a non-concrete artifact. I will argue that once we glean a better understanding of (iii) and how it differs from (ii) and is connected to (i), we’ll be able to locate a local-train alternative to get to FC-artifactualism without having to travel further. Moreover, we’ll be in a position to respond to some earlier arguments according to which the artifactualism train offers express service only.
  • 4:00pm - 5:15pm
  • David Braun (University at Buffalo)
    Talk title: “Questions, Answers, Attitudes, and Analyses
    Abstract: According to exhaustive answer theories of questions, the extension of an interrogative sentence (e.g., ‘Who sings?’) is either a proposition or a set of propositions, where propositions are sets of possible worlds. These theories also say that an interrogative sentence’s extension either is, or “easily” determines, the complete answer to the question that it expresses. Finally, these theories say that an agent “knows a question” (e.g., knows who sings) if and only if that agent knows the complete answer to that question. I argue for three main points in my talk. First, exhaustive answer theories fail to distinguish between distinct questions. Second, knowing a question does not require knowing its complete answer (of the sort that exhaustive answer theories describe). Third, semantic theories for interrogative sentences questions need not, and should not, describe which propositions completely answer which questions and which agents know which questions.
  • 7:30pm   Dinner at Pizzeria Angolo 22, Währinger Strasse 22


  • 11:30am - 12:45pm   
    Scott Soames (University of Southern California)
    Talk title: Cognitive Propositions: What’s structure got to do with it?
    Background: In the heyday of possible world semantics, propositions were routinely identified with sets of possible world-states (properties the world could have had). Variations on that idea substituted finer-grained conceptions of situations or circumstances for world-states. But two basic problems remained: (i), the resulting “propositions” were still too coarse grained, (ii) there is nothing about sets of (big or small) circumstances that represents anything as being any way, thereby generating truth conditions. Thus, they aren’t apt candidates for propositions. Although neo-Russellian propositions do better with (i),
    they fail to answer the challenge of (ii).
    The remedy is to recognize minds as sources of representation and propositions as acts or operation types that agents perform. For these acts to represent things as being a certain way is for agents to represent things as being so-and-so by performing them, e.g. by predicating properties and relations of objects. For a proposition p to be true at w is for w to be such that if the world were in that state, then p would be true. World-states themselves are properties of making sets of propositions that tell complete world-stories true. A complete world-story is one that answers all questions relevant to a given inquiry. Forsaking S5, we recognize the fundamental primitive of modal semantics to be the relation, is possible from, which holds between world-state w1 and w2 iff had w1 been actual, w2 would have been possible. This tidy picture follows naturally if we first define propositions as representational act or operation types and then define truth as accuracy in representation, allowing us to construct complete world-stories and identify possible world-states.
    The Problem at Hand: How does sentential structure relate to propositional content?
    Cognitive propositions impose both conditions on the world that it must satisify, if the propositions are to be true, and conditions on minds that entertain – i.e. perform -- them. The former provide representational content while the latter provide cognitive content about how representational content is generated, constraining how objects and properties are identified. The resulting propositions are fine-grained enough to account for propositional attitude ascriptions. The question is “How grained do they need to be to support our reporting practices?” Although propositions can be very fine-grained, I suggest that our reporting practices may sometimes lead us to abstract way from the structures of sentences that express propositions
  • 1:00pm   Lunch at Café Diglas im Schottenstift, Schottengasse 2
  • 2:30pm - 3:45pm   
    Teresa Robertson (University of California Santa Barbara)
    Talk title: “Two Senses of ‘Essence’ and a Straw Man
    Abstract: In this paper, I distinguish two senses of the word “essence” both of which figure prominently in recent analytic metaphysics. To disambiguate, I adopt the terminology of “modal essence” (for how a thing metaphysically must be) and “whatness essence” (for what a thing is). With the help of this terminology, I address Kit Fine’s charge that modal metaphysics in the framework of Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity proffers an incorrect conceptual analysis of whatness essence. I show that the charge is baseless, and thus that there is no justification for Fine’s verdict that the Kripkean conception of metaphysics should be given up.  
  • 4:00pm - 5:15pm   
    Nathan Salmón (University of California Santa Barbara)
    Talk title: Singular Concepts: Propositions, Concepts, and Sets
    Abstract: Alonzo Church proposed a powerful and elegant theory of sequences of functions and their arguments as surrogates for Russellian singular propositions. Church’s proposed theory accords with his Alternative (0), the strictest of his three competing criteria for strict synonymy. The currently popular objection to strict criteria like (0) based on the Russell-Myhill antinomy is misguided. Russell-Myhill is not a problem specifically for Alternative (0). Rather, it is a disproof of unrestricted concept comprehension. Unrestricted comprehension is also inconsistent with facts about sets of properties. Criteria more lax than (0) are philosophically inadequate. The principal rival conception of propositions as classes of possible worlds is subject to a fatal philosophical collapse: It follows on that conception, given that each of us is fallible, that everyone believes everything. Although it is far superior to its principal rival conception, Church’s proposed theory is vulnerable under (0) to Russell’s notorious Gray’s Elegy objection.
  • 7:30pm   Dinner at Rebhuhn restaurant, Berggasse 24


LUNCH/DINNER RESERVATIONS:  Please let know in advance if you want to join.    

Organizer: Paolo Bonardi, FWF Meitner fellow,

Related event: Talks in Philosophy of Language