Archive for June, 2013

In a very interesting, if rather bizarre, paper called “Berkeley’s Metaphysical Grammar,” Colin Turbayne develops an interpretation of Berkeley’s ‘language of nature’ theory which takes extremely seriously Berkeley’s remark, in the New Theory of Vision, “that visible figures represent tangible figures much after the same manner that written words do sounds” (sect. 143). The relation of vision to touch is, in other words, the same as the relation of written English to spoken English. A particular visible idea signifies a particular tangible idea not in the way a word signifies its referent, but rather in the way a written word signifies its spoken counterpart.

Now, there is one text where Berkeley seems to say the opposite (Alciphron 4.10), but let’s set that aside. It seems there is a more obvious and pervasive problem: Berkeley is constantly saying that our visual ideas inform us about tangible ideas (see, e.g., PHK 44). Does this not imply that the relation is like that of ‘dog’ to dogs, rather than like that of the written word ‘dog’ to the sound dog?

On reflection, perhaps not. Here are two examples. First, consider this sentence: ‘the president released a copy of his remarks to the media in advance, to inform them of what he was going to say.’ Here the written words have the purpose of informing about the spoken words, but the written words are not, in terms of their content, about the spoken words. Rather they are about whatever the spoken words are about (why warrantless spying is great, and credence .51 is sufficient for reasonable belief, or whatever else presidents talk about).

Second, consider the purpose of a script for an actor in a play. The script informs the actor of her cues – i.e. of what the other actors will say – and instructs her to respond by saying certain other things. But again, the words in the script are not about what the actors are going to say. They are about whatever is going on in the play (politically motivated cross-dressing or running away from bears, or whatever else they do in plays).

So, while Berkeley’s language of nature theory is admittedly pretty weird, it looks like it can evade this particular objection. This also helps to evade a different objection, namely that the language of nature only talks about itself, which would make it a pretty odd sort of language. If Turbayne is right, and visible ideas don’t actually refer to tangible ideas, then we don’t need to say that one part of the language is about another part. Instead we can say, as I have argued we should, that the language is about minds.

(cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)

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Sentiment and Reason in Early Modern Ethics
March 21-22, 2014 SUNY-Buffalo

Call for Abstracts:

This conference will feature talks from invited speakers Kate Abramson, Rachel Cohon, and Geoffrey Sayre-McCord. In addition, we are seeking submissions of abstracts for five additional talks. The theme of the conference is “Sentiment and Reason in Early Modern Ethics.” Many ethical debates in the early modern period were organized around the contrast between theories that, on the one hand, privileged the role of moral passions or sentiments, and, on the other hand, those that gave prominence to rationality or reason in ethical judgments. Papers relating to any element of the conference theme are welcome.Appropriate topics include, but are not limited to, the cognitivism/non-cognitivism debate, questions about motivational internalism/externalism, and concerns about the sentiment/reason dichotomy as a tool for understanding ethical debates among the early moderns.Speakers will have thirty five minutesto present their papers, so submitted papers should be suitable to this length (i.e. papers of approximately 4,000 words).

To submit, sent an abstract of no more than 750 words to jeffotte@buffalo.edu, with the subject “Sentiment and Reason Conference Submission” The deadline for submissions is August 15th, 2013.

Please note that, as there will be commentators for the accepted papers,If your submission is accepted, you will need to provide a completed version of your paper to the conference organizers by January 10th, 2014.

Anyone interested in participating as a commentator should contact the conference organizers at jeffotte@buffalo.edu.

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I know that we’ve had a bit of a lull, lately, in terms of new posts. Fortunately, that is going to change, as sometime next week, we will be bringing you a very exciting project that several people have been working on: a blog-based author-meets-critics post on Antonia LoLordo’s recent book, “Locke’s Moral Man”.

If our blog-based version of the Author Meets Critics format is successful, the plan is to have this be the start of a recurring feature, where we take advantage of the internet to allow for some back and forth between authors and their critics without the parties involved having to all be in the same physical location.

I’ll give more details on the format in another post later this week, but for now, I just thought I’d try to get some buzz going about the project, because the people involved have put in a lot of hard work, and I’m hoping we get a decent sized audience for them.

So, spread the word!

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Professor Stefan Storrie has requested that I share this CFP with our readers:



APRIL 4th-6th, 2014


The Department of Philosophy, in collaboration with the College’s Research Institute for the Humanities, the Long Room Hub, and with the assistance and support of the International Berkeley Society is pleased to announce a Conference on Berkeley and the Three Dialogues, to be held in the Long Room Hub from Friday evening to Sunday evening, April, 4th-6th 2014.

Opening Address:

David Berman (Trinity College Dublin)

Keynote Speakers:

Lisa Downing (Ohio State University)

John Russell Roberts (Florida State University)

Tom Stoneham (University of York).

Abstracts of papers on any aspect of Berkeley’s Three Dialogues are invited.

Accepted papers may be eligible for selection for a projected Cambridge University Press volume on the Three Dialogues.

Prospective participants who would like to present a paper at the Conference should write to Vasilis Politis, Head of Philosophy (vpolitis@tcd.ie), by July 31st, 2013, with a 1200 word abstract of their paper prepared for blind review (also indicating whether they would like to be included for consideration in the volume).

(Please note that there will be some financial support for submissions from Ph.D. students and/or researches who have recently submitted or defended a Ph.D. on Berkekely).

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Save the Date!


March 17-18, 2014

Locke Workshop

Lehman College, CUNY

Bronx, NY

Keynote speaker: Kenneth Winkler (Yale University)

A call for abstracts on any topic in John Locke’s philosophy is forthcoming.


Contacts: Jessica Gordon-Roth (Lehman College, CUNY) jgordonroth@gmail.com and Benjamin Hill (University of Western Ontario) bhill28@uwo.ca

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