Presence of Mind: Belief, Perception, and Expressivity

Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh (2002)

Maura Tumulty
Colgate University
A theory about mental content must attend both to language and to our identities as language-users in order to avoid either ignoring the normative structure of thought or misrepresenting communicability as an optional aspect of the mental. Accordingly, attending to language helps to ensure that our theories about mental content are good ones. But extreme versions of this strategy can seem to make all appeals to mental illegitimate, and so hobble our understanding of subjectivity and linguistic communication. A proper account of expressivity can moderate the strategy. Following Wittgenstein and others, I assert that worries about 'inner' and 'outer' can be overcome by developing a suitable notion of linguistic expressivity. I undermine a basic hostility, which Davidson falsely assumes his views require, towards the very idea of mental content. I demonstrate that Davidson actually supplies us with the tools to construct a philosophically adequate account of our ordinary attributions of propositionally contentful mental states. This gives us a way to talk about subjectivity without falling into either psychologism or the solipsistic subjectivism that Davidson condemned. This way of talking about particular contentful states of subjects lets us effectively use the concept of expression. I develop an account of expressive relations between 'inner states' and 'outer states', focusing on demonstrative utterances as expressive of a subject's object-dependent perceptual states. I argue that such expressible object-dependent states ought to figure prominently in a good account of subjectivity. I support this contention by developing an account of Gareth Evans on which he can be said to further Wittgenstein's aims. I argue that Wittgenstein's distinction between automatic and non-automatic reporting indicates a requirement on any account of our lives as subjects. I use Evans's work on perceptually-based demonstrative thought to flesh out this requirement, and argue that the capacity to have and express states whose canonical expression requires perceptual demonstratives is essential to our idea of a subject. Subjectivity is revealed as our mode of engagement with the world, and not any kind of retreat from it.
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