Brussels Transparency Workshop 2018 – “The Epistemic Transparency of Mental and Linguistic Content”

13-Jun-2018 – 14-Jun-2018, Bruxelles, Belgium

According to externalism (or anti-individualism), the contents of mental states are individuated in part by facts about the physical and/or the social environment in which the states are embedded. Externalism has become the dominant view in the philosophy of mind. Putnam’s (1975) and Burge’s (1979) thought experiments convinced most philosophers that subjects situated in relevantly dissimilar environments could be in the same (narrow) psychological states and yet think thoughts whose contents are true under different conditions. However, Boghossian (1994, 2015) argued that externalism conflicts with (comparative) transparency, the thesis that a thinker is able to know on a priori grounds, without the benefit of further empirical investigation, whether two of her occurrent thoughts have the same or different content(s). If the individuation of our mental contents depends on the environment, then, providing that we do not know a priori how our environment is, it should follow that (in the relevant, comparative sense) we cannot know a priori what we are thinking.

This result threatens a traditional account of self-knowledge which grants that subjects have privileged access to the contents of their own thoughts. One problem here, Boghossian claimed, is that externalism thereby blurs the line, to which assessments of rationality and psychological explanations are sensitive, between logical and factual errors (see also Kripke 1979). Given externalism, it appears that subjects who look intuitively rational will not be able to avoid some simple contradictions and invalid inferences without receiving more factual information about their environment. In response to this challenge, and among many other attempts, Stalnaker (2008) and Recanati (2012, 2016) have recently developed different compatibilist strategies purporting to reconcile externalism and transparency. Stalnaker’s contextual and attributor-dependent account of content invokes tacit identity presuppositions to rescue the rationality of the subjects in the hardest cases (see the ensuing discussions in Boghossian 2011 and Stalnaker 2011). Recanati concedes that contents are opaque but argues that mental files, construed as vehicles of thoughts supposed to play some of the traditional roles of modes of presentation, are transparent. The aim of this workshop is to continue those ongoing debates and to seek new ways of reconciling externalism and transparency.

The meeting description can also be accessed here:


The meeting will be held at Salle Henri Janne, ULB, Solbosch campus, Institut de sociologie, avenue Jeanne 44, 15th floor.

June 13:


Welcome address and introductory words by Gregory Bochner

Paul Boghossian
“Transparency and Concepts”

11:30-11:45: Coffee break

Gregory Bochner

12:45-14:00: Lunch

Robert Stalnaker
“Fragmentation and Singular Propositions”

16:00-16:15: Coffee break

Amir Horowicz
“One’s content are not transparent to one”

17:15-20:00: Drinks/free time

20:00: Workshop dinner

June 14:

François Recanati
“Slow Switching and the Transparency of Coreference”

11:30-11:45: Coffee break

Bruno Leclercq & Philippe De Brabanter
“What does semantic deference leave to cognitive transparency?”

12:45-14:00: Lunch

Elisabetta Sacchi
“A phenomenologically oriented account of compatibilism”

15:00-15:15: Coffee break

Michael Schmitz
“Transparency and externalism from a 1st person point of view”

Workshop ends