workshop: Representation, Meaning, and Content

From Tuesday 4 July 2017 at 2:00pm, to Thursday 6 July 2017 at 1:00pm






We represent the world in a variety of ways — i.e., through linguistic, perceptual, pictorial/iconic, and motor representations. In virtue of
what do all these sorts of representations represent? How are we to think of their content? How do perceptual representations, pictorial/
iconic representations, and motor representations differ, if at all, in their semantic profile from paradigmatic examples of linguistic
representation? Is a systematic study of the semantic properties of such forms of representation feasible? This workshop gathers
international experts to discuss these and other issues in the philosophy of representation, to individuate common problems and
solutions across species of representation, and to uncover new avenues of inquiry.








Aula Magna
Rettorato dell'Università di Torino
via Verdi 8, Torino



2 pm | Introduction



2:30 | Guillermo DEL PINAL (ZAS Berlin / University of Michigan)


The logicality of language: Triviality and logical form


Abstract. Recent work in formal semantics suggests that the language module includes not only a structure building device, as standardly assumed, but also a natural deductive system. This hypothesis, called the ‘logicality of language’, accounts for many acceptability patterns, including systematic restrictions on the distribution of quantifiers. The logicality of language is often paired with an additional assumption according to which logical forms are radically underspecified: i.e., the language system can see functional terms but is ‘blind’ to open class terms to the extent that different tokens of the same term are treated as if independent. This conception of logical form has profound implications: it suggests an extreme version of the modularity of language, and can only be paired with non-classical—indeed quite exotic—kinds of deductive systems. The aim of this paper is to show that we can pair the logicality of language with a different and ultimately more traditional account of logical form. This framework accounts for the basic acceptability patterns which motivated the logicality of language, and makes better predictions in key cases. An upshot of this proposal is that we can pursue the logicality of language while exploring both less radical views of its modularity and the view that the deductive system of language is basically classical.



4:15 | coffee break



4:45 | Imogen DICKIE (University of Toronto)


The subtle lives of descriptive names






Auditorium Quazza
Palazzo Nuovo
via Sant'Ottavio 20, Turin



10:00 | Nico ORLANDI (UC Santa Cruz)


Representing as coordinating with absence


Abstract. Current accounts of mental representation in philosophy and cognitive science — particularly in the naturalist tradition — tend to focus overwhelmingly on the issue of mental content. The tendency is to suppose that providing necessary and sufficient conditions for a state to have a certain content is tantamount to providing conditions for a state to be a representation. I argue that this tendency is theoretically problematic. I propose to distinguish the question of content from the question of whether a certain contentful state plays a representational function. The need for this distinction emerges from considering naturalistic accounts of content. Such accounts often confuse representations with more generic functional notions. Internal states that merely causally or statistically co-vary with some environmental parameter – for example neurons that reliably fire in the presence of certain environmental elements – are not representations. Thinking that they are trivializes what it means for an internal structure to represent. I offer a proposal for what mental representations are that, following insights from Brentano, James and a number of contemporary cognitive scientists, appeals to the notion of absence to distinguish representations from mere functional states. One of the distinctive features of organisms that represent is their capacity to coordinate with what does not impinge on their senses.



11:15 | coffee break



11:45 | Alberto VOLTOLINI (Università di Torino)


Perceptual experiences, disjunctivism, and representationalism


Disjunctivism as to perceptual experiences has taken to be either dismissive as to their having a representational content (phenomenal disjunctivism, PD) or involving a typological difference with respect to such content (a singular vs. a general content, experiential disjunctivism, ED). In this talk I want to show, first of all, that although being presentational for such experiences has not to do with their being representational, a disjunctivist cannot disregard the fact that they have a representational content. Yet moreover, I also want to show that this does not force the disjunctivist to be an experiential disjunctivist that ascribes different kinds of representational contents to different kinds of perceptual experiences.



1 pm | lunch break



2:30 | Susanna SIEGEL (Harvard University)


Inference without reckoning



4:15 | coffee break



4:45 | Gabriel GREENBERG (UCLA)


The structure of visual content


Abstract. In this talk, I argue for a structured view of visual content, understood as the type of content common to all visual representations, including visual perception, mental imagery, visual memory, pictures, maps, and computer imagery. The position that such content is structured is analogous to structured views of propositions within the philosophy of language. In this case, I argue visual contents take the form of what I will call "projective feature maps,'' a type of 2-dimensional feature map organized by angular projective relations to a central viewpoint. The general idea builds upon a long tradition within vision science of understanding perceptual states in terms of feature maps, and draws directly upon recent work by philosophers including Haugeland (1991), Tye (1991), Casati and Varzi (1999), Burge (MS), and Lande (MS). My goals for the talk are two-fold. First, I'll motivate and define the target notion of a projective feature map, with an eye towards specifying precise accuracy conditions. Second, I'll argue that we must adopt this account of visual content in contrast to (a) an unstructured view of visual content, as viewpoint-centered worlds, and (b) Peacocke's (1992) theory of scenario content. More course-grained than scenario content, more fine-grained than sets of centered-worlds — structured visual content, I'll argue, gets things just right.






Auditorium Quazza
Palazzo Nuovo
via Sant'Ottavio 20, Turin



10:00 | Kevin LANDE (UCLA)


Percepts, pictures, and their parts


Abstract. Perceptual representations can be structured from, or made of, constituent parts. Many have said that perceptual representations are picture-like, rather than sentence-like, in structure. On one view, pictures, unlike sentences, lack canonical decompositions into their constituent parts. Take a picture and cut it up however you like; you are sure to get constituents. Maybe percepts, too, lack canonical decompositions into their constituent parts. I argue, to the contrary, that there are privileged, canonical decompositions of percepts into their constituent parts. My argument focuses on the explanatory role of attributing structure to perceptual states. We attribute part-whole structure to perceptual representations in order to explain certain regularities in perception. To illustrate this, I will show how the way in which perceptual representations are structured helps to explain: (1) how well we perceptually respond to sets of things in the world; (2) why we perceptually represent some sets of things, but not others, as “belonging” with each other; and (3) how our perception of some elements in a scene affects the way we perceive other elements in a scene. We can only account for these kinds of regularities by assigning canonical decompositions to perceptual representations. This discussion will still reveal a significant analogy between perceptual representations and pictures: the ways in which perceptual representations are combined determine how we represent things in the world as being related.



11:15 | coffee break



11:45 | Carlotta PAVESE (Duke University / Università di Torino)


Practical representation and practical meaning


Abstract. I introduce and explore the notion of practical meaning by looking at a certain kind of procedural system—the motor system—that plays a central role in computational models of motor behavior. I suggest that a semantics for motor commands has to appeal to a distinctively practical kind of meaning. Defending the explanatory relevance of motor representation and of its semantic properties in a computational explanation of motor behavior, my argument suggests that practical meanings play a role in an adequate explanation of motor behavior that is based on these computational models. In the second part of my talk, I consider a prima facie powerful objection to my view. According to this objection, practical representation is unlike linguistic representation in being non-productive: for example, the objection goes, one might not be in position to practically represent task (A & B), just in virtue of practically representing task A and of practically representing task B. The non-productivity of practical representation seems to cast doubt on the idea that practical representations have the sort of meanings my semantics assigns to them. In response, I show that failures of productivity are correctly predicted by my semantics and I propose that a “qualified” productivity principle does hold for practical representation too.




Funding: This workshop is entirely funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie
Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship 2020 researchers: Train to Move (T2M) (grant number 609402).




For further informarion please contact:


Lina Lissia (

Mara Floris (

Carlotta Pavese (