Edited Book

Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Animal Minds (w/Kristin Andrews), Routledge, 2017

A collection of nearly 50 original chapters addressing the mental lives of animals. Covered topics include: whether and how animals represent and reason about the world; how animal cognition differs from human cognition; whether animals are conscious; whether animals represent their own mental states or those of others; how animals communicate; the extent to which animals have cultures; how to choose among competing models and explanations of animal behavior; and whether animals are moral agents and/or moral patients.

Journal Articles & Book Chapters

Analog Mental Representations, WIRES Cognitive Science, 2018

Over the past 50 years, philosophers and psychologists have perennially argued for the existence of analog mental representations of one type or another. This study critically reviews a number of these arguments as they pertain to three different types of mental representation: perceptual representations, imagery representations, and numerosity representations. Along the way, careful consideration is given to the meaning of “analog” presupposed by these arguments, and to open avenues for future research.

Marking the Perception–Cognition Boundary: The Criterion of Stimulus-Dependence, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2018

Philosophy, scientific psychology, and common sense all distinguish perception from cognition. While there is little agreement about how the perception–cognition boundary ought to be drawn, one prominent idea is that perceptual states are dependent on a stimulus, or stimulus-dependent, in a way that cognitive states are not. This paper seeks to develop this idea in a way that can accommodate two apparent counterexamples: hallucinations, which are prima facie perceptual yet stimulus-independent; and demonstrative thoughts, which are prima facie cognitive yet stimulus-dependent. The payoff is not only a specific proposal for marking the perception–cognition boundary, but also a deeper understanding of the natures of hallucination and demonstrative thought.

Attention and Mental Primer (w/Keith Schneider), Mind & Language, 2017

Drawing on the empirical premise that attention makes objects look more intense (bigger, faster, higher in contrast), Ned Block has argued for mental paint, a phenomenal residue that cannot be reduced to what is perceived or represented. If sound, Block’s argument would undermine direct realism and representationism, two widely held views about the nature of conscious perception. We argue that Block’s argument fails because the empirical premise it is based upon is false. Attending to an object alters its salience, but not its perceived intensity. We also argue that salience should be equated with mental primer, a close cousin of mental paint that reintroduces difficulties for direct realism and representationism. The upshot is that direct realism and representationism are still in trouble, but not for the reason that Block thinks.

Here is a popular writeup summarizing the gist of the article.

Do Nonhuman Animals Have a Language of Thought?, Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Animal Minds, 2017

Because we humans speak a public language, there has always been a special reason to suppose that we have a language of thought. For nonhuman animals, this special reason is missing, and the issue is less straightforward. On the one hand, there is evidence of various types of nonlinguistic representations, such as analog magnitude representations, which can explain many types of intelligent behavior. But on the other hand, the mere fact that some aspects of animal cognition can be explained by nonlinguistic representations hardly suffices to show that animal minds are bereft of any sentence-like representations. This paper explores these complexities and argues that empirical research into the logical abilities of nonhuman animals provides a more direct way of evaluating whether they have a language of thought. Along the way, I offer a novel suggestion of how the hypothesis that animals draw disjunctive syllogisms can be empirically distinguished from the hypothesis, defended by Michael Rescorla, that animals reason probabilistically in accordance with Bayes’ Law.

Can Bootstrapping Explain Concept Learning?, Cognition, 2017

Susan Carey’s account of Quinean bootstrapping has been heavily criticized. While it purports to explain how important new concepts are learned, many commentators complain that it is unclear just what bootstrapping is supposed to be or how it is supposed to work. Others allege that bootstrapping falls prey to the circularity challenge: it cannot explain how new concepts are learned without presupposing that learners already have those very concepts. Drawing on discussions of concept learning from the philosophical literature, this article develops a detailed interpretation of bootstrapping that can answer the circularity challenge. The key to this interpretation is the recognition of computational constraints, both internal and external to the mind, which can endow empty symbols with new conceptual roles and thus new contents.

Analogue Magnitude Representations: A Philosophical Introduction, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 2015

Empirical discussions of mental representation appeal to a wide variety of representational kinds. Some of these kinds, such as the sentential representations underlying language use and the pictorial representations of visual imagery, are thoroughly familiar to philosophers. Others have received almost no philosophical attention at all. Included in this latter category are analogue magnitude representations, which enable a wide range of organisms to primitively represent spatial, temporal, numerical, and related magnitudes. This paper aims to introduce analogue magnitude representations to a philosophical audience by rehearsing empirical evidence for their existence and analysing their format, their content, and the computations they support.

Analogue Magnitudes, the Generality Constraint, and Nonconceptual Thought, Mind, 2014

I reply to comments by David Miguel Gray and Grant Gillett concerning my paper, “The Generality Constraint and the Structure of Thought”. Their comments are available here and here.

Sense, Mentalese, and Ontology, Protosociology, 30: Concepts: Contemporary & Historical Perspectives, 2013

Modes of presentation are often posited to accommodate Frege’s puzzle. Philosophers differ, however, in whether they follow Frege in identifying modes of presentation with Fregean senses, or instead take them to be formally individuated symbols of “Mentalese”. Building on Fodor, Margolis and Laurence defend the latter view by arguing that the mind-independence of Fregean senses renders them ontologically suspect in a way that Mentalese symbols are not. This paper shows how Fregeans can withstand this objection. Along the way, a clearer understanding emerges of what senses must be to serve as an ontologically benign alternative to symbols of Mentalese.

Why We Can’t Say What Animals Think, Philosophical Psychology, 2013

Realists about animal cognition confront a puzzle. If animals have real, contentful cognitive states, why can’t anyone say precisely what the contents of those states are? I consider several possible resolutions to this puzzle that are open to realists, and argue that the best of these is likely to appeal to differences in the format of animal cognition and human language.

The Generality Constraint and the Structure of Thought, Mind, 2012

According to the Generality Constraint, mental states with conceptual content must be capable of recombining in certain systematic ways. Drawing on empirical evidence from cognitive science, I argue that so-called analog magnitude states violate this recombinability condition and thus have nonconceptual content. I further argue that this result has two significant consequences: it demonstrates that nonconceptual content seeps beyond perception and infiltrates cognition; and it shows that whether mental states have nonconceptual content is largely an empirical matter determined by the structure of the neural representations underlying them.

Translated into Spanish: “El Requisito de Generalidad y la Estructura del Pensamiento.” In M. Aguilera, L. Danón, & C. Scotto (eds.), Conceptos, Lenguaje y Cognición, Córdoba, Argentina: Editorial de la Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, 2015, pp. 225–281

Do Animals Engage in Conceptual Thought?, Philosophy Compass, 2012

This paper surveys and evaluates the answers that philosophers and animal researchers have given to two questions. Do animals have thoughts? If so, are their thoughts conceptual? Along the way, special attention is paid to distinguish debates of substance from mere battles over terminology, and to isolate fruitful areas for future research.

Smaller Pieces

Some Worries about the ‘No-Overflow’ Interpretation of Post- Stimulus Cueing Experiments, Mind & Language Symposium at the Brains Blog, June 12, 2017

I comment on Steven Gross and Jonathan Flombaum’s article, “Does Perceptual Consciousness Overflow Cognitive Access? The Challenge from Probabilistic, Hierarchical Processes.” Be sure to also see Robert Briscoe’s general overview, Nico Orlandi and Aaron Franklin’s commentary, Ian Phillips’ commentary, and Gross and Flombaum’s replies.

The Only Good Reason to Ban Steroids in Baseball: To Prevent an Arms Race, The Atlantic, June 17, 2013

I review six bad arguments for banning performance-enhancing drugs from sports — and a seventh good one.

Atomism about Concepts, Sage Reference Encyclopedia of the Mind, 2013

An encyclopedia entry introducing concept atomism, the view that most lexical concepts are primitive.