Mihnea Capraru’s homepage

I investigate issues pertaining to mind, life, language, agency, and technology, in order to explain how a fundamentally non-rational world can give rise to the rational features of human existence, features such as acting on reasons, striving to attain goals, or desiring to know the truth.

Aside from rational human behavior, we often encounter purpose-like phenomena in the non-rational realms of biologically evolved adaptations and of societally evolved conventions. Among the latter, a particularly important case are linguistic conventions. I research the nature of such purpose-like phenomena—in particular, the nature of biological and technological functions, and the meanings of words and representations.

Although at the bottom of reality, as I see it, lies purposeless matter, our lives revolve around knowledge, intentions, means, and purposes. If the fundamental impulse behind my work is right, then these two sides of reality are never separated by chasms that we cannot bridge.


Note on the individuation of biological traits

Journal of Philosophy, forthcoming


Abstract Bence Nanay has argued that we must abandon the etiological theory of teleological function because this theory explains functions and functional categories in a circular manner. Paul Griffiths argued earlier that we should retain the etiological theory and instead prevent the circularity by making etiologies independent of functional categories. Karen Neander and Alex Rosenberg reply to Nanay similarly, and argue that we should analyze functions in terms of natural selection acting not on functional categories, but merely on lineages. Nanay replies that these lineages cannot be individuated except by reference to functional categories. Worryingly, Neander and Rosenberg themselves have previously argued persuasively that homology often depends on function. This article addresses their arguments and shows how to escape them: Regardless whether the arguments are right about long-term homological categories, they do not apply to generation-to-generation homology. The latter, moreover, is sufficient for individuating the lineages needed to explain teleological functions.

A counterexample to variabilism

Analysis, 76(1):26–29, 2016

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Abstract Recent literature contains influential arguments for variabilism, the view that we should understand proper names as analogues not of constants, but of variables. In particular, proper names are said to sometimes take semantic values that are not referential but purely general. I present a counterexample to this view.

Keywords proper names, semantics, donkey anaphora, discourse binding

Objective truth in matters of taste

Philosophical Studies, 173(7):1755–1777, 2016

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Abstract In matters of personal taste, faultless disagreement occurs between people who disagree over what is tasty, fun, etc., in those cases when each of these people seems equally far from the objective truth. Faultless disagreement is often taken as evidence that truth is relative. This article aims to help us avoid the truth-relativist conclusion. The article, however, does not argue directly against relativism; instead, the article defends non-relative truth constructively, aiming to explain faultless disagreement with the resources of semantic contextualism. To this end the article describes and advocates a contextualist solution inspired by supervaluationist truth-value gap approaches. The solution presented here, however, does not require truth value gaps; it preserves both logical bivalence and non-relative truth, even while it acknowledges and explains the possibility of faultless disagreement. The solution is motivated by the correlation between assertions’ being true and their being useful. This correlation, furthermore, is used not only to tell which assertions are true, but also to determine which linguistic intuitions are reliable.

Keywords disagreement, relativism, contextualism, natural language semantics, linguistic intuitions, truth values

Stained glass as a model for consciousness

Philosophical Explorations, 18(1):90–103, 2015

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Abstract Contemporary phenomenal externalists are motivated to a large extent by the transparency of experience and by the related doctrine of representationalism. On their own, however, transparency and representationalism do not suffice to establish externalism. Hence we should hesitate to dismiss phenomenal internalism, a view shared by many generations of competent philosophers. Rather, we should keep both our options open, internalism and externalism. It is hard, however, to see how to keep open the internalist option, for although transparency and representationalism have not yet definitively established externalism, they have indeed made it quite intuitive. Internalism, by comparison, comes across at first sight as antiquated and ridden with difficulties. This is why I propose the Stained Glass model of consciousness. I do so with two aims: first, to make internalism intuitive in the age of transparency, and second, to show how to resist the many recent anti-internalist arguments. In particular, I argue that phenomenal internalism need not be epistemically worrisome, that it is compatible at once with transparency, representationalism, and content externalism, and that although it requires an error theory, this error theory is a harmless one.

Keywords transparency of experience, phenomenal externalism, internalism, phenomenal consciousness, representationalism

A new source of data about singular thought

Philosophia, 41(4):1159-1172, 2013

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Abstract Philosophers have justified extant theories of singular thought in at least three ways: they have invoked wide-ranging theories motivated by data from other philosophical areas, they have elicited direct intuitions about which thoughts are singular, and they have subjected propositional attitude reports to tests such as Russellian substitution and Quinean exportation. In these ways, however, we haven’t yet been able to tell what it takes to have singular thoughts, nor have we been able to tell which of our thoughts they are. I propose, therefore, a methodological contribution, a new source of data about singular thought. We can tell whether a thought is singular if we ask what we can coherently deny at the same time at which we agree with the thought. When we agree with a thought that is general, we cannot coherently deny about the thought’s subject a certain description, the one that occurs in the thought’s subject position. To show how to use this new data source, I develop a linguistic method for testing whether a speaker expresses a singular or a general thought.

Keywords Singular thought, Psychosemantics, Methodology, Agreement, Disagreement