CLHK’s Inaugural Talk: Topic Continuity in Conceptual Ethics and Beyond

Talk by David Plunkett (Dartmouth) and Tristram McPherson (OSU).

Date/Time: Friday March 5th, 9am Hong Kong Time.

Via Zoom: contact Matthew McKeever at if you’d like to attend.

Abstract. One important activity in conceptual ethics and conceptual engineering involves proposing to associate a new intension with an existing lexical item. Many philosophers think that one important way to evaluate such a proposal concerns whether it preserves the “topic” picked out the existing lexical item, and several have offered competing proposals concerning what is required for topic continuity. Our paper does two things. First, we distinguish the descriptive question of what is required for “topic continuity” as we currently understand it, from the conceptual ethics question of how it would be best for conceptual ethicists to use ‘topic continuity’ in evaluating their projects. Second, we motivate and provide a context-sensitive answer to the conceptual ethics question. This answer is motivated by the idea that there are several distinct considerations that we can care about in thinking about topic continuity, and how best to weigh them against each other can vary from context to context. We conclude by locating our account in a broader way of thinking about topic across a range of inquiries.


Talk by Amie Thomasson (Dartmouth): Title TBA.

Date/Time: Monday, March 22nd, 9pm Hong Kong Time

Via Zoom: contact Matthew McKeever at if you’d like to attend.

Talk by Una Stojnić (Princeton): Nonnegotiable Meanings: Communication, Ignorance, and Metalinguistic Negotiation

Date/Time: Friday, March 26th, 9am Hong Kong Time

Via Zoom: contact Matthew McKeever at if you’d like to attend.

Abstract. A piece of received wisdom among philosophers is that successful communication requires shared content. A speaker can convey to an audience a desire for water by uttering “I want water” just in case both can coordinate on a shared content—that the speaker desires water. Another piece of received wisdom emphasizes that competent speakers can fail to know, and often make errors about, the meanings of expressions without disrupting linguistic usage (Burge, 1979; Kripke, 1980; Putnam 1975). What allows them to do so is that they are situated in a network of causal/social/historical connections, to which they defer in linguistic usage. Deferential Network Models were introduced to sidestep any clash between successful usage and “arguments from ignorance and error” (Devitt and Sterelny, 1999). But, given potential ignorance, how can agents coordinate on substantive shared information successful communication presumes? How is communication possible in a world of deference?

One reaction is to argue that little antecedent semantic knowledge is needed since we can coordinate on meanings on the fly. Some argue that meanings are dynamic, i.e., constantly changing, and potentially negotiated by members of a linguistic community even during a single conversation (Armstrong, 2016, Cappelen, 2018, Carston 2002, Davidson, 1986, Haslanger 2012; 2018, Ludlow 2008, 2014, Plunkett and Sundell 2013, i.a.). We, however, argue that given the practice of linguistic deference, meanings are non-negotiable, i.e., are not dynamic. Meta-linguistic negotiation can neither change word meaning nor secure a mutually shared content presupposed by communication. Indeed, accounts of meta-linguistic negotiation are unsuccessful in part because they already assume coordination on shared content. In response, one can either, deny that there is widespread ignorance and error, and so, a need for deference, or deny that communication requires a non-trivial mutual grasp of shared content. But either option carries a cost.

Talk by Mona Simion (Glasgow): Title TBA

Date/Time: Friday April 5th, 6pm Hong Kong time

Via Zoom: contact Matthew McKeever at if you’d like to attend.

About Our Events:

Details of events held by the center will be posted here (CFPs and so on will also be posted in the usual places, such as philevents, philos-l, and so on). Spring semester 2021 talks will be held on Zoom, and open to all interested.

Our first set of confirmed visiting speakers are:

◘ Laura Schroeter (Melbourne),

◘ Una Stojnic (Princeton)

◘ Cian Dorr (NYU)

◘ Sara Sawyer (Sussex)

◘ Mona Simion (Glasgow)

◘  David Plunkett (Dartmouth)

Amie Thomasson (Dartmouth)

Ishani Maitra (Michigan)

Dates in each case to be decided.