Kevan Edwards

Some of my published work, with descriptions

"Keeping (direct) reference in mind"  [available in Nous, and a very early version of this paper was presented at the Pacific APA 2009]

This short paper argues that with some independently plausible assumptions, standard motivations for a reference-based semantics—namely Kripkean arguments—convert very naturally into motivations for an analogous claim in philosophy of mind: a referential approach to concept individuation.

"What concepts do" [available in Synthese, or by request)

This paper diagnoses and criticizes a widespread assumption to the effect that a theory of concepts needs directly to account for various facts about a concept’s role in cognition. I point out that the pattern of inference underlying this claim is, in general, fallacious. Moreover, even when the line of reasoning is weakened to a more reasonable argument to the best explanation, it fails to rule out an alternative approach. The alternative approach claims that concepts are, first and foremost, in the business of representing individuals, properties, and kinds. Importantly, the alternative view not only is consistent with explaining various facts about what concepts do, but once some details are spelled out, it actually invites such explanations. My explicit target is a paper by Jesse Prinz called, “The return of concept empiricism.”

"Concept referentialism and the role of empty concepts"  [available in Mind & Language, or by request]

This paper argues that even a hard-line referentialist about the nature of concepts can account for concepts that fail to refer. Roughly, the referentialist can exploit facts about the relationship between a concept’s (referential) content and its role in thought, even if conceptual role is not up to the task of underwriting identity conditions for the relevant concepts. Thus, it is possible (though not mandatory) to be a referentialist and yet to avoid suspicious claims about the existence of unicorns, Sherlock Holmes (i.e. “fictional” entities), the planet Vulcan (i.e. ‘mythical’ entities), and other prima facie inexistents.

A response to problems posed by empty concepts also has the potential to bear on analogous problems facing referentialist approaches to natural language semantics. More broadly, the discussion has an impact on issues about the relationship between concept individuation and implementation, compositionality, facts about a concept’s role in mental processes, and facts about an agent’s epistemic and practical situation.

"Referring when push comes to shove" [available in New Waves in Philosophy of Language, Ed. Sarah Sawyer]

A cluster of complaints about Direct Reference (by Caplan, Braun & Sider, and others) are converging on the claim that anything a Millian can do, so too can a (Neo-)Fregean. The Direct Reference theorist can hope to exploit some consequences of a communication-theoretic approach to natural language semantics as a way to respond to such complaints. The basic idea is that our intuitions about the modal and epistemic profile (of, say, a name) should be expected to track the semantic facts, whereas pre-theoretic intuitions about 'meaning' and cognitive significance should be expected to track a much richer, i.e. pragmatically infected, notion of what a speaker typically would use the target sentence to express/communicate. If this is right, the Direct Reference theorist’s way of dividing the explanatory labor between semantics and various non-semantic resources is well motivated, pace the critics noted above. In this paper I flesh out this idea, by introducing a way of thinking about linguistic semantics that involves paying special attention to how speakers repeat, revise, and retract various utterances under shifts in their pragmatic and epistemic context.

Work in progress

"Frege’s problem psychologized"  [in progress]

This project continues to defend the view of concepts that I call Concept Referentialism, this time against objections stemming from prima facie co-referring but distinction concepts. The idea at the heart of the paper is that a denial of Conceptual Role Semantics as a claim about the identity conditions of concepts is consistent with appealing to particular facts about the roles of various concepts for the purposes of underwriting various intuitions that are considered to be problematic for reference-based views. The paper covers a lot of ground, ranging from sketching prima facie motivations for a referentialist view of concepts to discussions about the relationship between issues in the concepts literature and more familiar considerations in the Direct Reference tradition in philosophy of mind.

"Concepts and the heterogeneity of cognitive structures and processes"  [in progress]

Discusses the relationship between questions about the nature of concepts and (empirically) well-grounded claims about the heterogeneity of various cognitive structures and processes. Critically evaluates so-called hybrid, pluralist, and eliminativist responses to heterogeneity and argues instead for a position according to which concepts are individuated by considerations orthogonal to their role in cognitive structures and processes, namely reference.

"Theories of Concepts: new theories, old mistakes"  [presented in various venues; not sure what to do with it next]

This is a paper that I have presented to various audiences and plan to rewrite for publication. I argue that some relatively recent claims in cognitive science about the nature of concepts show signs of mistakes that should be familiar, at least to philosophers, from the last 100 years of work in philosophy of mind and language. Three such mistakes include: (1) The behaviorist’s confusion of constitutive relations with causal relations; (2) the type-identity theorist’s confusion of what constitutes a mental state with facts about how it is implemented; (3) the descriptivist’s confusion of facts about the meaning of an expression (inter alia a concept) with what is merely associated with or implicated by that expression. Not surprisingly, I think the realization that these mistakes are being repeated points in a positive direction, namely towards my own favored approach to understanding the nature of concepts.

Some projects on the shelf

Book-length treatment of Frege's Problem Psychologized

Book-length, comprehensive defense of Concept Referentialism


* I don't know why anyone would want this, but information on my dissertation is available on request.