Understanding Evans

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This paper is largely exegetical/interpretive. My goal is to demonstrate that some criticisms that have been leveled against the program Gareth Evans constructs in The Varieties of Reference (Evans 1980, henceforth VR) misfire because they are based on misunderstandings of Evans’ position. First I will be discussing three criticisms raised by Tyler Burge (Burge, 2010). The first has to do with Evans’ arguments to the effect that a causal connection between a belief and an object is insufficient for that belief to be about that object. A key part of Evans’ argument is to carefully distinguish considerations relevant to the semantics of language from considerations relevant to the semantics (so to speak) of thought or belief (to make the subsequent discussion easier, I will henceforth use ‘thought’ as a blanket term for the relevant mental states, including belief). I will argue that Burge’s criticisms depend on largely not taking account of Evans’ distinctions. Second, Burge criticizes Evans’ account of ‘informational content’ taking it to be inconsistent. I will show that the inconsistency Burge finds depends entirely on a misreading of the doctrine. Finally, Burge takes Evans to task for a perceived over-intellectualization in a key aspect of his doctrine. Burge incorrectly reads Evans as requiring that the subject holding a belief be engaged in certain overly intellectual endeavors, when in fact Evans is only attributing these endeavors to theorists of such a subject. Next, I turn to two criticisms leveled by John Campbell (Campbell, 1999). I will argue that Campbell’s criticisms are based on misunderstandings – though they do hit at deeper elements of Evans’ doctrine. First, Campbell reads Evans’ account of demonstrative thought as requiring that the subject’s information link to an object allows her to directly locate that object in space. Campbell constructs a case in which one tomato (a) is, because of an angled mirror, incorrectly seen as being at a location that happens to be occupied by an identical tomato (b). Campbell claims that Evans’ doctrines require us to conclude that the subject cannot have a demonstrative thought about the seen tomato (a), though it seems intuitively that such a subject would be able to have a demonstrative thought about that tomato, despite its location is inaccurately seen. I show that Evans’ position in fact allows that the subject can have a demonstrative thought about the causal-source tomato in this case because his account does not require that the location of demonstratively identified objects be immediately accurately assessed. What is crucial is that the subject have the ability to accurately discover the location. Second, Campbell criticizes Evans’ notion of a fundamental level of thought. I show that this criticism hinges on view of the nature and role of the fundamental level of thought that mischaracterizes Evans’ treatment of the notion.
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First archival date: 2018-09-14
Latest version: 2 (2018-09-14)
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