Course Description

We will examine a variety of issues concerning Frege's Problem and anaphora in language and thought. Discussion will include, but is intended not to presuppose familiarity with:
  1. dynamic treatments of donkey anaphora  
  2. work by "direct reference" theorists especially in the late 1980s and 1990s  
  3. Kit Fine's "Semantic Relationalism"
  4. "mental file folder" models of cognitive equivalence
  5. techniques from functional programming of the sort surveyed at

Meetings and Preparation

The seminar meets on Mondays at 5 PM in the NYU Philosophy Department (5 Washington Place), on the 3rd floor. The first meeting is on Sept 10. There will be no meeting on Sept 17, we will make this up either on Oct 15 (when the University otherwise has a holiday), or on December 17 (after classes have stopped). We'll generally meet for 2--2.5 hours, but when there is sufficient interest and energy we can carry on discussion later at a cafe or bar.

The seminar itself will aim to minimize the amount of programming one needs to master---we will talk in general terms about some programming techniques, rather than try to train you in their use. But those interested in learning more about the techniques are encouraged to work through the material at, which I will be rewriting and expanding concurrently with this seminar. If there is interest we can have auxiliary sessions to help students work through difficult parts of that.

I don't expect course participants to have the same backgrounds. Minimal expectations are: this should not be your first exposure to formal semantics. So you should, for example, know how to read and write a model for first-order predicate logic and modal logic. It's desirable but not strictly necessary that you be familiar with Heim and Kratzer, generalized quantifiers, "donkey sentences," and dynamic semantics.

The first meeting or three will walk through my own understanding and approach to the issues. Afterwards, we will work through different clusters of influential work in philosophy and linguistics. For some participants, this will be a way to learn about those background discussions. For all of us, it will be a way to explore where the approach I'm advocating extends or diverges from proposals others have made.


So as we discussed in class, this coming week the university is having Monday schedule on both Monday and Wednesday, so that's when we'll meet. On Wednesday we may be meeting in the 2nd floor seminar room rather than the usual 3rd floor room.
Here is a list of recent papers I'm aware of, mostly by philosophers, addressing the issues we've been discussing. In most of the cases they do so by engaging with Kit's book. (There's a broader range of papers by linguists that are relevant to our concerns, but engage with the proposals we've been talking about less directly. I won't try to list or link to those here.) If you know of papers I've missed, please do bring them to my attention.

For next Monday and Wednesday, I propose we discuss the exchange with Soames. Read Soames' paper from the PPR forum, and Kit's reply, and also Soames' "Two versions of Millianism." Some of the criticisms Soames makes in this exchange also appear in his 1987 paper "Substitutivity," which we looked at earlier.
I also came across these manuscripts by grad students working on the issues:
So as we decided in class, the need for us to meet at 5:30 has past and it's most convenient for most participants to meet earlier; henceforth we will meet from 5-7 pm in the 3rd floor seminar room.
Up next week are chapters 1-2 of Kit Fine's book. Email me if you don't have access to a copy of this.
Some puzzle questions about the Richard material we discussed last week. Try to figure out reasonable answers without prompting from me; but if you want to discuss the questions or a candidate answer, I'll be glad to do so. (1) He says that "I believe that she is in danger" and "I believe that you are in danger," relative to a context where "you" and "she" have the same reference, have the same truth-conditions. Given the theory he develops by the end of the article, is he entitled to say, as well, that these claims have the same semantic content in that context? (2) He has a notion he calls "proto-properties" which are the result of partially converting a structured character into its corresponding structured content, in a given context, and replacing the nodes you didn't convert with variables, subject to certain rules about when you're allowed to re-use variables. So the structured character [that [likes this]] might give, in context c, the protoproperty [x [liking o]], where liking is the property expressed by the character likes in c, o is the referent of the character this in c, and x is the variable 'x'. But now, here's the problem: what if the context c is one in which this is demonstrating the variable 'x'? Wouldn't this proto-property then end up getting conflated with the supposed-to-be-different protoproperty [x [liking x]]? Would such a conflation be harmless? If not, how could it be avoided?
Friederike Moltmann has a useful paper summarizing the state of the debate between classical and dynamic treatments of donkey anaphora.
For our next meeting, we'll be discussing some or all of these, starting with the Richard article: These were all linked from this page a while ago, as suggested reading.
We will meet next Monday at the scheduled time, though NYU will generally be closed. It's possible there will be no doorman on duty, so those of you without a NYU Philosophy affiliation who plan to attend should be sure to arrive earlyish so that the rest of us can be sure to let you into the building. The readings for next week will be: Although they don't describe what they're doing in these terms, essentially what these papers propose is how to do semantics for languages with mutation-like phenomena in them. We will discuss: how these papers themselves describe their semantic proposals, why it's natural to think of what they're doing as giving a semantics for mutation-like phenomena, and what the semantics would look like if presented in terms of monads. This will help us get a better grip on monads. Further down the road, we can build on that to see how to give a semantics for hyper-evaluative expressions in terms of monads, too. (The details will be a bit different.) It may take us more than one week to get comfortable with the linked papers.
We collected some more time preferences yesterday, but it looks like Monday evenings are still at least as good as any alternative. The exact meeting time on Mondays is subject to the two global pressures mentioned below, and your individual preferences don't add up to a clear group preference. So I propose that we start meeting at 5:30 on Monday Sept 24, in the seminar room on the 3rd floor of the philosophy building. We can adjust this time as we proceed to best fit the group's needs.
If you want to influence the seminar meeting times, please submit the online polls by the end of the day today (Thursday). Based on the results I've seen so far, on balance Monday evenings are at least roughly as good as any alternative, but we might fiddle with the exact meeting time. So unless I suddenly get a bunch of new submissions, I'm expecting we'll continue meeting on Mondays, and that means no meeting next week since I'll be out of town. I've reserved a different classroom in the philosophy department, on the 3rd floor. That's a smaller classroom, but if we use it we won't need to be constrained to meet exactly from 5-7. I'm expecting the group will be somewhat smaller as the term continues, so perhaps this classroom will be able to accommodate us. If not, we'll have to figure out some other place to meet. There are time pressures on both sides of the 5-7 window. On the one side, Philippe's seminar in linguistics runs until 4:45, and some of you (and myself) will be attending that, and a longer break between those classes seems desirable. On the other side, the NYU Consciousness Discussion Group is planning to start at 7 on Mondays (in the department lounge), and some of you may want to attend that. Let's see how the specific preferences of people who continue in our seminar work out. Feel free to email me any information relevant to setting the meeting time, if it's not easily communicated by the online polls.
I'm sending an email to the seminar mailing list this morning; if you don't receive it that means I don't have your email address (or have an address I didn't read properly).
As promised, here are some other articles to read in the neighborhood of the Richard piece (which I'll list again):
As I've said, the readings I've listed so far (the Perry, Forbes and Heim piece on mental file folders, and the four pieces above) are a list for you to start working through at whatever pace you can now manage. When we'll be discussing articles in our seminar meetings, we will only be focusing on one or two per week. If you've started reading these pieces and are making some progress, but still have doubts about your readiness for the course, why don't you choose one of those seven articles and write up a 2-4 page summary of it, and we can get together and talk about it (though keep in mind I'll be away the start of next week).
If you didn't sign the sign-up sheet in seminar today but want to be put on the email list, email me at and let me know. Also please submit your time preferences soon. The presumption is we'll continue to meet at the same time, and on Mondays, unless a compelling alternative becomes visible. I'll be away the start of next week, so (unless we change our meeting time to the end of the week) there won't be any class next week.
Next week, I'll continue to develop the positive picture I recommend to thinking about Frege's Problem. We'll pick up again spelling out the graph metaphor and how it relates to the mental file folder metaphor. I encourage participants to read some of the mental file folder background materials linked below: especially Forbes, Heim, and Perry (in order of decreasing urgency, though if you're going to read all three, then read Perry first). We will be paying close attention to the Heim paper later, so you'll be reading it at some point. I will also post some other articles from the same neighborhoods as the Richard article linked below. You should make as much progress through that list as you can, in these first few weeks. Those articles will help fill in background, and we can pursue questions you have about these readings via email or in meetings outside of seminar. We'll start engaging with specific articles more closely a few weeks from now, after I've finished sketching out my picture. But---especially for those new to this literature or taking the class for credit---don't wait until then to start reading. You can make good use of this time to make progress in the reading, and discuss it with me and others, even though the seminar isn't yet focusing on those articles specifically. Many of the articles I'm listing now I do hope for us to have closer seminar discussion of later. I'm recommending things I think would be valuable for you to read even if we don't.
As I said in seminar, if you have concerns about your preparation, let's talk about it.
Don't be timid! I am relying on you to interrupt me and press me and tell me when you're not following. Ask me to back up two or twenty steps when that will help you. We will all get more out of our meetings that way, even the people sitting next to you that you think must understand what's going on better than you do. At this point, everything is a bit abstract, and I realize it may take time for things to come into focus enough to even formulate questions about what's going on. But as we proceed, if you find something baffling, then please do it out loud. I am relying on you to help me figure out what are good ways to organize and talk through these issues.

If you'd like to attend the seminar regularly, note we're polling to see if alternative times (or even alternative days of the week) work better for you. Go to this doodle poll to let us know your preferences, as soon as you are able to.

If you'd like also to attend an auxiliary session to strengthen your background and understanding of the material we'll be reading, go to this poll (as well as the first poll).

If you'd like to attend an auxiliary session to help master the programming techniques taught in Jim and Chris's course from two years ago, go to this poll (as well as the first poll).

When completing these polls, be sure to use a specific-enough username that I can identify you---the doodle site won't tell me your email addresses (for free). Be sure I also know whether you are planning to take the course for credit; and please only submit your preferences if you're intending to attend the class regularly, if your schedule permits. (That doesn't mean you expect to be able to make every session, but it does mean you're aiming to make, say, at least half of them.)

Examples of philosophers and linguists using the notion of a "mental file folder":
There is no assigned reading for the initial meeting. If you're planning to attend the seminar and want to get started with background reading, you can begin working through the lectures at; or you could start working through Mark Richard's 1983 article, "Direct reference and ascriptions of belief." Another way to prepare would be to read Jeff King's Stanford Encyclopedia article on anaphora.
You shouldn't be frightened away from the course by not being able to understand all of the preceding. How the course goes will be somewhat flexible, depending on your backgrounds. However, even when pitched most accessibly, it won't really be a suitable introduction to formal philosophy of language. The King article linked above is probably a good test. Don't worry if there are parts of it you don't completely understand. However, if you can't make heads nor tails of that article, then you should consider alternatives to this course. One alternative you might consider is Semantics I, offered this term in the linguistics department. points to the website for the course Chris Barker and I taught two years ago. We aimed to make the lectures there generally accessible and of general interest, but the website is pretty much as it was when that seminar ended. I will be revising, reorganizing, and extending some of that material; but this won't happen all at once. So for a while it may be useful to look at both the in-progress-being-rewritten site and also the original site. When the rewritten material is organized enough to post the initial installment, it will be at For the time being, is an alias to lambda1; eventually it will be changed to point to lambda2 instead.
The Heim and Kratzer book linked above is a standard graduate-level text for formal semantics, biased more towards linguists' interests than philosophers', but valuable for students in both fields. If you'll be taking the course but aren't familiar with that text, I highly recommend working through it. We won't be doing so in the seminar proper, but we can arrange auxiliary sessions for students who need to fill in that background. Other texts it may be useful to have for the seminar are Fine's book (also linked above), and Mark Richard's Propositional Attitudes. I will also make these texts, or at least the sections we read, and all other material we'll read for the class, available electronically.