Nietzsche On Memory: Introduction

Chapter 1 Introduction

“Die Entstehung des Gedächtnisses ist das Problem des Organischen. Wie ist Gedächtniß möglich? Die Affekte sind Symptome der Formation des Gedächtniß-Materials”

Nietzsche, NF–1884, 25 [514]

This thesis has three substantial Chapters, apart from this Introduction. These three Chapters will conduct the following three tasks. Firstly, I will outline the different types and roles in Nietzsche’s conception of memory. Secondly, I will use these tools to examine how they illuminate Nietzsche’s key themes. Thirdly, I consider the topic of Collective Memory. I will now outline this Chapter breakdown in more detail.

In Chapter 2, I show how there are two types of memory for Nietzsche, discussing each in turn. The first type – Individual Memory – is closer to what we commonly understand as memory. It has two aspects. Firstly, there is a passive/reactive, externally imposed, inhibitory and negatively evaluated aspect. I will further divide this passive aspect into two subtypes: imposed memory and inhibitory memory. On the other hand, an active element has the opposite characteristics: it promotes activity and so is not inhibitory, it is internally chosen and so not imposed and it is positively evaluated. The second major type of memory is Organic Memory. This is different to what we commonly understand by memory. We know this because Nietzsche applies it to plants as well as animals and it reaches back to previous generations of humans. Nietzsche’s view of memory is thus at variance with the common view of memory which I term the ‘photograph’ model.

In Chapter 3, I examine two of Nietzsche’s themes and their links to memory. I discuss Nietzsche’s Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence and show why we need this pluralistic understanding to grasp it. This discussion will involve the distinction between types of memory and in particular the way in which memory which is active may be used to affirm the Doctrine, which represents a key element of Nietzsche’s central ethical project. I will also discuss the early theme of Dionysos vs. Apollo from the perspective of memory typology.

In Chapter 4, I discuss the topic of Collective Memory. Many commentators cite Nietzsche when discussing Collective Memory, believing they find evidence that he recognises the phenomenon in various places, including when he discusses the ‘historical sense’ and the ancestral indebtedness of societies. This discussion is postponed to a separate Chapter, because I conclude that commentators are mistaken when they believe that Nietzsche recognises a Collective Memory type. They are confused by failing to understand that Nietzsche is sometimes referring to the obscure Organic Memory type.

The thesis presented here is of a survey character, since the topic of Nietzsche’s views on memory is largely unexplored. There is no sustained discussion of Nietzsche on memory in the literature. There are no Jstor papers that include both of the terms ‘Nietzsche’ and ‘memory’ in their title. There are 238 papers listed on Jstor that include the term ‘Nietzsche’ in their title and ‘memory’ in their full text. I believe I have considered and cited here all papers within the 238 that are of significance to the topic. In the primary material, there are 176 occurrences in 136 textual units of either ‘Gedächtniß’ or ‘Gedächtniß’. I find this by a search in the Digitale Kritische Gesamtausgabe, covering both the published material and the Nachlaß. However, many writers have valuable insights into memory that they give in the course of a Nietzsche discussion with another end, and I have profited from those brief discussions. All of the significant references I have found are cited here.

I will close this introductory material by giving some motivational arguments as to why memory is important for Nietzsche.

1.1 Importance Of Memory To Nietzsche

There are four general reasons to think that memory is important to Nietzsche, which I will outline in this section. They are as follows.

1. Memory is definitional of being human.
2. Forgetfulness, the other side of the coin, is significant and unusual because it is active and beneficial.
3. Memory is a precondition for the current constitution of society.
4. Memory is the key to Nietzsche’s central ethical project.

Firstly, man is the “remembering animal”.1 Nietzsche thus describes memory as what distinguishes humans from animals. This has been confirmed by several commentators. Luft notes2 that for Nietzsche the ‘memory of the will’ which enabled promise making was what turned animals into a human herd. Nietzsche’s claim that memory created humanity and also every kind of human community. Nietzsche’s slogan is a deliberate echo of the Aristotelean tag that ‘man is the rational animal’; it shows that memory is of the first importance for Nietzsche since it is for him definitional of what makes us human. For this reason alone, it is surprising that the topic of Nietzsche on memory has received little specific attention in the literature. My main aim in this thesis is to supply this lack.

Secondly, we may derive reason for thinking that memory is an important phenomenon for Nietzsche, and one worth investigating, from the fact that his unusual view of forgetfulness as active and positive suggests that he will have a unique conception of memory as well. Choosing what to forget is crucial to maintaining psychic order and also effective self-creation – which is also the creation of an effective self. I will illustrate this further in §2.2.2.

Thirdly, for Nietzsche, memory allows the creation of society as it is currently constituted, which we may understand as involving a constant tension between the natural desires of humans to use violence in their own ends and the need for society to restrain those desires. He describes how memory is created by pain and punishment; Nietzsche writes: “only what does not cease to give pain remains in one’s memory”.3 Memory is then a device for avoiding those outcomes. This reactive, imposed aspect of memory is a precondition for society with its web of agreements not to use violence, or

1Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, §1]. Note: I will use standard abbreviations for Nietzsche’s works such as are to be found at Nietzsche GM [2, p. xxxvii], preferring ‘UM’ for ‘Untimely Meditations’. I will also use ‘KSA’ for Kritische Studien Ausgabe [3] and ‘WP’ for ‘The Will to Power’ [4].

2Luft [5, p. 135]. 3Nietzsche GM [2, II.3].

to delegate the right to use violence to the state. Nietzsche describes these contracts as follows: “contract relationships […] [p]recisely here are promises made; precisely here it is a matter of making a memory for the one who promises”.4 Society needs to restrain violent individual impulses because otherwise it would dissolve in conflict. The creation of society is what leads to the processes Nietzsche describes in GM as leading to morality. So a passive, imposed form of memory is important to Nietzsche in his project of explaining morality. Here we see socially-bred, externally imposed memory. Prehistorical societies led to current societies via the nexus of memory and pain.

Fourthly, memory is the key to the ethical project which we may term ‘revaluation of all values’. Luft argues5 that GM describes the process by which a ‘memory of values’ is created by metaphor and society so we can see how memory is directly implicated in the prevalence of groundless values which Nietzsche attacks. It is also responsible for various moral illusions which Nietzsche wishes to dispel. For one thing, people do not generally tell the truth because of a moral stricture to that effect. They do so merely since memory is a limited resource, and “because it is more convenient, as falsehood requires invention, deceit, and memory”.6 Nietzsche tells us that memory is the space in which acts are given their moral colour, and we will later see that the valuable activity of the active and the strong consists in using memory actively to apply the moral colour they choose to their acts. Moreover, success or failure in a project is the way to apply the desired moral character to a deed: “That the witnesses of a deed often only measure the morality or immorality of it after the fact: no, the culprit does this himself. Because the motives and intentions are seldom clear […] even the memory of the deed is clouded by success, so that one imputes to the deed false motives or treats unimportant motives as important. Success often gives a deed the full honourable sheen of a good conscience; failure lays the shadow of bad conscience on the most respectable action.”7 We also learn here that morality of acts is and should be judged only by the actor in the case of the strong; this is another call for us not to look outside for the source of values. The final message is that motives will be ascribed and adjusted post facto in order to obtain the desired result for moral valency: all of this serves Nietzsche’s purposes in attacking the idea that morality – and the morality we have now – is in any way absolute and beyond question.

4Nietzsche GM [2, II.5].
5Luft [5, p. 139].
6Nietzsche HA [6, ‘On the History of Moral Feelings’, §54].
7Nietzsche HA [6, ‘On the History of Moral Feelings’, §68].

Next Chapter: Types And Roles Of Memory In Nietzsche


What Are Emotions?


I discuss the position of Goldie on emotions.

He works with five overarching themes to form a framework within which to consider emotions. These are as follows.

There are personal perspectives/points of view.

Rationality is essentially normative.

It is a mistake to over-intellectualise emotions.

Emotions are intentional; understand ‘feelings’ to understand intentionality.

The narrative structure of a life is what makes sense of emotions.

What are emotions?

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Emotions are states on Goldie’s view. He has a somewhat strange argument for this (p. 13).

“when we use a verb to speak of a state, this verb is not used in the continuous tenses, we do not say that he was being jealous or that she is being in love”

The former (1.9m hits) and maybe latter look like false empirical claims to me.

Moreover, does Goldie need this for his account?

We might also raise the point here that Goldie is here committed to ordinary language philosophy being productive. That is not of course a fatal problem, but it is certainly a theoretical cost.

Goldie introduces phenomenological arguments (from Tolstoy) to show that:

“an emotion [. . . ] is typically complex, episodic, dynamic and structured” (p. 16)

Intentionality of emotions

We need a distinction between the Crane p.98 sense of intentionality viz. “directedness towards an object” rather than “aboutness or ofness” (p. 16).

Consider the following example. One might be proud of one’s house. The intentional object here is “my-house-which-belongs-to-me” (p. 17); not the self (Hume) or indeed merely the house.

However, intentionality questions abound here. There is a Frege point on what the account would say about non-existent intentional objects. Wittgenstein would have issues as well; these are sidestepped by Goldie. Again there are theoretical costs here at best and unaddressed objections at worst.

For Goldie, moods are distinct from emotions but only by degree. That is because moods may also have an object to some extent. So now we are interested in the motivation for this view. Goldie does not really supply a motivation.

Goldie’s argument for the distinction relies on fear. He suggests that your fear on waking “may have no very specific object” (p. 18). It could be the darkness, the curtains, the strange noise that woke you.

However, that could also be three emotions. Or three causes of three instantiations of the same type of emotion. Or three causes of the same emotion.

Goldie criticises the literature in which intentionality of emotion is cashed out in terms of belief/desire psychology. He argues that this misses out the essential. That is, it misses out “what it is like.” Here he is on stronger ground. Any account on emotions which omits what it feels like to have them is surely sorely lacking backing in lived experience. (That points a way forward for Goldie to address the ordinary language point raised above.)

Feeling Towards

In response to this alleged omission, Goldie introduces the key concept of feeling towards. Feeling towards is “thinking of with feeling” (p. 19). Each sort of emotion has a “broadly characteristic qualitative nature” (p. 19) but Goldie declines to specify it, giving the Louis Armstrong response

“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”

Goldie is against over-intellectualisation. Cf. Scruton: “having a belief that an object is dangerous is a necessary condition of being afraid” (p.22). That line seems to fail in the face of spiders and Count Dracula.

Goldie suggests that some emotions are factive. If you are angry, you must be angry that p” (p. 22) and p must be true. So you can’t be angry that James stole your shoelaces unless he did.

Really? Is Goldie being fair here? Surely you can be angry with James because you think he stole your shoelaces. If he did not, you are still angry with him. Is it sufficiently different that you are angry with James because you think he stole your shoelaces and he did and that you are angry with James because you think he stole your shoelaces but he did not?

For Goldie, people can be the object of emotions and not propositions. (Q: Is “some” is doing a lot of work for Goldie here?)

Educating the emotions

Is this possible? Or do we just have emotions? Maybe we can modulate them, but is that the same thing as educating them? (cf. Aristotle).

Goldie wants this proposition in order to produce a recognition/response tie. If you recognise an object as being one of the class of dangerous objects, you ought to respond to the object with fear.

This ought is “both normative and predictive” (p. 31).

The argument for this is as follows:

the “process of teaching a child how to identify things which are dangerous is typically one and the same process as teaching that child when fear is merited [. . . ] ‘Don’t go near that fire, it’ll burn you’ ” (p. 30)


The “Typicality” of processes may not be enough. (Because of various Wittgenstein “slab: problems. Which aspect of the situation are we saying is dangerous to the child? The heat of the fire or its colour? This is obvious to adults – but that does not explain how they came by the information.

Teaching children may not relate to the genesis of adult emotions.
Indeed it may be a simplification/falsification for pedagogical purposes.

James Bond handles dangerous situations quite well not just without fear, but because of that lack. This splits the normative from the predictive.

“Recognition and response will feature as part of the narrative structure of the person’s emotional experience” (p. 31)

So this is a major plank of Goldie’s account and it needs more support

What are Emotions: syllogisms?

Goldie introduces the concept of a practical/emotional syllogism. He complains again about the overly intellectual nature of seeing the emotions as part of a belief/desire account of action. Davidson is accused of espousing ‘propositional emotions’ which does indeed sound odd.

Consider the explanation of why Jane hit Jim based on the following. Jane believes that Jim insulted her. She desires to get her own back on Jim. She believes that hitting Jim will satisfy that desire.

The problem here is that:

“the explanations proffered are perfectly consistent with Jane feeling no emotion at all” (p. 39)

One question here is whether this is epiphenomenalism about the qualia of emotions? Cf. Chalmers’s complaint about ignoring the ‘hard problem.’

This leads on to discussion of add-on theories. These hold that action done out of emotion is just the feelingless belief/desires/actions with some feeling added-on. Goldie thinks this is implausible because

“when an action is done out of an emotion, the whole action, and the experience of the action, is fundamentally different” (p. 40)

But how would we know whether this was true or not? Doesn’t this beg the question against the add-on theorist? The experience could be fundamentally different without the underlying action changing.

This is very important to Goldie’s account; again needs explanation of the ‘feeling towards’ idea. This is a weak point of the account.

“Feeling towards

This is covered more in Ch. 3 but we need it here.

“I am afraid of the snake because its bite is poisonous and poison would harm me” (p. 45)


Goldie rightly says this looks implausible. He doesn’t say that people are afraid also of non-poisonous snakes but this is the case. He does say that what

“really comes first is the emotional response itself – the feeling of fear towards the snake – and not the thought that its bite is poisonous and the thought that poison would harm me” (p. 45)


So, emotions are more ‘primitive’ than thoughts. This seems right, but how are we cashing out “primitive?”

Certainly you could get both the emotion and the thought simultaneously. That looks like a problem.

Taylor can construct a response which says that some people are afraid of all snakes. That would be because in the evolutionary environment, some snakes were poisonous. It was adaptive to be afraid of all of them because false positives are fine and false negatives deadly. Is the fear today somehow directed on that original snake?

Is the thought tacit? (if that makes any sense). To say that the thought stems from a tacit belief is perhaps better.

“emotional feeling towards an object (typically towards the object of the emotion) is a feeling towards that thing as being a particular way or of having certain properties” (p. 58)


Some Issues with “Feeling Towards” as an Account of What Are Emotions

There are Frege issues again here. What do we say about sense and reference in emotional intentionality?

What ways and properties are involved here? If I am happy about Santa, does that mean that Santa has a happy-making property? Presumably not, because that then risks being a virtus dormitiva non-explanation. But if not that then what?

Stocker’s example cited with approval:

“before I fell on the ice I recognised its dangers, but then I had ‘only an intellectual appreciation of the very same dangers [. . . ] Then I only saw the dangers, now I also feel them’ ” (p. 59)

But this look precisely like an add-on theory. It’s the ‘very same’ dangers after all.

Finally, note that Goldie declares himself to be a Jane Heal-type simulation theorist (p. 177), so maybe he needs to be careful about rules. I am myself a strong proponent of simulation theory but that requires that one is really careful to avoid collapsing into theory theory.

See Also:

#Proust: An Argument For #SimulationTheory

Persons Do Not Have Identity

Theories Of Reference: Evans On Russell

Can Inductive Reasoning Be Justified Without Using Induction?


“What I Owe the Ancients” by Nietzsche


I will summarise and discuss Nietzsche’s important but rarely-considered essay “What I Owe the Ancients.”

Section One of “What I Owe the Ancients”

Nietzsche’s taste is “far from saying yes to everything it encounters”. This is for Nietzsche an admission that he too is a creature of his time and also human, for he is not Zarathustra and (therefore, arguably) not the Ubermensch. He retains the desire to say no when Zarathustra will say yes to everything. Zarathustra can thusly pass the test of affirming the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence, which is the ultimate in self-creation of values.

Though – compare this with the very end of this piece: N. describes himself as the teacher of the doctrine. So maybe he can teach it without passing it himself? A clue here as to why Zarathustra features that figure rather than Nietzsche himself — he writes in the third person because he himself lacks the strength to do more.

“Plato […] so much at odds with the basic Hellenic instincts”

Nietzsche, What I Owe the Ancients

The Problem of Socrates

This is an echo of the line also found in `The Problem of Socrates’ where the hypertrophy of reason exemplified by Socratic dialogues is deprecated by by Nietzsche. One reason why: Nietzsche quotes Goethe with approval in UM II when denigrating dead history as follows “Moreover I hate everything that merely instructs me without increasing or directly quickening my activity”.

Activity is the key to valorisation in a pre-Slaves Revolt scenario — whether it remains so today depends on the answer to the question `does Nietzsche prefer Master Morality to Slave Morality. The answer to that, as ever, is yes and no. He certainly regards positively the ability of the Masters to set their own values, in contrast to the Slaves — i.e. us — and in common with the Ubermensch. So again here, N. is identifying Plato and Socrates with the Slave’s Revolt camp; their use of dialectic is a symptom of that. They may be, if you like, the Priests, urging us to find value in a different world, in contemplation of the Forms.

Section Two

Plato already has `good’ as the highest concept, so has pre-accepted Christianity as it were. Thus he fails the test outlined in my comments on S1 above.

`Bridge’ is italicized. I interpret the emphasis as intended to call to mind the bridge in:

“Der Mensch ist eine Brücke, ein Brücke zwischen Tier und Übermensch und er muss zugunsten des Übermenschen zugrunde gehen.”


From Z: “Man is a bridge, a bridge between animal and Ubermensch, and he must be overcome in favour of the Ubermensch.”

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Here the bridge is `to the cross’. This looks something like Christ is the Ubermensch, but the wrong one. He has some of the qualities needed; certainly the ability to impress, but lacks the key quality of the ability to set his own values. He like Plato has already accepted `the good’ as the highest ideal. Nietzsche wants to know why. Or rather — he knows why in terms of how it happened, that is the story of GM — but why we should think it is right, by what standard we judge that, and by what standards we judge those standards.

Is Plato also `the bridge to the cross?’ “ I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”.


Sophistry — I always find a slight ambiguity in Plato; the Sophists and the Eristics certainly are more than half denigrated by Plato but not entirely. Plato is certainly aware that some of the criticisms he levels at them — `mere dialectical combat’ can also be laid at his door; this seems to be N’s view at least. Cf. again `Problem of Socrates’.

Philosophy as decadence of the Greeks; cf. the historical location of Plato in the age of the decline of the Greeks.

Section Three of “What I Owe the Ancients”

Praise of the will to power, and its free expression in the Greeks, at least at one point. Vast complexity here. Maybe we can make up a picture where one of the many drives tends to overcome the others. The will to power (let’s maybe not call that one of the drives but perhaps more the sum of them and maybe it figures more heavily in some drives than others, like the urge to dominate) has the upper hand in the early stronger Greeks.

In the later decadent period, reason (will to truth) has gained the upper hand. This could be because one drive has overcome another; or it could be that the Greeks themselves invited their own decadence. Having been forced (by socialisation? GM again) to mitigate their own urges to dominate in order to live in society, they created the power vacuum which allowed for reason to come to the fore.

Conflict with perspectivism, which is Nietzsche’s preferred approach of accommodation of the maximum number of perspectives even when contradictory (maximum number of drives as well…?)

Plenty of GM references here.

`immoralism a necessity not a nature’

I think Nietzsche is here praising what we might term a lack of post-modern self-referentialism. People act, they do not decide what action best suits them. But can Nietzsche say this consistently with the rest of his canon? (No. But that’s not unusual).

“bourgeois Socratism” — that says it all, really.

Nobility, against the polis — i.e. for Master morality here.

Section Four of “What I Owe the Ancients”

Dionysus — BT — so not the Apollonian, not reason, not individuality, not measure, but passion/intoxication, orgiastic self-loss, excess. Nietzsche is (as he tells us later in S5) the teacher of Dionysus (or he is `Dionysus against the crucified’). So we are to identify Socrates with the Apollonian.

Contemporary Germans need to show that the insights gained in the course of orgies cannot count for anything for to think otherwise would be a recommendation of orgiastic behaviour. And that goes against morality. Not an argument, says Nietzsche.

Nietzsche does an excellent job of damning Lobeck merely by quoting him.

Negative mention of Goethe is very rare and deserves attention. Goethe is one of the few real people mentioned positively by Nietzsche; possibly he even possesses some of the characteristics of the Ubermensch. Or he is one of the monumental historical figures (UM II). But even he gets the Greeks wrong by not having Nietzsche’s own insight into the importance of the Dionysian.

The Will to Life

The `Will to life’ seems to be what Goethe missed. So may the rest of us have done. A close link here to the first mention in this section of the immensely important and immensely obscure Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence (cf Z.) So maybe an expression of the will to life is the ability of affirm everything, to say yes to everything and to pass the test of joy at the truth of the Doctrine…?

Ressentiment of Christianity. Again GM and the Slaves Revolt, so morality is the weapon of the weak. All of these references to pain probably also map on to the GM references.

S5. A further reference to a bridge. Should we see the tragic poet as one incarnation of the Ubermensch? The Ubermensch is the one who affirms everything that has been — because he affirms the Doctrine — but that means also affirming all of the negation that there has been. You have to affirm all of it, the rough and the smooth. Paradoxical of course, but we do close with a re-affirmation of BT — which Nietzsche has in EH called a very questionable work, offensively Hegelian” so is he here affirming the negative as well? That would be a step towards the Ubermensch.

See Also:

Nietzsche On Memory: Introduction

Nietzsche’s On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense: Summary

Should Nozick Call Darwin As A Witness?

What Is “Theory Of Mind?”


Actions And Activity by Hornsby: Summary and Discussion


Actions And Activity is a key paper by Hornsby. I will make some comments on it here. What is an action?

Is the raising of someone’s arm one event or two? Is the event `I raised my arm’ identical to the event `my arm rose’? Resolving this question should throw light on what an action is. We also need to know whether an event which goes on for a period is going on during all instants of that period, for the same reason.

There is a distinction between `A stroll was going on at t’ and `strolling was going on at t’. The former at least seems to require an agent – but Hornsby’s point is that the latter does not seem to rely on any particular event (a ‘stroll’) taking place. Strolling is an activity – it must have a duration, as must `raising one’s arm’.

Actions and Activity and Stuff

Actions and activity are like stuffs. Saying `there is beer in the fridge’ does not refer to any particular can of beer or any particular beer atoms. There just has to be some in there, if the claim is to be true. Likewise, a stroll can be taking place without any particular event of strolling being necessary – distinguish this carefully from the very similar appearing but completely different claim that a stroll can be taking place without any event of strolling being necessary.

Q: Hornsby also seems to want to remain open to the possibility of the latter claim. Does she need this? Is it plausible?

This brings in the agent. There can be no strolling by Sebastian unless there is an action of strolling being done by Sebastian. Note again that there need be no event of strolling by Sebastian going on, on Hornsby’s line.

Beer Pervasion: Actions and Activity

Hornsby claims that “just as beer pervades any volume of space occupied by beer, so strolling pervades any interval of time occupied by strolling.” Actions and activity are pervasive in a technical sense.

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Q: these claims do indeed appear to stand or fall together, but both are highly questionable from a physics/chemistry perspective. There are no beer atoms, but even if there were, what would we say about the space between the atoms? – should such a space be a coherent idea. Similarly, time quantisation at micro-intervals may make it difficult to talk about anything pervading them. Does anyone stroll during an interval in which light would travel a billionth of the diameter of a proton? Does that make any sense?

Accomplishments and Achievements

There is a useful distinction between accomplishments and achievements, due to Mourelatos.

The latter are punctate: Mary’s finding the book ceases when she finds it. It would not become the case that she was finding the book until she finds it, when there is something a little like backwards causation – it becomes the case now that what she was doing then was finding the book – if she finds it. Accomplishments do not have this character: strolling can have its character as strolling from the point it begins and it continues until it ceases. Achievements are not composed of activity but accomplishments are. It does not take any time for John to win the sprint.

Q: really? Not even a 100 billionth of a second?

See Also:

#Proust On #Memory

Links Between Schopenhauer And Apocalypse Now

Nozick’s Claim That Knowledge Is Truth-tracking: A Critical Evaluation

Merleau Ponty’s Phenomenology: What Is It And How Cogent Is It?


The Metaphysics of Reference by Fodor

A) Introduction to The Metaphysics of Reference

In this post, I will summarise Fodor’s paper The Metaphysics of Reference and raise some questions. The central question is: can we construct a naturalised, causal theory of reference?

Only matter has causal powers; thought has causal powers; therefore only matter can think – the Physicalist Thesis (“PT”)

Some mental states are about things (they refer) – Intentionality (“I”)

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Motivation: Fodor wants to square PT and I in answering the Central Question. So how can atoms or their constructs be about something? – ‘make science out of content’

Plan: make Six Assumptions (A); set out Three Objections (B) to the possibility of the project; provide prima facie answers to the Three Objections; be satisfied that the project can be completed; do so by triangulation (C) using the Six Assumptions; posit in consequence (D) Eleven Articles which are, allegedly, explanatory and plausible.

Major Background Items: there is a Language of Thought (“LOT”) called mentalese. It shares some properties with public languages viz. productivity and systematicity but is not itself a public language. LOT is a species of the Representational Theory of Mind (“RTM”), which holds that tokens of mental states are tokens of relations between thinkers and their mental representations.

RTM is (at least a species of) Computational Theory of Mind (“CTM”). LOT is not (need not be) a natural language; it is though, productive and systematic. It may be like a programming language.

The Six Assumptions

1. Language meaning determined by thought meaning, when the language expresses the thought
2. Reference is compositional: the reference of wholes is composed of reference of the parts
3. Referentialism is true: reference alone determines content (of concepts, thoughts)
4. There are only two kinds of reference: to individuals and to properties
5. Causal Theory of Reference (“CTR”) is true: the later uses of a name refer to the original object so named via a causal chain from that original naming
6. A theory of perceptual representations will provide a theory of reference that squares PT + I

Assumption 3 represents Fodor’s opposition to Inferential Role Semantics (“IRS”). It also expresses Fodor’s atomism about concepts, and so is related to his nativism about concepts (I think). Assumption 5 is Kripke. A CTR formulation: ‘A’ means A iff. all and only A’s cause ‘A’s. All actual horses cause tokenings of the symbol `horse’; nothing else does.

B) The Three Objections To The Project Claim That The Central Question Cannot Be Answered

B1. Normativity Problem

Statement of problem: Content includes referential content and the latter unavoidably involves conventions and norms, etc.; this suggests that CTR can only be shown to be true if all intentionality is shown to be capable of naturalisation.

Correctness criteria for reference/content set by convention; reference/content cannot reduce to causation because causation is not right or wrong, it just is.

Response: position is committed to LOT thesis; this is a system of representations; it also does not have correctness criteria. You don’t use thoughts, you have them. So Fodor does not need norms.

Q1: Can’t representations be wrong? (Maybe not, if they are merely demonstrative.)

B2. Disjunction Problem

Statement of problem: CTR says that everything a thought refers to is something that caused that thought. If a thing X caused your thought, then a (thing X or thing Y) did.

Example: Under poor visual conditions, you think you see a cow when it is really a cat. To what do you refer when you think/speak about the animal? A cat? A cow? A cow-or-cat?

Response: if you didn’t have CAT but you did have COW, you could still have referred to the cat as a cow by using COW. Therefore you didn’t use COW-OR-CAT.

B3. Link Selection Problem

This is the most important objection, because Fodor’s response to it is in fact the Main Project.

Statement of problem: Under CTR, there is a causal chain of events ending in your referential thought. Which link do we select as the most significant one, the one doing the work? Which event is causing your thought? All events are caused by the big bang, in a sense – but we aren’t all thinking about that, all the time. Response:

C) The Main Project of The Metaphysics of Reference

The project will be conducted using triangulation, an idea due to Davidson.

Radical Interpretation

Preamble: Radical Interpretation (“RI”): someone starting from scratch and observing only behaviour and utterances could eventually translate fully a previously completely unknown language

P1: Languages can be learned

P2: Languages can be learned only if RI

Conclude: RI

How would RI work in practice​? A snake emerges. Adam – to be translated – says “gavagai!”. I say “snake!” Therefore I know that: “gavagai” means “snake”. (Incidental worry: snake or snake parts or animal or moving thing or sudden appearance of something…)


Triangulation is the fix to the ‘which link?’ problem. There are a large number of events between the snake and me and between the big bang and the snake. Which one are we talking about?

p. 209: “a causal chain that runs from the perceptual horizon to my utterance would intersect a causal chain that runs from the perceptual horizon to Adam’s utterance, and […] it would do so at the snake.”

Why would this work? Because I am assuming that my reactions to events parallel Adam’s. (Principle of charity issues here…?) I have information about my reactions which is quite detailed. But empirically it seems that there is a lot of tricky to handle ambiguity here. (How often do we get the wrong end of the stick even between native speakers…? But to invert Wittgenstein, something can only be counted wrong if there is something that counts as it being right…)

In fact, Davidson’s position, and Fodor’s, is that this has to work because otherwise we can’t learn languages. (St Augustine says we can learn terms this way – ostensively – and Wittgenstein (the slabs, `bring me a red flower’, says we can’t.) So Fodor’s position has intuitive appeal since it just looks empirically convincing that I know what a duck is because once someone pointed at one and said “duck”. Or twice. I triangulated between separate occurrences and eliminated the possibilities that they meant green-blue (the colour of the duck) or `animal’.

Further Questions

Q2: Davidson vs. Wittgenstein. Which way?

Certainly, this makes language essentially social, but Fodor thinks he (“patently”) can’t have that because it is incompatible with CTM.

Q3: Why not? How bad is this for Fodor? Cf. Article 2.

Iteration is a key part of triangulation, with the significant power of repeated negative feedback for calibration.

Fodor differs from Davidson in that Fodor allows the interpreter to be counterfactual. We don’t need an actual interpreter to fix meanings. The referent of term X is considered by what someone saying X would be referring to under certain circumstances.

How To Construct The Triangulation Diagram for The Metaphysics of Reference

1) Draw a line representing the causal chain from the token of Adam’s representation through all the events in its causal chain to Adam’s perceptual horizon.

(One of the helpful uses of RTM is to substitute representation for utterance here – this eliminates the risk that utterance linkages with manifold beliefs entails holism.)

2) Assume a counterfactual Adam2 located three feet to the right with the appropriate parallax shift.

3) Draw another line to the token of Adam2’s representation which is what the causal chain would have been.

4) Solve for the referent of both tokens.

All of the counterfactual Adam’s must have been able to token the same representation and make the same utterance.

Fodor thinks that his modification of Davidson’s proposal allows him to contend that people think in a private language and this is a strength of his account because he thinks they do.

In sum, this triangulation of causal chains is the correct account of the metaphysics of reference for Fodor.

D) The Eleven Articles of The Metaphysics of Reference

1. Reference is ontologically prior to truth
2. Reference is not social
3. Allowing semantic properties to mental representations does not threaten a homuncular regress
4. The content of expressions in public languages is not metaphysically prior to the content of propositional attitudes
5. The content/reference of a mental representation is not related to its inferential role
6. The content of concepts is not determined by the possessor’s behavioural capacities
7. Cognitive development does not come in stages
8. What you can think about is not limited by your public language but by your mentalese
9. Demonstration does not presuppose conceptualisation
10. Picture is consistent with FINSTs, Pylyshyn’s Fingers of Instantiation
11. English may not have semantics, because the semantics may happen at the level of mentalese

Q3: Wasn’t (5) assumed? Isn’t it a restatement of the assumed falsity of IRS?

Q4: Isn’t (7) in conflict with a lot of empirical psychology? (Maxi and the false belief tests etc.)

Q5: On (8), do we think that (possibly apocryphal) tribes discovered by anthropologists with no numbers larger than three have the concept of `ten’? Specifically? Can they distinguish it from `11’ and from `many’? Do they have a different mentalese to us? (That way out is available to Fodor.)

See Also:

Millikan on Are There Mental Indexicals And Demonstratives: Summary

The Structure And Content Of Truth For Davidson

O’Shaughnessy on The Anatomy of Consciousness: Summary

‘Both A Black Raven And A Red Herring Confirm The Claim That All Ravens Are Black.’


Mental Indexicals


I will discuss the views of Millikan on mental indexicals and whether they exist and raise some questions. Indexicals are things that refer by “pointing” to some entity. For example, the word “me” points to myself. More usual indexicals include here and now. Mental Indexicals would be the mental version of an indexical.

Context of Mental Indexicals

Some signs seem to stand for themselves. Example: the `word’ for tongue in American Sign Language is the gesture of pointing to the tongue. But is that a very special case?

Q: Mental Indexicals: Is It Possible For A Sign To Stand For Itself?

Is it not the case that this is not a word at all, but a suggestion that one consider the indicated item? American Sign Language might consist of gestures rather than words. Then of course we would have to consider the possibility that words are also gestures; if so the distinction would collapse.

If I point at the sun, is my action identical with saying the word “sun?” It seems as though I could add emotional overtones to a gesture of pointing. While I could also do that with my voice when saying the word, the two sets of emotional overtones available would not be identical.

Is it coherent at all for something to be a sign if the signified is the sign? We might prefer a definition of the word “sign” that insists that it refers elsewhere.

Does a sign labelled “this is a sign” tell us more than a sign shaped piece of wood? If so, it would be useful to have a specification of what that might be.

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To be a word requires a certain context. Example: the shape `spinach’ formed randomly in the clouds does not constitute the word `spinach’. Putting a can on a piece of paper with `spinach’ written on it, by contrast, does instantiate a communicative act. So the can of spinach becomes part of the symbol for itself.

Q: Do Items With Multiple Components Cause A Problem Here?

What if the can contains beans? Why does the symbol `spinach’ combined with the can indicate only the can and not the can + paper complex?

The `you’ in `would you please go?’ is anaphoric: it applies to whoever is being addressed in the same way that pointing a finger at the addressee functions in ASL. It is not indexical. It is a `sign for itself’; a part of the environment – the interlocutor – is used to refer to itself.

Q: Why isn’t “You” still an indexical?

Everyone may have their own version of a particular concept because everyone has different experiences. This is recognised by the introduction of the term `unicept’.

There are no indexical or demonstrative thoughts because indexicals and demonstratives involve self-signs and there can be no external objects in the mind.

See Also:

Husserl’s Phenomenological Reduction: What Is It And Why Does Husserl Believe It To Be Necessary?

Does Heidegger Establish That The Ready-to-hand Enjoys ‘Priority’ Over The Present-at-hand?

What Ontological Conclusions Does Sartre Present In His ‘Pursuit Of Being’ And With What Justification?

David Hume’s Account Of Causation: Summary


The Anatomy of Consciousness by O’Shaughnessy


I will briefly sketch O’Shaughnessy’s view of the anatomy of consciousness and raise some questions. For “anatomy” here we can read “structure.”

The central part of the approach asks a question about consciousness and its opposite. Consider the following analogy. There is only one way of being undiseased: not having any diseases. If there were only one disease, there would be only one state of being ill: it would be having that disease. In reality, there are many diseases and therefore many ways of being ill.

Is the pair consciousness/unconsciousness more like diseased/undiseased in a world with one disease or many? In other words, are their ways of being conscious in the same way as there are ways of being unconscious? It seems there are. So what are the states of consciousness?

Privative Opposite

All the states of unconsciousness are privative derivatives of consciousness i.e. they lack consciousness entirely.

Q: Why should we not say instead that all states of consciousness are privative derivatives of unconsciousness? More plausibly, could not unconsciousness come in degrees instead of consciousness coming in degrees? Could we not generate states of consciousness by adding several powers – experience, reason etc. – to the zero state of unconsciousness rather than in the direction of deleting powers, as O’Shaughnessy suggests?

Properties Of Unconsciousness

There are three negative properties of consciousness. Firstly, it has no object. This is shown by the contrast between `he was conscious’ and `he was conscious of a faint rustling’. Only in the latter usage is there an object. Consciousness proper figures only in the former usage and there it is more the arena for experience.

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Secondly, it does not have mental origins. Consciousness arises in the brain and whether it is present or not is decided by the brain and not by us or our judgment – since we have no choice about whether we become awake or not, short of setting an alarm clock. We may likewise have some choice about whether we become unconscious in that we can try to stay awake, but only for a limited period. O’Shaughnessy uses this to argue against consciousness having mental origins, presumably because he thinks that the mental is the location of our choice and judgment, and because he thinks that the mental is not the brain.

Thirdly, consciousness is not an experience – for similar reasons to those used to argue that it has no object. This is true despite the fact that consciousness may inevitably be accompanied by experience.

Minimal Requirements For Consciousness

What can we learn about consciousness by asking what are its minimal requirements? Consider the simplest possible conscious animal. It does not seem to need any motor or perceptual capacities in order to be conscious; all the requirements for consciousness are internal. There must however be attentive experience which generates beliefs about the environment. We do not need to ask how this could occur without perceptual systems, because the key criterion for consciousness is cognitive sensitivity to perceptual experience. This means something can be conscious if it would respond to perceptual input about the environment in the right way, were there to be any. While this looks implausible, it must be true unless we wish to deny that persons in sensory-deprivation tanks are conscious.

There is a contrast between the normal state of consciousness and that which obtains when dreaming. O’Shaughnessy diagnoses this as relating essentially to awareness of time. In particular, normal consciousness requires the capacity to perceive events across time.

See Also:

Does Nietzsche Favor Master Morality Over Slave Morality?

Nozick’s Claim That Knowledge Is Truth-tracking: A Critical Evaluation

Putnam on Functionalism: Summary

Should Nozick Call Darwin As A Witness?


Functionalism And Qualia


I will discuss the links between functionalism and qualia by examining the views of Shoemaker and raising some questions.

What Is Functionalism?

Functionalism claims that mental states are individuated by what they do. That means they are not differentiated by how they are instantiated, or what their “substrate” is.

What Are Qualia?

Qualia are “subjective feels.” Here that means what it is like to be in a particular mental state.

What Is The Qualia-Based Objection To Functionalism?

Shoemaker responds to an objection from Block and Fodor. They object that functionalism cannot accommodate qualia.

There are links here to Chalmers’ “hard question.” That is to say, why is it like that, or indeed, why is it like anything at all to be in a particular mental state? The motivation for the objection is that some mental states are individuated by what it is like to be in them.

The objection proceeds by considering the possibilities of inverted qualia and absent qualia. The first means that it may be different for me when I am in the same mental state as you. The second means that it may be different for me to be in that same mental state. There is nothing it is like for me to in the same mental state as you perhaps. That could be true even though that state does indeed have some phenomenological character for you.

What Is The Problem For Functionalism?

Both possibilities would be fatal for functionalism. Finer grained distinctions between my mental state and yours would exist. Moreover, phenomenological characteristics differentiate them and not functional ones.

Similarly, Shoemaker asks whether it is plausible to suggest that the phenomenological character of mental states could be unrelated to their functional role. The question concerns the inputs, outputs and connections to other mental states.

Presumably a mental state with the phenomenological character of “intense pain” always results in a strong desire to exit that mental state. We want to move into a mental state without that phenomenological character.

If “intense pain” state had no phenomenological character, that would reduce desire to exit the mental state. If what I feel as pain is what you feel as pleasure, you would not wish to exit at all. This seems to comport poorly with the idea that we are in the same mental state at all. The lack of fit results from deciding the question on functionalist grounds.

Functionalism And Qualia: Do Qualia Exist?

However, Shoemaker allows for the possibility of inverted qualia. He describes a possible case where we could detect that someone’s qualia had shifted. Normally we think it is impossible to detect such shifts.

In summary, the argument depends on the idea that we sometimes have difficulty distinguishing closely related pairs of shades. For example, they are, perhaps, on the blue/green boundary.

Imagine someone’s phenomenological experience on seeing blue became exchanged with what previously they had experienced when seeing orange. Then they would now find it easier to distinguish shades on what is still, in the world and for the rest of us, on the hard to pick out blue/green boundary. If this thought experiment is coherent, it eliminates a Wittgenstein problem. That is that qualia inversion would be undetetectable from behaviour and thus a meaningless claim for Wittgenstein. Thus Shoemaker gives the objection its maximum force by admitting that inverted qualia are possible.

Shoemaker’s defence of functionalism uses the problematic disconnect discussed above. This disconnect is between the phenomenological character of mental states and their function. He admits that for a successful defence, phenomenological characters must be integrated with the functional framework. This comes down to the claim that phenomenology must have a function.

Certainly, that claim is not implausible. It could be that we have qualia to motivate us. If I felt nothing when putting my hand in the fire, my motivation to remove it would be lessened. I would damage my body. This is why leprosy and conditions like CIPA are so dangerous.

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Functionalism And Qualia: Summary

Finally, Shoemaker’s argument devolves to the following. There can be a qualitative belief that one is in a state having some propositional content. That content quantifies over qualitative states but does not refer to particular qualitative states. Such qualitative beliefs are functionally definable.

See Also:

Does Heidegger Establish That The Ready-to-hand Enjoys ‘Priority’ Over The Present-at-hand?

The Opposition Of Value Systems

‘Thoughts’ and Sense For Frege And Burge

Is Evans’s Axiom On Referents and Sense Useful?


The Intentionality of Sensation by Anscombe: Summary

The term `intentional object’ is introduced to refer to objects of thought which may or may not exist beyond thought in the actual world. There is a third type of reference to intentional objects beyond reference to the actually existent and the actually non-existent. This third type is to refer to an actual object with the reference to a property that the object does not have. For example, in `X worshipped the moon’, X does indeed worship something that exists, because the moon exists. However, X does not have the property – of divinity – that X venerates.

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There is a distinction between two understandings of the direct object of a sentence. In `A gave B a book’, the direct object could be the term `a book’ – in modern usage – meaning a linguistic item. It could also mean – in older usage – the actual book itself. Anscombe wishes to retain the older usage for the purpose of analysis. One thing is clear: an actual book is not a piece of language. The term `intentional object’ can refer to either the actual book or a piece of language but this fact of co-reference does not suffice to make the actual book identical to a piece of language. Anscombe argues that we must avoid the ambiguity by denying that the intentional object is the book and denying that it is a piece of language; an intentional object is a description under which.

The distinction between descriptions recalls Austin’s distinction between by mistake and by accident
when one has shot a donkey. If I intend to shoot my donkey but realise too late that the donkey I
aimed at was in fact your donkey, I have shot your donkey by mistake. If I intend to shoot my donkey but yours gets in the way at the last moment, I have shot your donkey by accident. The difference is the description under which I shot your donkey. The parallel with shooting is apt since Anscombe herself recalls the archery-related etymology of intention.

In the second part of the paper, Anscombe aims to apply this apparatus to sensation. The process she uses is to supply a number of examples which parallel the three reference types given above. An object of sensation, like an intentional object, may exist, may not exist, or be referred to under a description which it may or may not satisfy, if it does exist. (One assumes here pace Meinong that non-existent objects have no properties.)

Q: can parallels in usage establish the degree of similarity Anscombe requires? After all, she was earlier denying that parallels in usage could establish the identity of the book and the piece of language.

See Also:

Anscombe: Modern Moral Philosophy — Summary

Does Nietzsche Favor Master Morality Over Slave Morality?

Shame vs Embarrassment: The Distinction In The Literature

‘Both A Black Raven And A Red Herring Confirm The Claim That All Ravens Are Black.’

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Putnam’s Functionalism

Putnam: “Brains and Behaviour”

Putnam sets out his functionalist manifesto by attacking the three prior alternatives: dualism, materialism and (logical) behaviourism. Functionalism is the doctrine that mental states are differentiated by what they do and not by what they are made of. Putnam takes it as read that behaviourism, and its motivations, have done enough to show that the first two options are unsatisfactory. This leads him to focus on challenging behaviourism in order to clear the way for his functionalist alternative.

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The challenge to logical behaviourism starts from Wittgenstein-type points around the impossibility of private languages in the ‘beetle in the box’ variant. There can be no security, on this line, that my pain and Jones’s pain or my pain at different times, are type-identical or even similar. So I cannot learn `pain’ or other mental words by ostension. How then do I know the intension of `pain’, and what is it?

Correlations between pain and `pain-behaviour’ are unreliable and in any case, a correlation is not a definition. Similarly, even if some brain events cause pain behaviour, the brain events are not identical with pain behaviour or pain. There is an analogy between mind words and disease names, in that while diseases normally but not invariably produce a characteristic set of symptoms, the existence of pain may normally but not invariably produce a characteristic set of behaviours.

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What if super-Spartans were possible who could suppress all external expression of pain-behaviour?

We cannot do that, but this shows nothing about other possible worlds. Do these super-Spartans still feel pain? If so, then behaviourism is false, since there is pain which does not ever, let alone normally, issue in behaviour. Therefore pain is not translatable into pain behaviour.

See Also:

What Ontological Conclusions Does Sartre Present In His ‘Pursuit Of Being’ And With What Justification?

Biased Non-Arguments: Nagel Equality And Partiality Chs. 1, 2

Anscombe on Intentionality of Sensation: Summary

Zahavi: Shame And The Exposed Self