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The Context-Sensitivity of Thought

Hamilton Fairley, N. (2020) The Context-Sensitivity of Thought. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00105786


I defend the claim that it is possible for thoughts to be context-sensitive. Assuming that a thought is a sentence of Mentalese (i.e. a well-formed string of mental representations) and content is a function from indices to truth-values, then a thought, T, is context-sensitive IFF at least one of the following three conditions are met: (i) T exhibits character-underdeterminacy, where T is character underdetermined iff a component of T makes an explicit reference to the context to establish content. (ii) T exhibits type-underdeterminacy, where T is type underdetermined iff there are tokens of T that have distinct truth-values. (iii) T is token-underdetermined, where T is token underdetermined iff for some possible states of affairs its truth-value is indeterminate. Additionally, there must be a mechanism by which the content of T can be determined by appeal to the context. Otherwise T is not sensitive to the context. The most significant objection to the possibility of context-sensitive thoughts comes from a regress argument. The concern is that any process of removing context-sensitivity from a thought will token an additional thought. If that further thought is context-sensitive, then another thought will have to be tokened. This process will only terminate when a non-context-sensitive thought is arrived at. Yet this seems to show that context-sensitivity in thought, if possible, can only be a contingent, detachable feature of thoughts. To counter this argument, I will present three versions of context-sensitive thought, mirroring each of (i)-(iii). These views make use of a range of relationships between thoughts and their contents or extensions that are affected by the context, but I will argue they do not require the generation of an additional thought. This provides a range of views on which thoughts can be treated as essentially context-sensitive.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Borg, E. and Hansen, N.
Thesis/Report Department:Department of Philosophy
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Philosophy
ID Code:105786
Date on Title Page:September 2019


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