PHIL 840 001 – Action, Expression, and Meaning

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Instructor: Dorit Bar-On. This course meets Mondays from 3:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. in Caldwell 208.

The idea that there are ‘differences in kind, and not only in degree’ between human beings and nonhuman animals is an idea with a very long history in philosophy (and elsewhere).  Our focus in this seminar will be on arguments for and against what I dub ‘continuity skepticism’: the claim that a. linguistically meaningful communication b. genuinely intentional action and c. rational behavior are not only the exclusively province of human beings, but also cannot be thought to have signifi­cant natural precursors in the biological world.  (That is, the claim that there is a fundamental discontinuity in nature between even the most sophisticated aspects of animal communication, behavior, and cognition, on the one hand, and distinctive features of human mindedness, on the other, so that none of the former could account for the natural emergence of the latter.)  Along the way, we will be considering various proposals regarding dimensions of continuity between nonhuman and human capacities for representation, cognition, communication, agency, and rationality, as well as systematic objections to them.  More specifically, we will be interested in the idea that a better understanding of the domain of expressive behavior, which we humans share with nonhuman animals, is apt to shed light on the possibility of the emergence of minds in the natural world.

Dorit Bar-on’s webpage