Representationalism or Anti-representationalism?

Representationalism or Anti-representationalism?

– Perspectives on Intentionality from Philosophy and Cognitive Science


Notions of intentionality – of linguistic meaning, mental content, aboutness generally– lie at the heart of our conception of ourselves, and of some of our fellow creatures, as perceiving, thinking and acting beings. One central question in much recent philosophy has been whether intentionality, fundamentally, is a matter of representing an independent reality (‘representationalism'), or rather one of enabling adaptive forms of action and interaction (‘anti-representationalism'). In crude metaphors: are thoughts mirrors of reality or tools for coping? Scepticism towards a sharp opposition here is – as ever in philosophy – a third possible line, but this would still require clarifying the relationship between the two, seemingly opposed perspectives.

The main scientific aims of the project are as follows:

  1. The critical exploration of the resources for and challenges facing anti-representationalism in its different guises.
  2. The investigation of interrelations between different representationalist and anti-representationalist conceptions of intentionality, in different domains and approaches (theory of thought, perception, cognitive science etc).

Supported by the Norwegian Research Council ISP-FIDE initiative, the project aims to nurture an intellectual milieu and organizational framework within which individuals and groups in Norway working on intentionality can constructively engage with each other's separate lines of research – lines often drawing on diverse traditions of thought and literatures – and thereby strengthen the overall quality of the work of these groups and individuals.




I samarbeid med Nordic Pragmatism Network. Inviterte foredragsholdere inkluderer Simon Blackburn, Robert Kraut, Cheryl Misak, Steven Levine and Chiara Ambrosia. Se her for mer informasjon.

I samarbeid med New Directions in The Study of the Mind.

Room D-154. Dragvoll Campus, NTNU

Classical cognitive science is standardly seen as explaining intelligent behaviour by reference to the computational manipulation of internal symbols that represent or purport to represent worldly entities and states of affairs. Theoretical linguistics was long seen as prime example of this paradigm; Noam Chomsky, its progenitor, often presents his account of grammatical competence in what would appear to be standard “computational representational” terms. However, it has recently become less clear that he understands those terms in standard ways. He often insists that though computations are “psychologically real,” they are not to be understood as occurring in space/time; and that “representation” is not to be understood relationally, as “representation of” – indeed, that the intentional idiom has no place in serious science.  This workshop will explore a number of ways of dealing with the tensions and interpretive problems that seem to arise here, as well as related issues concerning the impact of minimalism on Chomsky's metatheoretical claims, and the understanding of intentionality and representation more generally within cognitive science.

Confirmed speakers: Georges Rey (University of Maryland), John Collins (University of East Anglia), David Adger (Queen Mary College London), Terje Lohndal (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), Nicholas Allott (Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature, Oslo)

All are welcome! If you would like to attend the lunches, please contact by latest 28th February 2015.

PhD course with Professor Robert Brandom (Pittsburgh), University of Helsinki, week beginning 29th September 2014
Norwegian PhD students (current and prospective) can apply for funding from RAR for to attend this course, contact 

The idea that intentionality is fundamental to our understanding of the mental was first explicitly formulated by Brentano, and has been a central notion within philosophy since. Exactly how fundamental it is, and exactly what intentionality amounts to – ways of thinking about world, linguistic meaning, mental content (of various kinds), acquaintance, and/or some kind of skillful coping with the world – remain however controversial issues. Different answers to these questions are also pursued within different philosophical traditions: phenomenological, transcendental, analytic, pragmatic, scientific naturalistic (cognitive science) and so on. The aim of this conference is to try to cast light on the notion of intentionality in a way that also brings out how the notion features within the explanatory tasks of these different philosophical traditions, and how these relate to one another.

Location: Fefor is a beautifully located hotel in the mountains above Gudbrandsdalen, accessible by train from Oslo and Trondheim, see

Keynote speakers: Amie Thomasson (Miami), Tim Crane (Cambridge), Sacha Golob (King's College London), Katalin Farkas (Central European University)

Organizers: The conference is arranged under the auspices of Representationalism or Anti-representationalism? Perspectives on Intentionality from Philosophy and Cognitive Science. Organizing committee: Jonathan Knowles (NTNU, Trondheim), Thomas Raleigh (NTNU, Trondheim), Tarjei Mandt Larsen (University of Stavanger).

Call for long abstracts: Maximum 1000 words for 30 minute talk plus 15 minute Q&A. Deadline for submission: 28th February 2014 to Thomas Raleigh ( Notification of acceptance will be given by 30th April 2014. Submitted paper holders will get costs for accommodation/meals/social programme covered (not travel). 

Possible topics/questions include:

  • What is the intentionality of the mental? How far does it help to unify or explain the nature of mind?
  • Interrelations: Intentionality and: representational content, consciousness, acquaintance, etc.
  • Intentionality in the pragmatist/neo-pragmatist/anti-representationalist tradition.
  • Naturalizing intentionality/content: is a reductive account possible or needed for cognitive science? Notions of content in cognitive science/neuroscience.
  • Knowing-how (‘tacit knowledge') versus knowing that: is the former a genuine form of knowledge, and if so, what is its philosophical significance?
  • Does conceptual rationality pervade all of a person's skillful coping with the world (McDowell versus Dreyfus)?
  • How does/should first-person, phenomenological enquiry relate to logical and/or naturalistic accounts of intentionality?

Non-paper giving participation: If you wish to attend without giving a paper, contact Jonathan Knowles by latest 15th May 2014.

Norwegian master stipends: Up to six stipends covering accommodation/meals/social programme will be awarded on application. Applicants must be current masters students at Norwegian universities, or similar who have recently completed their masters studies but have not been taken up on a PhD programme. Application by latest 30th April 2014 to Jonathan Knowles ( including: interest area and reasons for wanting to attend (400 words), record of grades, letter of recommendation from supervisor. (Master students may of course also submit papers as above.)

Workshop at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) Trondheim, Norway, 24th-25th April 2014

Keynote speakers: John Campbell (UC Berkeley), Bill Brewer (KCL)

Speakers from project group (provisional): Thomas Raleigh (NTNU), Jonathan Knowles (NTNU), Anders Nes (CSMN Oslo), Solveig Aasen (CSMN Oslo/UCL), Jessica Pepp (CSMN Oslo)

Having fallen out of favour during the latter part of the 20th century, the notion of acquaintance seems recently to be enjoying a revival of fortunes in philosophy. In the philosophy of perception, naïve realists have claimed that we are consciously acquainted with external features in our environments. A number of theorists, both physicalists and non-physicalists, working on the ‘hard problem' of consciousness have appealed to the idea that we are acquainted with the phenomenal properties of experience. Some kind of acquaintance relation is also often adduced as a necessary condition for singular thought. Finally, acquaintance features in some recent epistemological debates about the nature of self-knowledge.

Of course, as ever in philosophy, there is much disagreement over the nature of acquaintance. Is acquaintance a non-representational relation or is it just a special kind of representation? Is acquaintance in itself a form of knowledge, as Russell originally held, or does it enable knowledge? If the latter, does it enable a special kind of knowledge? Is acquaintance a ‘brute' relation between subject and object or can more be said about it? Is appealing to an acquaintance relation acceptable for physicalists? Is any notion of acquaintance bound to be a form of the ‘Myth of the Given'?

This workshop aims to cast some light on some of these issues as well exploring the motivations for and possible arguments against the various acquaintance-based theories.

Organised by Representationalism or Anti-representationalism? Perspectives on Intentionality from Philosophy and Cognitive Science

If you wish to attend the workshop please contact or Norwegian master students can apply for a stipend to support travel/accommodation (deadline 15th March).

Thursday 24th April (DL145)

1015-1100 Thomas Raleigh (NTNU): Introduction to ‘Acquaintance'
1100-1115 Coffee/tea
1115-1245 John Campbell (UC Berkeley): TBA
1245-1400 Lunch
1400-1515 Anders Nes (CSMN, Oslo): ‘Conceptualism and the Explanatory Role    of Experience. Some Reflections on Campbell's case for a Relational over a Representational View'
1515-1530 Coffee/tea/fruit
1530-1645 Jessica Pepp (CSMN, Oslo): ‘Reference as a Form of Acquaintance'

1900 Workshop dinner


Friday 25th April (D106)

0915-1030 Solveig Aasen (CSMN, Oslo/UCL): ‘The Mechanism of Acquaintance'
1030-1045 Coffee/tea
1045-1215 Bill Brewer (King's College London): ‘The Object View of Perception'
1215-1330 Lunch
1330-1445 Jonathan Knowles (NTNU/CSMN, Oslo): ‘Naïve Realism as Existential   Phenomenology'
1445-1500 Coffee/tea/fruit
1500-1615 Carsten Hansen (CSMN/IFIKK, Oslo): TBA


All are welcome to attend the talks!


Download abstracts here



Jonathan Knowles (Professor NTNU, research director)

Anders Nes (Post-doctoral fellow, UiO/CSMN)

Mette Hansen (Doctoral fellow, UiB)

Jussi Haukioja (Professor, NTNU)

Ronny S. Myhre (Doctoral fellow, NTNU)

Ståle Finke (Professor, NTNU)

Tarjei Mandt Larsen (Assoc. Prof., UiS)

Bjørn Ramberg (Professor, UiO/CSMN)

Carsten Hansen (Professor, UiO/CSMN)

Herman Cappelen (Professor, UiO/CSMN)

Hedda Hassel Mørch (Doctoral fellow, UiO)

Steffen Borge (Post-doctoral fellow, NTNU)

Bengt Molander (Professor, NTNU)

Gunnar Karlsen (Assoc. Prof. UiB)

Anita Leirfall (Assoc. Prof., UiB)

Ståle Gundersen (Assoc. Prof., UiS)

Jørgen Dyrstad (Master of Philosophy, UiO)

Full Project Description