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David Sosa, Chair 2210 Speedway, WAG 316, Stop C3500, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4857

David Sosa

Professor Ph.D., Princeton University

Professor and Chair
David Sosa



He taught at Dartmouth College and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley before coming to Texas. A specialist in the philosophy of mind and language, he has interests ranging widely over issues in ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. His publications include 'Consequences of Consequentialism' (Mind,1993), 'The Import of the Puzzle About Belief' (Philosophical Review, 1996), 'Rigidity in the Scope of Russell's Theory' (Nous, 2001), and (with Bonevac and Dever) 'The Conditional Fallacy' (Philosophical Review, 2006). He served as co-editor (with A.P. Martinich) of A Companion to Analytic Philosophy (Blackwell, 2001), Analytic Philosophy: An Anthology (Blackwell, 2001; 2nd edition 2010), and Philosophy of Language (Oxford, forthcoming 2012), and as associate editor of Philosophy for the 21st Century (Oxford, 2002). He is editor-in-chief of the journal Analytic Philosophy and serves as subject editor, for 20th-Century Philosophy, for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


Epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language

PHL 380 • Does It Matter What It's Like?

43130 • Fall 2014
Meets TH 330pm-630pm WAG 316
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Graduate Standing and consent of graduate advisor or instructor required.

Course Description

This will be the inaugural “Sanders Seminar in Philosophy,” funded by the Marc Sanders Foundation. That funding will enable us to bring in three visitors during the course of the term, to present and discuss their work. On each occasion, in the session preceding the corresponding visit, we will read and study the work of that visitor, along with any texts recommended by them. Seminar participants should know that the sessions led by the visitors will be filmed by Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services, and then edited and eventually posted on the Sanders Foundation website (as well as the Department’s). For Fall 2014, the visitors will be Susanna Siegel (Harvard)—11 September, Declan Smithies (Ohio State)—2 October, and Geoffrey Lee (UC Berkeley)—16 October. While the general topic for the Sanders Seminar is Mind and Normativity, the more specific topic this time will be the normative significance of phenomenology. For the moment, let me just note how general the issue is by gesturing at what I think are a few related issues: does cognition have a phenomenal character—does it matter too (or instead)? When we have a, for example, mathematical intuition, is there any sort of phenomenal character to that? How does the nature of pain matter in ethics? Is there something normatively amiss with a subject who judges it good (or right) to act in a certain way but feels no desire to act in that way? I mention these questions (and there are many others, of course) because I think the general topic is philosophically broad and significant. Nevertheless, perhaps its most paradigmatic form is about how the character of perceptual experience might be relevant to the justificatory effect of such experiences on belief, and that is indeed the issue that will be central in the seminar.

Grading Policy:

Students will be expected to write a significant seminar paper.

Possible Texts (tentative):

Bengson, J., Grube, E., and Korman, D. “A New Framework for Conceptualism” Gupta, A. Empiricism and Experience (selections)McDowell, J. Perception as a Capacity for Knowledge (selections)“Perceptual Experience: Both Relational and Contentful”McPherson, F. “Colour Inversion Problems for Representationalism” Montague, M. “The Access Problem” Pautz, A. “Does Phenomenology Ground Mental Content”Pritchard, D. Epistemological Disjunctivism (selections)Schapiro, T. “The Nature of Inclination” Schellenberg, S. “Experience and Evidence” Shafer, K. “Perception and the Rational Force of Desire” Siewert, C. “Speaking Up for Consciousness”Silins, N. “Seeing through the 'Veil of Perception’” Smithies, D. “The Phenomenal Basis of Epistemic Justification” Speaks, J. “Content and the Explanatory Role of Experience” White, S. “The Transcendental Significance of Phenomenology”Williamson, T. “On Being Justified in One's Head”

PHL 383 • Normativity Of Epistemology

43200 • Fall 2013
Meets W 1230pm-330pm WAG 312
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Graduate Standing and Consent of Graduate Advisor or instructor required.

Course Description

Epistemology is plausibly a normative enterprise. When we consider the nature of justification, especially, but also when we're concerned about the value of knowledge or when we think about the demands of reason, the idea that some epistemic conditions are demanded of us, others prohibited—that some ways of being, epistemically, are better than others—is almost inescapable. The goal of this seminar will be to understand better some of the normative dimensions of epistemic phenomena. What would it be for something to be epistemically good? In what could epistemic excellence consist? One form our pursuit of that issue might take investigates the relevance of pragmatic factors to the status of a judgment. But additional possible topics include closure, contextualist and relativist semantics for knowledge attributions, the epistemic basis of disjunctivism, dogmatism, the ethics of belief, fallibilism, luck, transmission of warrant, and the "truth connection."


Enrolled students will be expected to make an in-class presentation and to write a paper.


[Preliminary and subject to revision]

Williamson, Knowledge and Its Limits

Sellars, Empiricism and the Scientific Image of Man

Fantl and McGrath, Knowledge in an Uncertain World

McDowell, Mind and World

This course satisfies the M&E requirement

PHL 383 • Epistemology Of Language

42727 • Fall 2012
Meets TH 1230pm-330pm WAG 316
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Graduate Standing and Consent of Graduate Advisor or instructor required.


Course Description

A number of philosophical problems are alike in arising from relations between epistemic states and linguistic phenomena. For one example, we appear to acquire knowledge from each other, in conversation, through hearing each others’ utterances. How best to account for that circumstance? For another example, what should we do when we discover that someone we consider an epistemic peer disagrees with us? Should we become somehow less committed to our own belief? Finally, for what might be a third case, how shall we understand slurs (and aspersions, epithets, and pejoratives)? What state of mind is expressed by sentences containing them? The course will take up these problems.


Students will be expected to write a substantial term paper.



Still to be determined. But among them, at least parts of the following will likely figure:


Coady, Testimony

Burge, “Content Preservation”

Lackey, Learning from Words

Christensen, “Epistemology of Disagreement: The Good News”

Kelly, “Peer Disagreement and Higher Order Evidence”

Williamson, “Reference, Inference, and the Semantics of Pejoratives”

Richard, When Truth Gives Out


This course satisfies the M&E requirement

PHL 382 • Polysemanticism

42705 • Spring 2012
Meets W 200pm-500pm WAG 307
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Graduate Standing and Consent of Graduate Advisor or Instructor required.


 What we talk about when we talk about ‘about.’ A presupposition of much philosophy of mind and language since at least Frege has been, what we might call “monosemanticism,” that the phenomenon of aboutness is fundamentally uniform. The proposition is at once the meaning of the well-formed declarative sentence and that to which we’re related in any propositional attitude. Propositions univocally constitute the content, in some important sense, of both thoughts and sentences. And they thereby determine what those thoughts and sentences are about. In virtue of having the contents they do, thoughts and sentences alike are apt to have truth conditions and, accordingly, truth values.  

A frustratingly underdeveloped alternative is what I will call “polysemanticism”: that the phenomenon of intentionality is rather fundamentally multiplex. No kind of thing is at once the meaning of a sentence of a natural language and that to which a subject is related in thought. What it is to be the object of an attitude is different in kind from what it is to be the semantic value of a sentence. That idea, for what it’s worth, will be the focus of the seminar: there is more than one way for some thing to present another again—to represent it. And language and thought exploit two different such ways. I think such a view provides a new perspective on long-standing obscurities in philosophy of mind and language, several of which will be reconstrued. But it is not without its own difficulties.  

One central challenge is to explain the nature of communication: an attractively simple view is that (in its paradigm, at least) communication is a matter of one subject’s transmitting the content of a thought of theirs by encoding it in a bit of a common language. But if there’s a sense in which no bit of language can simply encode a thought, then a different account is wanted. One aim of the seminar will be to investigate the motivations for the simple view, and to contemplate the prospects for a radically contrary alternative, according to which linguistic communication is not dependent on any content of thought.  

Grading Policy:

 Students enrolled for credit will be expected to write a paper.  


 Selections from Burge, Evans, Frege, Kripke, Loar, Putnam, and Russell, among others.


This course satisfies the M&E requirement.

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