The Aristotelian Society

The Aristotelian Society

est. 1880

Symposium I

Reference and Communication

Imogen Dickie | 2020 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | University of Kent

Understanding Singular Terms

Imogen dickie (Toronto/St Andrews)


This paper unfolds as follows. §1 argues for a biconditional connecting the ‘aboutness’ of ordinary beliefs with what I call ‘cognitive focus’. §2 sketches a kindred account of our understanding of one another’s uses of the singular terms we use to express these beliefs: understanding is joint cognitive focus. §§3 – 4 use the phenomenon of ‘felicitous underspecification’ involving demonstratives to argue for the view sketched in §2, and gesture towards some additional applications to puzzles about our understanding and use of singular terms. Though these gestures will be preliminary, I shall try to do enough to provide a backdrop for the following immodest claim: the view introduced in this paper – understanding of singular terms is joint cognitive focus – promises to generate a new and rewarding route across this boggy and uncertain terrain.


Imogen Dickie is Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at St. Andrews. Before that she was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. Her research is centred on issues about reference and representation in language and thought. Her book Fixing Reference came out with OUP at the end of 2015. She is currently working on a sequel which extends the inquiry to questions about other minds, linguistic communication, and our conception of the world as objective.

Zoltan Szabo | 2020 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | University of Kent

The Goal of Conversation

Zoltan Szabo (YALE)


Dickie (2020) presents an argument against the traditional, broadly Gricean view of conversation. She argues that speakers must sometimes be more specific than required for sharing knowledge on a topic of common concern. Her proposed solution is to claim that the goal of conversation is not just sharing knowledge, but also sharing cognitive focus. In response, I argue that her proposal faces both conceptual and empirical difficulties, and that the traditional view can handle the problem of non-specificity by acknowledging that in order to sustain mutual trust, conversational participants should be less then optimally efficient.


Zoltán Gendler Szabó is the John J. Saden Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. As an undergraduate, he studied mathematics and philosophy at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest and he received his PhD in philosophy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to his current appointment, he taught at Cornell University. Szabó’s work focuses on the intersection of philosophy of language and metaphysics. He has published on a wide variety of topics, including the semantics of descriptions, modals, tense, aspect and the expression of mental attitudes, on the role that conversational context plays in interpretation, and on the limits of systematicity in assigning meanings to complex linguistic expressions. His main current project explores the way in which natural languages incline us towards certain metaphysical beliefs over others. 

further info

future joint sessions

2021 joint session:

july 2021

2022 joint session:
St Andrews

july 2022

2023 joint session:

july 2023

supplementary volume

The inaugural address and symposia for the Joint Session are published in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume, which is published digitally and in hardcover every June. The Supplementary Volume is sent to subscribing members of the Society in categories 4 and 5.

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The 2018 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | Cardiff University

past conferences

2019 joint session:

19 - 21 july 2019

2018 joint session:

6 - 8 july 2018

2017 joint session:

14 - 16 july 2017

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