Upcoming Presentations 

“TBD” Visual Authority: Its Philosophy, Anthropology, Archaeology, Institut für Philosophie, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, September 27-28, 2018.

“Artistic Capacities, Mindreading, & the Archaeological Record”, Gregory Currie Workshop, University of Miami, February 1-2, 2018.

“On Prum’s Theory of Biotic Aesthetics”, American Philosophical Association Eastern Division Meeting, Savannah, Georgia, January 4, 2018.

In recent work, ornithologist Richard Prum presents a theory of Biotic Aesthetics that aims to redress what he sees as the inordinate focus of theories of aesthetics on human experience. In this discussion Prum presents an interesting distinction between different types of causes of beauty in nature, and details much philosophically-relevant literature on animal intentions. Despite these benefits of looking at aesthetics through an ornithologist’s eyes, I argue that overall Prum fails to meet his ultimate aim: to present a tenable theory of art. In this discussion I highlight the problems with Prum’s foray into philosophical aesthetics and conclude by proposing why art-making might be a solely human endeavor.

“Philosophical Perspectives on Communication by Prehistoric Bodily Adornment”, Digging Deeper: Philosophical and Archaeological Perspectives, Florida International University, Miami, Florida, December 1 – December 3, 2017.

Discussions of prehistoric bodily adornment as a system of communication explicitly or implicitly rely on philosophical machinery about how artifacts can be bearers of meaning. Semiotic theory in the Saussurean or Peircean traditions are often explicitly appealed to by archaeologists (Weissner 1983; Conkey 2001; Hovers et. al. 2003; Trigger 2006; Preucel 2010; Bauer 2013; Crossland 2014). In some discussions of bodily adornment, a theory of communication is not explicitly detailed but is implied by 1) the sort of evidence that is taken to demonstrate symbolic behavior, and 2) the sorts of messages that are proposed as the communicated content (Knight, Power, & Watts 1995; Kuhn et. al. 2001; D’Errico et. al. 2009; Stiner 2014; Hiscock 2014). In this presentation, I will detail the philosophical commitments made by relatively recent discussions of prehistoric bodily adornment as a system of symbolic communication. I will attempt to tease out for analysis the theoretical commitments and assumptions made by these theorists in the discussion of their empirical findings. I will then return to philosophical frameworks. First, I will discuss the important distinction between signs that are arbitrary and signs that bear a necessary connection to what they symbolize. I will argue that archaeological discussions of symbolic bodily adornment have not always been mindful of this important distinction. I will conclude by presenting a philosophical framework (Johnson 2017) that divides objects of interpretation into five categories of intention and that I believe can be helpfully applied to communication by prehistoric bodily adornment.

“On Prum’s Theory of Biotic Aesthetics”, Florida Philosophical Association Meeting, College of Central Florida, Ocala, Florida, November 3-4, 2017.

In recent work, ornithologist Richard Prum presents a theory of Biotic Aesthetics that aims to redress what he sees as the inordinate focus of theories of aesthetics on human experience. In this discussion Prum presents an interesting distinction between different types of causes of beauty in nature, and details much philosophically-relevant literature on animal intentions. Despite these benefits of looking at aesthetics through an ornithologist’s eyes, I argue that overall Prum fails to meet his ultimate aim: to present a tenable theory of art. In this discussion I highlight the problems with Prum’s foray into philosophical aesthetics and conclude by proposing why art-making might be a solely human endeavor.

“Fashion & Philosophy”, Philosophy-in-Manhattan, New York, Sunday, October 22, 2017.

Historically philosophers have paid little attention to fashion. At the same time, how we groom and adorn ourselves is clearly an important part of modern life.  Fashion also has much in common with subjects philosophers have developed elaborate theories about, such as art and language. In this presentation we will begin by examining how we might define fashion and will consider whether or not it is the sort of thing philosophers ought to be concerned with. Then, we will turn to look at philosophical work by Roland Barthes on the connections between fashion and language. Finally, we will examine parallels between fashion and language by considering the general importance of intentions in the creation and attribution of meaning.

“Systems of Dress: A Gricean Proposal for Communication by Bodily Adornment”, Fashion: Now & Then Conference, LIM College, New York, Friday, October 20, 2017, 4:30-5:45.

One of the purposes our bodies serve is as a surface on which we place adornments that convey certain meanings to those around us, such as, ‘I am a police officer’, ‘I am the queen’, and ‘I protest the war in Vietnam’. In this talk I will argue that communication through adornment of the body is best understood as a branch of philosophy of language, and, in particular, within a Gricean theory of meaning. This argument begins with discussion of a previous study of meaning in bodily adornment undertaken by Roland Barthes working in the Saussurean, semiotic tradition. I argue that Barthes’ attempt fails for the same reason many theories of linguistic meaning failed: they treat meaning as the result of a system of codes – an assumption that leads to theories that can never fully explain communication. I take Barthes’ attempt as an indication that dress should be treated instead as a fundamentally Gricean, intentional process, with meaning first delineated into Grice’s categories of natural, and non-natural meaning, as well as a new category I will introduce: ‘imitation of natural meaning’. I present specific cases to show how these categories apply to meaning in dress. In the course of this argument I will defend the Gricean picture that ties meaning to intentions from a number of objections.

 

 

Past Presentations 

“Seeking Speaker Meaning in the Archaeological Record”, Science Studies SeminarCUNY Graduate Center, New York, March 3, 2017.

“Incompleteness & Interpretation”, Great Incompletes: Italy’s Unfinished Endeavors, Columbia University, February 4, 2017.

“Reference Through Instruments”, Science Studies Seminar, CUNY Graduate Center, New York, September 30, 2016.

“Consciousness & Making Manifest”, 7th Intercultural Pragmatics and Communication Conference, University of Split, Croatia, June 10-12, 2016. *Received Best PhD Student Paper Award*

“Systems of Dress: A Gricean Proposal for Communication by Bodily Adornment”, Cognitive Science Seminar, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, February 26, 2016.

“Cooperation with Multiple Audiences”, School of Philosophy Thursday Seminar Series, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, December 10, 2015.

“Systems of Dress: A Gricean Proposal for Communication by Bodily Adornment”, Philosophy Research Seminar, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, November 27, 2015.

“Meaning Through Things”, Symbols and Communicative Behaviour in Pleistocene Hominins Workshop, University of Sydney, Australia, November 21-22, 2015.

“Systems of Dress: A Gricean Proposal for Communication by Bodily Adornment”, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry Seminar, University of Sydney, Australia, November 19, 2015.

“Metaphysics of Meaning”, Logic & Metaphysics Workshop, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, October 26, 2015.

“Cooperation with Multiple Audiences”, Philosophy of Language and Linguistics, Interuniversity Center, Dubrovnik, Croatia, September 7-11, 2015.

“Reference Through Instruments”, Bucharest Colloquium in Analytic Philosophy: Meaning and Reference, University of Bucharest, Romania, June 19-21, 2015.

“Women in Analytic Philosophy”, SWIP-Analytic Invited Panel, presented with Kate Pendoley, Hypatia and the APA Committee on the Status of Women Conference: Exploring Collaborative Contestations and Diversifying Philosophy, Villanova University, PA, May 28–30, 2015.

“Reference Through Instruments”, Envisioning Science Conference, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, February 27, 2015

“Why We Implicate: Revising Pinker’s Game-Theoretic Proposal”, CUNY Pragmatics Workshop: Relevance, Games, and Communication, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, October 14-15, 2014

“Reference Through Instruments”, The British Society of Aesthetics Annual Conference, St Anne’s College, Oxford, UK, September 19-21, 2014

“Maxim of Politeness, Please”, 6th Intercultural Pragmatics and Communication Conference, University of Malta, May 30 – June 1, 2014

“Tree Trimming”, Saul Kripke Center Brown Bag Lunch Lecture, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, December 9, 2013

Comments on “Incompatibilist About What”, Experimental Philosophy: Possibilities and Limits, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, April 5, 2013

“The Inner ‘I’”, Minding the Body Conference, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, March 1, 2013

Presenting “Cooperation with Multiple Audiences”, at the Interuniversity Center, Dubrovnik, Croatia, September 2015. Photo by Dunja Jutronić.

mjohnson@gradcenter.cuny.edu

Marilynn Johnson
Department of Philosophy
Graduate Center, CUNY
365 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Philosophy Department Website

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