profile image for Dr Julia Tanney

Dr Julia Tanney

Reader in Philosophy of Mind and Head of Department


Office: CGA, Room N.03a

Director of Postgraduate Studies

Julia Tanney is an international expert on the philosophy of Gilbert Ryle and the later Wittgenstein and has written numerous articles in philosophy of mind, focussing especially on reason explanation, normativity, rule-following, and self-knowledge.

Dr Tanney was educated at UCLA where she studied with David Pears and Philippa Foot, and at the University of Michigan where she wrote her Ph.D. dissertation under the supervision of Crispin Wright, Allan Gibbard, and David Velleman. She has taught Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations for over 15 years, in the UK as well as in France, where she has held visiting and guest professorships at the Université de Picardie (Amiens) and the Université de Paris-IV (Sorbonne). She is presently working with her students on a project that brings her Wittgenstein course to the virtual environment of Second Life.

back to top

Selected Publications


  • Rules, Reason and Self-Knowledge, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

    Julia Tanney offers a sustained criticism of today’s canon in philosophy of mind, which conceives the workings of the rational mind as the outcome of causal interactions between mental states that have their bases in the brain. With its roots in physicalism andfunctionalism, this widely accepted view provides the philosophical foundation for the cardinal tenet of the cognitive sciences: that cognition is a form of information-processing. Rules, Reason, and Self-Knowledge presents a challenge not only to the cognitivist approach that has dominated philosophy and the special sciences for the last fifty years but, more broadly, to metaphysical-empirical approaches to the study of the mind.

    Responding to a tradition that owes much to the writings of Davidson, early Putnam, and Fodor, Tanney challenges this orthodoxy on its own terms. In untangling its internal inadequacies, starting with the paradoxes of irrationality, she arrives at a view these philosophers were keen to rebut—one with affinities to the work of Ryle and Wittgenstein and all but invisible to those working on the cutting edge of analytic philosophy and mind research today. This is the view that rational explanations are embedded in “thick” descriptions that are themselves sophistications upon ever ascending levels of discourse, or socio-linguistic practices.

    Tanney argues that conceptual cartography rather than metaphysical-scientific explanation is the basic tool for understanding the nature of the mind. Rules, Reason, and Self-Knowledge clears the path for a return to the world-involving, circumstance-dependent, normative practices where the rational mind has its home.

Book Chapters

  • 2013 "Conceptual Cartography and Aesthetics", in Les raisons de l'esthétique, à partir de Wittgenstein, edited by Michel le Du, Sabine Plaud, and Alessandro Arbo (Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag).
  • 2013 "Prolégomènes d'une investigation cartographique des concepts de cause et de raison" in Recherches sur la Philosophie et le Langage, edited by Rémi Clot-Goudard (Paris: PLC Editions).
  • 2013 "Prolegomena to a Cartographical Investigation of Cause and Reason" in G. D'Oro, ed, Reasons and Causes: Causalism and Non-Causalism in the Philosophy of Action (History of Analytic Philosophy Series), (London: Palgrave Macmillan).
  • 2012 “Pain, Polio, and Pride: Some Reflections on 'Becausal' Explanations”, appears as chapter 8 in Tanney, Rules, Reason and Self-Knowledge.
  • In an early influential article Hilary Putnam helped dislodge the (then) prevalent view—and one I wish to bring back into focus—that mental explanation of action is, in a sense ill-understood, “conceptual”. He suggested instead that we understand mental concepts such as pain on analogy with what he took to be natural kind concepts such as Polio or Multiple sclerosis. Mental concepts “fix the reference” of mental states, whose nature it is for the psychologist (or neurologist) to discover. In this paper, I argue that Poliomyelitis was, like diseases such as AIDS and CFS, a syndrome; as such they form a subset of non-(Humean) causal, context-placing explanation. This does not, of course, prevent us from identifying one or more viral origins which in turn may enable us to uncover a causal story for the diseases’ effects. But the explanatory power of the syndrome is different from that of the underlying causal story. Diseases, understood as syndromes, have something therefore in common with explanations invoking character-traits such as pride. I re-consider what Gilbert Ryle meant by identifying mental concepts as dispositional, and argue that, in spite of the recent fashion to construe dispositions “realistically”, Ryle got it right when he pointed out that mental-conduct terms’ explanatory power is different from that of causes.

  • 2011/13 “Ryle on Thinking”, Ryle on Mind, ed by David Dolby (Philosophers in Depth series; general editors: Constantine Sandis and Stephen Boulter). (London: Palgrave Macmillan).
  • 2012 “Amorphie conceptuelle, raisons, et causes” (with reply by McDowell) in Alsaleh and le Goff, eds., Réflections sur McDowell’s  Mind and World, (Paris: PUF). Expanded, English version appears as chapter 16 in Rules, Reason, and Self-Knowledge.
  • I explore the contrast between what is discovered by experiment vs. “the rules we lay down” in order to cast light on the dispute between causalists and noncausalists in the domain of reason-explanation. I introduce a view about the way language functions, shared by Wittgenstein and Ryle, and illustrate how it can be applied to the concepts of understanding and of reasons for acting. Inflections of meaning or elasticities of significance give reason concepts the power to express an indefinite variety of ideas; it is only when they are studied in the particular circumstances of their use, expressed in sentences performing their particular jobs, that we can understand their logical force. Failing to allow for the complexity of mental discourse, we are tempted to suppose it functions to pick out or name an extraordinarily complex object with extraordinarily complex properties: mental mechanism physically realized in the brain. Wittgenstein identified this temptation in his Cambridge lectures in the 1930s, and Ryle presented a systematic critique of it in 1949. I argue with them that the tendency to mechanize the mind should be resisted.

    Article Link

  • 2010 ‘Conceptual Analysis, Theory Construction, and Philosophical Elucidation in the Philosophy of Mind’, appears as chapter 11 in Tanney, Rules, Reason, and Self-Knowledge.
  • This paper explores the relation between ‘ordinary’ mental oncepts and the theoretical posits of contemporary, representationalist and cognitivist approaches to the mind. After tracing a well-known path that begins with mental expressions and ends with the postulation of mental representations, on two different understandings of the term, the paper considers the two corresponding rationales for constructing (the semantics for) a theory of mental content. Neither project, it is argued, can proceed in such a way that is immune from reminders about how mental expressions are ordinarily employed. A sub-theme that emerges is that the rejection of classical (definitional) analysis throws into question the fundamental premise of cognitive science: that intelligence is a form of information-processing.

  • 2013 “Ryle’s Conceptual Cartography” The Historical Turn in Analytic Philosophy,  ed by Erich Reck (History of Analytic Philosophy series), (London: Palgrave Macmillan).
  • 2009 "Ryle’s Regress and the Philosophy of Cognitive Science" in J.L. Austin et La Philosophie du Langage Ordinaire, edited by Sandra Laugier and Christophe Al-Saleh (Hildesheim: Olms), 447-467.
  • Ryle’s regress objection to the ‘Intellectualist Legend’ – that intelligent activity requires prior theoretical operations – was recognized by Fodor to present a powerful conceptual obstacle to the premise that underlies cognitivist approaches in the sciences. Fodor attempts to thwart Ryle’s argument in The Language of Thought by accusing him of confusing causal and conceptual explanations and claiming that, by analogy with computers, we can see how the appeal to explicit rules is halted at the first level, since second-order rules are reducible to built-in causal processes. This paper maintains that Fodor’s arguments against Ryle fail. First, Fodor’s appeal to the ‘empirical necessity’ of theoretical operations misfires because he is the one who has misunderstood the difference between causal and conceptual questions. Second, the fact that second-order rules are reducible to causal processes shows, not that the regress is halted, but that we cannot consider intelligent activity by analogy with computers. This paper ends by examining the philosophical motivation for introducing rules into an account of intelligent activity in the first place.

  • 2009 “Ryle on Action”, Oxford Companion to the Philosophy of Action, ed. by Tim O’Connor and Constantine Sandis,(Oxford, Blackwell).
  • 2009 Preface, Ryle’s Collected Papers, Vol. 2., London, Routledge.
  • 2009 Preface, Ryle’s Collected Papers, Vol 1., London, Routledge.
  • 2009 “Rethinking Ryle: A Critical Discussion of The Concept of Mind (60th anniversaryedition), London, Routledge; ix-lvii.
  • 2009 "Reasons as Non-Causal, Context-Placing Explanations" in New Essays on the Explanation of Action, edited by Constantine Sandis, (Palgrave Macmillan), 94-111.
  • Philosophers influenced by Wittgenstein rejected the idea that the explanatory power of our ordinary interpretive practices is to be found in law-governed, causal relations between items to which our everyday mental terms allegedly refer. Wittgenstein and those he inspired pointed to differences between the explanations provided by the ordinary employment of mental expressions and the style of causal explanation characteristic of the hard sciences. I believe, however, that the particular non-causalism espoused by the Wittgensteinians is today ill- understood. The position does not, for example, find its place on a map that charts the territory disputed by mental realists and their irrealist opponents. In this paper, I take a few steps toward reintroducing this ill-understood position by sketching my own understanding of it and explaining why it fits so uncomfortably within the contemporary metaphysical landscape.

    Article Link

  • 2005 "Une Cartographie des Concepts Mentaux", Critical Introduction to Gilbert Ryle's La Notion d'Esprit (The Concept of Mind), Payot, Paris; pp. 7-70 (ISBN: 2-228-90025-7).

Journal Articles

  • 2008 "The Colour Flows Back: Intention and Interpretation in Literature and in Everyday Action”, Journal of European Studies, vol. 38, no. 3 (September).[ISSN: 0047-2441 (Print) 1740-2379]
  • The notion of the author’s intention is logically tied to the interpretation we give to her work as the notion of the agent’s intention is logically tied to the interpretation we give to her action. When we find a discrepancy between what the author or agent says and the meaning we find in her work or the sense we make of what she does, this does not show that the intention is irrelevant in determining this meaning or sense. As Frank Cioffi has argued, we are rather favouring one criterion of intention over another. Taking a close look at the early criticism surrounding The Turn of the Screw I draw attention to this phenomenon—much discussed by Wittgenstein—of favouring one criterion of intention over another. Because Wittgenstein’s views, though mentioned frequently, are still ill-understood, I go on to tease out the philosophical assumptions that lurk in the ackground of disputes about the relevance of intention for interpretation.

    Article Link

  • 2008 “Real Rules”, Synthese [ISSN: 0039-7857 (Print) 1573-0964 (Online)]. DOI10.1007/s11229-008-9326-6 (May).
  • Crispin Wright has for many years expressed frustration at Wittgenstein’s ‘quietism’ —his refusal to offer substantive answers to the metaphysical and epistemological problems that are raised, Wright alleges, by Wittgenstein’s own reflections on rules. In a recent paper Wright suggests this quietism can be explained by Wittgenstein’s rejection of a picture that seems to indicate Platonism and communitarianism as the only available solutions to these ostensible metaphysical and epistemological problems. I agree with Wright that Wittgenstein would reject the initial assumptions that pit the realist against the communitarian, but I tell my own story on behalf of Wittgenstein about what is wrong with the altogether misconceived picture that generates the dilemma.

    Article Link

  • 2005 "Reason-Explanation and the Contents of Mind", Ratio, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, (September); pp. 338-351 (ISSN: 0034-0006).
  • This paper takes a close look at the kinds of considerations we use to reach agreement in our ordinary (non-philosophical and non-theoretical) judgements about a person’s reasons for acting and the following theses are defended. First, considering the circumstances in which the action occurs is often enough to remove our puzzlement as to why someone acts as she does. Second, in those situations when we do need to enquire about the agent’s state of mind, this does not, in the normal case, lead us to look for hidden, inner events that are candidates for the causes of her action. Finally, though there are cases in which it makes sense to speak about mental causes – introspectively available or not – there is no reason to count them as paradigmatic or as ones that set the model for how reason-explanation in general should be understood. On the contrary: there are good reasons to see these cases as special and as dependent on the other ones. This suggests a prima facie problem for most philosophical accounts of what it is to act for reasons and for most philosophical accounts of the nature of mental states.

    Article Link

  • 2004 "On the Conceptual, Psychological, and Moral Status of Zombies, Swamp-Beings, and Other 'Behaviourally Indistinguishable' Creatures" Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. LXIX, No.1, July 2004; pp. 173-186 (ISSN: 0031-8205)
  • This paper argues that it would be unprincipled to withhold mental predicates from our behavioural duplicates however unlike us they are on the ‘inside’. My arguments rely neither on an implicit commitment to logical behaviourism nor to a verificationist theory of meaning. Nor do they depend upon prior metaphysical commitments or to philosophical ‘intuitions’. Rather, in assembling reminders about how the application of the our consciousness and propositional attitude concepts are ordinarily defended, I argue on explanatory and moral grounds that they cannot be legitimately withheld from creatures who behave, and would continue to behave, like us in all possible circumstances. I urge that we should therefore reject the invitation to revise the application of these concepts in the ways that would be required by recent proposals in the philosophy of mind.

    Article Link

  • 2002 "Self-knowledge, Normativity, and Construction", Logic, Thought and Language, (Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement: 51), Cambridge University Press; pp.37-55 (ISBN: 0 521 52966 2; ISSN: 1358-2461).
  • Cartesian views of the mind, with their commitment to the essential privacy of our thoughts and beliefs, fail to accommodate the standards to which we accountable when we express, avow, or self-ascribe mental states. Functionalist theories of mind, with their emphasis on the causal-explanatory role of psychological states, leave out the ‘constructivist’ element of ascription: that feature of the agent’s self-conception or ‘practical identity’ that plays what I take to be a partly constitutive role in determining what she believes, think, means, and values. I develop the thought that the ‘compossibility of objectivity, discovery, and invention’ (which David Wiggins discerns in moral discourse following Wittgenstein’s study of mathematics) is also part of our ordinary (non-theoretical and non-scientific) understanding of the mind. Cartesian views of the mind allow for the descriptive element; constitutivist views allow for the inventive element. The correct view, I claim, would have to make room for objectivity, discovery, and invention.

  • 2000 "Playing the Rule-Following Game", Philosophy, vol. 75, no 292, pp. 203-224.
  • This paper argues that there is something deeply wrong with the attempt to give rule-following explanations of broadly rational activities. It thus supports the view that rational norms are part of the ‘bedrock’ and it challenges the widespread strategy of attempting to explain an individual's rational or linguistic abilities by attributing to her knowledge of a theory of some kind. The theorist who would attempt to attribute knowledge of norms to an individual in order to explain her ability to act rationally is presented with a dilemma: either she is committed to a (vicious) explanatory regress or she destroys the normative nature of these rational practices or activities, thus making it pointless to attribute knowledge of the norms to an individual who participates in them. The appeal to tacit or implicit knowledge, I argue, does not help avoid the basic dilemma.

  • 1999 "Normativity and Thought", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume LXXIII; pp. 45-61.
  • This paper attempts to describe why it is not possible to account for normative phenomena in non-normative terms. It argues that Papineau’s attempt to locate norms of judgement ‘outside’ content, grounded in an individual’s desires or reasons, mislocates the normativity that is thought to resist appropriation within a ‘world that conceives nature as the realm of law’. It agrees, however, that a theory of content that locates norms ‘inside’ content will not be forthcoming—at least if this is to require fashioning the norms that in some sense govern judgment or thought into individually necessary conditions for contentful states

  • 1996 "A Constructivist Picture of Self-Knowledge", Philosophy, vol. 71, no. 277; pp. 405-422.
  • A merit of the Cartesian view of the mental the fact that it allows us to accommodate the authority granted to self-ascriptions, as well as their apparent immediacy: the fact that they are typically ascribed without appeal to evidence and without the need for justification. For the Cartesian view suggests that our thoughts are presented to us directly, completely, and without distortion upon mere internal inspection. Crispin Wright has suggested that Wittgenstein’s rule-following passages are specifically concerned to challenge the idea that our ability to avow our thoughts is epistemically grounded. Wright sees in Wittgenstein an argument for a non-descriptive view about our relation to our own mental states, which would save the immediacy of self-ascription as well as the practice of granting authority. I argue that it is a merit of Wright’s view to allow for an element of creativity in self-ascription, but not at the cost of jettisoning the standards to which we are held accountable when we self-ascribe and that a plausible account of our ascriptive practices must accommodate both these features.

  • 1998 "How to Resist Mental Representations", (A Critical Notice of Tim Crane's The Mechanical Mind with reply by Crane), in International Journal of Philosophical Studies, vol. 6, no. 2; pp 264-278
  • This article examines Tim Crane’s introduction to the philosophy of cognitive science, The Mechanical Mind, which elucidates and defends the arguments for the computational theory of mind. I trace out the arguments that have led philosophers to posit mental representations, as well as their reasons for embracing the view that causally efficacious, content-bearing mental states are the referents of our ordinary propositional attitude ascriptions. In attempting to resist the central claims of his book, I show how the ‘problem of error’ and the ‘normativity of the mental’ are part of the same package, and that to ‘mechanize’ explanation, as the causalists and cognitivists wish to do, is to obliterate this important explanatory framework that is essential to reason explanation and our commonsense psychological practices.

  • 1998 "Investigating Cultures: A Critique of Cognitive Anthropology", Journal of the Royal Institute for Anthropological Studies, vol. 4, no. 4; pp 669-688.
  • This article considers Dan Sperber’s claim that a more scientific, ‘natural’, approach to anthropology might be pursued by abstracting from interpretive questions as much as possible, and replacing them with questions amenable to a cognitive psychological investigation. I attempt to show that Sperber’s main argument rests on controversial assumptions about the mental concepts employed within our commonsense psychological practices and that any theoretical psychology that draws on these concepts will have to defend its suggestions about how they should be revised in the light of the work these ordinary concepts do. Sperber is right to point out that there must be constraints on what should count as appropriate interpretations of cultural phenomena. I argue, however, that in hoping to assimilate anthropological investigations to scientific ones, Sperber misconstrues the sense in which anthropological claims shed light on cultural phenomena.

  • 1995 "Why Reasons May Not Be Causes", Mind & Language, vol. 10, nos. 1/2; pp 103-126.
  • This article considers Davidson’s (1963) arguments for construing reasons as causes and attempts to show that he has failed to provide positive reasons for introducing causation into his analysis of reason explanation. I consider various ways of spelling out his intuition that something is missing from explanation if we look at the ‘justificatory’ relation alone between the contents of beliefs, desires, and action descriptions and argue that to the extent that there is anything missing, this should not be provided by construing reasons as causes. What is ostensibly missing, and what I think Davidson is after, is some kind of determinate relation between explanans and explanandum. I argue that this is too strong a requirement to place on reason explanation and that it is Davidson’s introduction of causation that leaves him exposed to the threat of epiphenomenalism.

    Article Link

  • 1995 "De-Individualizing Norms of Rationality", Philosophical Studies, vol. 79, issue 3; pp 237-258.
  • The norms of rationality in some sense govern thought and action. But is the sense in which they do so captured by construing them as psychologically internalized rules, or as causal determinants of behaviour, as Davidson suggests? I show that it is not necessary to ‘individualize’ these principles in order to characterize an agent’s actions as ‘internally irrational’. An individual’s ‘cognitive grasp’ of the norms would not explain her dispositions to act in accordance with what the norm prescribes, either directly, or via her second-order explicational abilities. I conclude that the norms of rationality are presupposed by, and in that sense ground or make possible, the practice of interpretation. It is thus a category mistake to attempt to explain features of the practice by individualizing them.

    Article Link

Encyclopedia Entries

  • 2012 “Causation vs Reasons in Action Explanation”, Encyclopaedia of the Philosophy and the Social Sciences, edited by Byron Kaldis (London: Sage).
  • 2009 “Gilbert Ryle” Encyclopedia Entry for Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (19,000 words). Revised and updated.
  • 2007 “Gilbert Ryle” Encyclopedia Entry for Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
back to top

Ruth Hibbert

Degree: PhD
Areas of Interest: Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Science (especially Cognitive Science and Psychology).

I graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2007 with a BA in Natural Sciences, specialising in the History and Philosophy of Science (HPS). I stayed on for a further year, graduating with an MPhil in HPS in 2008. During my time at Cambridge, I developed interests in the philosophy of mind, epistemology and metaphysics of the sciences, and the sociology of scientific knowledge. I wrote my dissertation on narrative theories of the self.

After two years away from academia working in educational publishing, I returned to Philosophy, taking an MA at King’s College London. Whilst there, I continued to pursue my interest in the philosophy of mind, as well as studying logic and metaphysics, and the philosophy of language. My dissertation developed an account of the concept of knowledge, attempting to integrate my account with theories of concepts from psychology as well as philosophical theories of knowledge.

I am now in the first year of a PhD supervised by Julia and by David Corfield. I am working in the philosophy of cognitive science, trying to shed some light on the extended cognition debate. In particular I am researching the nature of memory, and different conceptions of it in use across the cognitive sciences, to see whether it is a legitimate candidate for an extended cognitive state. I am looking to integrate or navigate between the differing approaches to philosophy I have encountered, from traditional analytic philosophy to the social constructivist approaches in certain branches of the philosophy of science. The open-minded environment provided by Julia, David and the philosophy department at Kent is proving the ideal setting for exploring these issues.

back to top

Philosophy, School of European Culture and Languages, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NF

Enquiries: +44 (0)1227 827159 or email Philosophy

Last Updated: 07/04/2014