profile image for Dr Julia Tanney

Dr Julia Tanney

Reader in Philosophy of Mind and Head of Department


Office: CGA, Room N.03a


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


Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository

    Tanney, Julia (2008) Real Rules. Synthese. ISSN 0039-7857(Print)1573-0964(Online).


    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.

    Tanney, Julia (2008) The Colour Flows Back: Intention and Interpretation in Literature and in Everyday Action. Journal of European Studies, 38 (3). pp. 229-252. ISSN 0047-2441.


    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 background of disputes about the relevance of intention for interpretation.

    Tanney, Julia (2005) Reason-Explanation and the Contents of Mind. Ratio, 18 (3). 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, non-theoretical) judgements about a person’s reasons for acting and the following theses are defended. First, considering the circumstances surrounding the action is often enough to remove our puzzlement; second, in those situation when we do enquire into the agent’s state of mind this does not normally lead to investigation of hidden, inner events that are candidate causes of action. Finally, although it sometimes makes sense to advert to mental causes, there are good reasons to see the situations in which we do so as parasitic on the others. 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. Ratio is a very respectable UK philosophical journal with blind refereeing.

    Tanney, Julia (2004) On the Conceptual, Psychological, and Moral Status of Zombies, Swamp-Beings, and other 'Behaviourally Indistinguishable' Creatures. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LXIX (1). pp. 173-186. ISSN 0031-8205.


    In this paper I argue that it would be unprincipled to withhold mental predicates from our behavioural duplicates however unlike us they are “on the inside”. My arguments are unusual insofar as they rely neither on an implicit commitment to logical behaviourism in any of its various forms 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 our consciousness and prepositional attitude concepts are ordinarily defended, I argue on explanatory and moral grounds that they cannot be legitimately withheld from creatures who behave, and who would continue to behave, like us. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research is a first-class, American philosophical journal with blind refereeing.

    Tanney, Julia (2002) Self-knowledge, Normativity, and Construction. Logic, Thought and Language, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, 51. pp. 37-55. ISSN 1358-2461.


    This article develops the idea that the ‘compossibility of objectivity, discovery, and invention’ is part of our ordinary (non-theoretical, non-scientific) understanding of the mental. Contemporary theories in the philosophy of mind, which are broadly speaking “realist” fail to make sense of this compossibility: they fail, in particular, to make sense of the inventive aspects of self-ascription. The invited article is in a small collection published by the Royal Institute of Philosophy as a supplement to the journal Philosophy. This particular volume is remarkable as it includes articles from a number of eminent philosophers, including R.M. Sainsbury, David Wiggins, Gregory McCulloch, Crispin Wright, Christopher Peacocke, Timothy Williams, and Charles Travis.

    Tanney, Julia (2000) Playing the Rule-Following Game. Philosophy, 75 (292). pp. 203-224. ISSN 0031-8191.


    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 these practices. The appeal to tacit or implicit knowledge does not help in avoiding the basic dilemma.

    Tanney, Julia (1999) Normativity and Thought. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume, 73 (1). 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.

    Tanney, Julia (1998) Investigating Cultures: A Critique of Cognitive Anthropology. Journal of the Royal Institute for Anthropological Studies, 4 (4). pp. 669-688. ISSN 1359-0987.


    This paper considers Dan Sperber’s arguments 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. It attempts to show that Sperber’s main argument rests on controversial assumptions about the nature of the mental states that are ascribed within our commonsense psychological practices and that any theoretical psychology that accepts these assumptions will be revisionist concerning mental concepts. Sperber is right to point out that there must be constraints on what should count as appropriate interpretations of cultural phenomena. It is argued however, that in hoping to assimilate anthropological investigations to scientific ones, Sperber miscontrues the nature of anthropological claims.

    Tanney, Julia (1997) Causal cognition - A multidisciplinary debate - Sperber,D, Premack,D, Premack,AJ. International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 5 (1). pp. 135-137. ISSN 0967-2559.

    Tanney, Julia (1996) A Constructivist Picture of Self-Knowledge. Philosophy, 71 (277). pp. 405-422. ISSN 0031-8191.


    How are we to account for the authority granted to first-person reports of mental states? What accounts for the immediacy of these self-ascriptions; the fact that they can be ascribed without appeal to evidence and without the need for justification? A traditional, Cartesian conception of the mind, which says that our thoughts are presented to us directly, completely, and without distortion upon mere internal inspection, would account for these facts, but there is good reason to doubt the cogency of the Cartesian view. Wittgenstein, in his later writings, offered some of the most potent considerations against the traditional view, and contemporary philosophy of mind is practically unanimous in rejecting some of the metaphysical aspects of Cartesianism. But anyone who repudi¬ates Cartesianism shoulders the burden of finding another way to accommodate its apparent epistemological strengths. Crispin Wright has suggested that Wittgenstein's rule-following passages are specifically concerned to question 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, if plausible, would save the phenomenological immediacy of self-ascription, and the practice of granting authority. I'd like to consider the view that Wright recommends. I'll 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're held account¬able when we self-ascribe, and that a plausible account of our ascriptive practices must accommodate both of these features. The fact that we often self-ascribe directly and without appeal to evidence is recoverable on a view that takes thought content to be self-ascribable as part of an imaginative or creative skill whose standards can be extracted from looking at what we do when the attribution requires reflection or justification.

    Tanney, Julia (1995) Why Reasons May Not be Causes. Mind and Language, 10 (1/2). pp. 103-126. ISSN 1468-0017.


    This paper 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 rationalizing explanation. I consider various ways of spelling out his intuition that something is missing from explanation if we consider only the justificatory relation between reasons and action, and I argue that to the extent that there is anything missing, it 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 rationalizing explanation.

    Tanney, Julia (1995) De-Individualizing Norms of Rationality. Philosophical Studies, 79 (3). pp. 237-258. ISSN 0031-8116.


    It seems to be a platitude that what makes behaviour irrational is its failure to accord with some particular norm of rationality and it seems right to say that intentional action by and large conforms to these norms. These considerations might encourage one to attempt to explain an individual’s ability to act rationally, and account for some of her lapses, by attributing to her “knowledge” — either explicit or tacit — of what the norms require. The norms of rationality in some sense govern thought and action. But is the sense in which they do this captured by construing them as psychologically internalized rules, or as causal determinants of behaviour? The need to attribute some particular principle of rationality to an individual is defended by Davidson explicitly in his characterization of akrasia.1 I should like to explore his attempt to “individualize” the principle, or render it into a norm which is cognized by the individual whose actions are governed by it. This will require taking some space to explicate Davidson’s causal account of intentional action, which, for the sake of making the arguments clear, I shall just accept. I shall show that it is not necessary to individualize a principle of rationality in order to characterize an individual’s actions as internally irrational. In the second half of the paper I shall develop this argument by considering in detail what explanatory role an individual’s cognitive grasp of such norms might play. I shall argue that there is no construal of “cognitive grasp” such that attributing cognitivist grasp of a norm to an individual would explain her dispositions to act in accordance with what the norm prescribes, either directly, or via her second-order explicational abilities. I argue in the end that cognizing a norm of rationality could only be considered constitutive of an individual’s ability to obey it on a very artificial and stipulative sense of “obey”. I conclude that it is a mistake to construe the principles of rationality as norms or rules which may or may not be obeyed or followed.

Book Sections

    Tanney, Julia (2013) Prolegomena to a Cartographical Investigation of Cause and Reason. In: d'Oro, Giuseppina Reasons and Causes: Causalism and Non-Causalism in the Philosophy of Action. Palgrave Macmillan. (in press)

    Tanney, Julia (2013) Ryle’s Conceptual Cartography. In: Reck, Erich H The Historical Turn in Analytic Philosophy. History of Analytic Philosophy. Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire, pp. 94-112. ISBN 9780230201538.

    Tanney, Julia (2012) [Gilbert] Ryle. In: O'Connor, Tim and Sandis, Constantine Companion to the Philosophy of Action. Blackwell, pp. 562-569. ISBN 9781405187350.

    Tanney, Julia (2012) Conceptual Cartography and Aesthetics. In: Le Du, Michel and Plaud, Sabine and Arbo, Alessandro Les raisons de l'esthétique, à partir de Wittgenstein. Aporia (6). Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt, Germany, pp. 97-116. ISBN 978-3-86838-167-2.

    Tanney, Julia (2009) Ryle’s Regress and Cognitive Science. In: Ambroise, Bruno and Laugier, Sandra La Philosophie d'Oxford au 20ème Siècle: Approches du Sens Commun. Hildesheim: Olms, France.


    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.

    Tanney, Julia (2009) Foreword. In: Ryle, Gilbert Critical Essays. Collected Papers, 1. Routledge, London. ISBN 9780415485487.

    Tanney, Julia (2009) Foreword. In: Ryle, Gilbert Collected Essays 1929 - 1968. Collected Papers, 2. Routledge, London. ISBN 9780415485494.

    Tanney, Julia (2008) Reasons as Non-Causal, Context-Placing Explanations. In: Sandis, Constantine New Essays on the Explanation of Action. Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 9780230522022.


    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.

    Tanney, Julia (2005) “Une Cartographie des Concepts Mentaux”, Critical Introduction. In: UNSPECIFIED La Notion d'Esprit (The Concept of Mind).. Payot, France, pp. 7-70. ISBN 2-228-90025-7.


    Tanney, Julia (2008) Gilbert Ryle. Encyclopedia Entry for Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


    Tanney, Julia (1998) How to Resist Mental Representations (Evaluation of book by Tim Crane). Review of: The Mechanical Mind – A Philosophical Introduction to Minds, Machines, and Mental Representation by Crane, Tim. International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 6 (2). pp. 264-278. ISSN 0967-2559.


    Reviews the book 'The Mechanical Mind - A Philosophical Introduction to Minds, Machines and Mental Representation,' by Tim Cranes.

Total publications in KAR: 24 [See all in KAR]
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: 31/07/2014