Lecture by John Kulvicki (2017-2018 Paris IAS fellow), within the framework of the seminar "Iconicity. II", organized by Jérôme Dokic (Studies Director, EHESS (IJN))
What do pictures mean? Can one picture mean different things when deployed in different communicative acts, or in different contexts? If so, what explains the range of meanings pictures can have? I suggest that pictures can be fruitfully understood in light of the distinction, introduced originally by David Kaplan, between character and content. Both are aspects of pictorial meaning. Specifically, pictures are representations that have non-constant _characters_. This makes them similar to gradable adjectives, and perhaps color adjectives, in language. _Pictorial content_, on this view, is purely descriptive, in that it does not ever include particular individuals. This illustrates one way of using tools from the philosophy of language in the service of understanding pictures. The next lecture extends this approach.
About the seminar
In this seminar, we will tackle issues related to the nature of iconicity. Among them are the following:
- What makes something a picture? Can any material object act as a picture if it is cognitively processed in the right way? What are the material constraints that an object must answer to count as a picture?
- Are there limits to what can be represented in a picture?
- Is the notion of a picture a visual notion? Are there non-visual (e.g., auditory or tactile) pictures? Even if there are, is the notion of visual picture somehow more fundamental?
- What are the cognitive processes involved in seeing a picture as such? Does the distinction between “seeing as” and “seeing in” correspond to different sets of cognitive processes?
- Seeing a picture as such does not involve the same sensorimotor contingencies as those involved in ordinary perception (for instance, what is seen in a picture is not usually sensitive to one’s change of position relative to the picture). But what are the prospects of a sensorimotor or enactive approach to picture perception?
- It is often said that what is seen in a picture is not felt as present. What is the notion of presence at stake here? Is there a feeling of non-presence or absence that is specific to pictures?
- What is the relationship between pictures and fictions? Are there fictional pictures? Are there pictorial markers of fiction?
- What is the epistemic function of pictures? Can we distinguish between, e.g., photography and painting on the basis of the epistemic status of the relevant pictures?
- How should we apply the notions of style and narration to pictures? Are some pictures non-linguistic narratives?
In coordination with Roberto Casati’s homonymous seminar, we will have in the Spring 2018 the privilege of hosting six prominent specialists of the philosophy of pictorial representation: Catharine Abell (Manchester), Katerina Bantinaki (Crete), John Kulvicki (Dartmouth College), Achille Varzi (Columbia University), Alberto Voltolini (Turin) and John Zeimbekis (Patras). We shall work towards making the seminar a consensus conference about the question of iconicity.