In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Tyler Burge

  • Introduction
  • Burge’s Books and Collections
  • Language and Logic
  • Frege
  • De Re Representation
  • Mind-Body Problem
  • Reason, Memory, and Reflection
  • Self-Knowledge

Philosophy Tyler Burge
Brad Majors
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 March 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0365


Burge’s work does not lend itself to simple summary. Two aims nevertheless seem overarching. The first runs from his earliest work on the semantics of certain linguistic expressions all the way to his most recent work on perception—to understand the roots of, and constitutively necessary conditions for, objective reference. From the very beginning, Burge stressed the importance and near-ubiquity of context-dependent representational elements that he came to call “applications.” The emphasis upon context-dependence led to an appreciation of limitations upon necessary contributions by an individual with a representational mind to abilities for reference and representation. The second aim is intimately related to the first. It is to understand the natural norms that govern representational competencies. Given Burge’s view that previous accounts have overestimated the necessary contribution, by the individual, to representational function and success, his account of representational and epistemic norms is generally less demanding than the views of others. Nevertheless, Burge avoids the extremes of both pure externalism and pure internalism in epistemology. All epistemic warrants, whether justifications or entitlements, on his view require reliability (in some cases, reliability in a restricted range of circumstances). Thus, every epistemic warrant has, after a fashion, an externalist element. However, every epistemic warrant must also be a property of the deliverances of a natural representational competence; and such a competence is always limited by, and partially constitutive of, an individual’s point of view. One might say, therefore, that every epistemic warrant has also an internalist element. These first two aims are part of Burge’s desire to understand what is special, representationally and epistemically, about human beings (as opposed to other animals). If there is a third overarching aim, running throughout much or most of Burge’s vast corpus, it is that the surest guide to explanation and ontological commitment is successful cognitive practice; whether it be in semantics, mental causation and explanation, or the practice of empirical psychology—particularly the sciences of perception, which Burge regards as the most developed and successful parts of psychology generally. Finally, Burge has a greater respect for the history of philosophy—and more importantly, has done serious and sustained work on the subject, mostly but not solely on Frege—than is common among great figures in contemporary philosophy.

Burge’s Books and Collections

While all of Burge’s work is difficult, one seeking a relatively accessible introduction could do no better than to read the introductions to Burge 2007 and Burge 2013. Obviously, if one is interested in his work on Frege the introduction to Burge 2005 is a good place to start. There are at present, unfortunately, no monographs dedicated to his work.

  • Burge, Tyler. Truth, Thought, Reason: Philosophical Papers. Vol. 1. Oxford: Clarendon, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199278534.001.0001

    Contains all but one of Burge’s articles on Frege, including a substantial amount of new material. There is an extremely valuable and lengthy introduction, as well as postscripts to some of the essays. As is the case with all of Burge’s books, the index is so thorough that it virtually constitutes a concordance.

  • Burge, Tyler. Foundations of Mind: Philosophical Papers. Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007.

    This volume contains Burge’s early work on mind—especially important are “Belief De Re” and pieces anticipating parts of it, as well as Burge’s early efforts defending anti-individualism, and his work on mental causation. Additional features of the book are a helpful introduction, three very substantial postscripts, and two essays published for the first time: “Reflections on Two Kinds of Consciousness” and “Descartes on Anti-Individualism.”

  • Burge, Tyler. Origins of Objectivity. Oxford: Clarendon, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199581405.001.0001

    Burge’s first monograph consists of three parts. The first introduces his subject—the phylogenetic, developmental, and constitutive origins of objective empirical representation. The second argues that nearly all writing on this topic in the 20th century went astray in requiring that most or all the necessary background for such representation be contributed in some way by the individual representer herself. And the third introduces Burge’s view of the nature of perception.

  • Burge, Tyler. Cognition through Understanding: Self-Knowledge, Interlocution, Reasoning, Reflection: Philosophical Papers. Vol. 3. Oxford: Clarendon, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199672028.001.0001

    Apart from his extant work on the eponymous topics, this book contains Burge’s Dewey Lectures, “Self and Self-Understanding”; a postscript to his work on interlocution which explains, inter alia, why he gave up the view that it is possible to be purely apriori warranted in accepting the word of another; and four additional essays—a paper defending a novel view of our warrant for believing in other minds; a paper on Frege; an article discussing epistemic similarities between human and computer cognition; and an article entitled “Reflection,” which is particularly useful in understanding differences between Burge’s form of rationalism and earlier forms of the view.

  • Frápolli, María, and Esther Romero, eds. Meaning, Basic Self-Knowledge, and Mind: Essays on Tyler Burge. Stanford, CA: CSLI, 2003.

    This is a collection of essays focusing primarily on Burge’s work on the topics identified in its title. It also contains brief replies to each article by Burge.

  • Goldberg, Sanford, and Andrew Pessin, eds. The Twin Earth Chronicles. New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1996.

    This volume contains many of the most seminal contributions concerning anti-individualism by Burge and others. A noteworthy aspect of the book is that it contains Hilary Putnam’s acknowledgement that he had been wrong, in his important early writing on the topic, to think that the Twin-Earth thought experiments bore only on linguistic meaning and not the natures of propositional attitudes themselves.

  • Hahn, Martin, and Bjørn Ramberg, eds. Reflections and Replies: Essays on the Philosophy of Tyler Burge. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2003.

    This is a collection of essays on various aspects of Burge’s work, including anti-individualism, the nature of reference, understanding, self-knowledge, and phenomenality and consciousness. The volume is nearly unique in that the responses to the twelve essays amount in total to nearly 200 pages—at the time the largest body of Burge’s work published in a single volume.

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