Tyler Burge

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Tyler Burge (/bɜr/; born 1946; Ph.D., Princeton University, 1971) is a Professor of Philosophy at UCLA. Burge has made contributions to several areas of philosophy, including the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and the history of philosophy. He is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. He was the recipient of the 2010 Jean Nicod Prize.

In the history of philosophy, he has published articles on the philosophy of Gottlob Frege. A collection of his writings on Frege, along with a substantial introduction and several postscripts by the author, has been published (Burge, 2005). In epistemology, he has written on such topics as self-knowledge and the warrant to testimony. He is perhaps most well known for his contributions to the philosophy of mind, including his views on de re belief and, most notably, anti-individualism with respect to mental content, which is also known as externalism. A festschrift devoted mostly to Burge's work on anti-individualism, including extensive replies from Burge to the contributors, has also appeared (Hahn and Ramberg 2003). Three of Burge's articles have appeared in The Philosopher's Annual, a ten-article collection of the year's best published articles in all areas of philosophy.


Burge has argued for anti-individualism. In Burge’s words, anti-individualism is a theory that asserts the following: “individuating many of a person or animal’s mental kinds … is necessarily dependent on relations that the person bears to the physical, or in some cases social, environment".[1] This view, and some variants, has been called "content externalism", or just "externalism." Burge favors "anti-individualism" over this terminology, in part because he considers the central issue to be what individuates content, rather than where contents may be located, as "externalism" may suggest. (Burge 2003, 435-6).

The patient’s belief that arthritis is in his thigh depends on conventional meaning as determined by the linguistic community.

Burge argues in a similar fashion that a person’s beliefs are dependent on the physical world. In his thought experiment he attempted to demonstrate that all thoughts and beliefs have wide contents. Whereas Burge argued for removing our beliefs from our minds, Putnam removed all meanings.

In “The Meaning of Meaning” (1975), Putnam had argued that the meaning of a natural kind term such as “water” depends on the nature of the physical world. Burge argues that the difference in the thoughts is attributable to the difference between the nature of stuffs in the respective physical environments. As with the "arthritis" thought experiment, dependence of thought on the physical environment is a conclusion that is supposed to follow purely from reflection on the cases in the thought experiment.

Burge has extended the thesis of anti-individualism into the realm of the theory of vision, arguing that the contents of representations posited by a computational theory of vision, such as that pioneered by David Marr, are dependent on the environment of the organism's evolutionary history. (See Burge 1986.)

Anti-individualism about thoughts is a controversial thesis. It has been disputed on a number of grounds. For example, it has been claimed that the thesis undermines a person’s authoritative knowledge of their own thought contents. (See, e.g., McKinsey 1991.) It has also been thought to cause problems for our understanding of the way that mental states cause behavior. (See, e.g., Fodor 1991.) Burge (1988) has argued that anti-individualism is compatible with knowledge of our own mental states. He has also argued that it presents no problems for our understanding of causation. (See Burge 1989.)




  • 1977. "Belief De Re". The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 74, No. 6, pp. 338–362.
  • 1979. "Sinning against Frege". The Philosophical Review, Vol. 88, No. 3, pp. 398–432.
  • 1979. "Individualism and the Mental". Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4: 73-121.
  • 1982. "Other Bodies". In Woodfield, Andrew, ed., Thought and Object. New York: Oxford.
  • 1986. "Individualism and Psychology." Philosophical Review 45: 3-45.
  • 1986. "Frege on Truth". in Haaparanta & Hintikka (1986).
  • 1986. "Intellectual Norms and Foundations of Mind". The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 83, No. 12, pp.  697-720.
  • 1988. "Individualism and Self-Knowledge". The Journal of Philosophy 85: 649-663.
  • 1989. "Individuation and Causation in Psychology". Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 70: 303-322.
  • 1990. "Frege on Sense and Linguistic Meaning". in Bell & Cooper (1990).
  • 1992. "Frege on Knowing the Third Realm". Mind, Vol. 101, pp. 633–650.12, pp.  697-720.
  • 1993. "Content Preservation". The Philosophical Review, Vol. 102, No. 4, pp. 457–488.
  • 2003. "Reply to Loar". In Hahn and Ramberg (1991).
  • 2003. "Perceptual Entitlement". Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 67, pp. 503–548.
  • 2003. "Memory and Persons". The Philosophical Review, Vol. 112, No. 3, pp. 289–337.

References and further reading[edit]

  • Bell, David & Cooper, Neil (eds.). 1990. The Analytic Tradition, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Fodor, Jerry. 1991. "A Modal Argument for Narrow Content". The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 88, No. 1, pp. 5–26.
  • Haaparanta, Leila & Hintikka, Jaakko (eds.). 1986. Frege Synthesized. Boston: D. Reidel.
  • Hahn, Martin and Bjørn Ramberg (eds.). 2003. Reflections and Replies: Essays on the Philosophy of Tyler Burge. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • McKinsey, Michael. 1991. "Anti-Individualism and Privileged Access". Analysis 51: 9-16.
  • Maria J. Frapolli and Esther Romero (eds.). 2003. Meaning, Basic Self-Knowledge, and Mind: Essays on Tyler Burge, CSLI Publications, ISBN 1-57586-346-4.


  1. ^ Burge, Tyler (November 1988). "Individuation and Self-Knowledge". The Journal of Philosophy 85 (11): p. 650. Retrieved 26 December 2014. 

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