2.85 Wide Content

Category: Philosophy of Mind

Keywords: twin, burge, contents, content, externalism, representational, thoughts, representation, externalist, individualism, fodor, narrow, representations, representing, represents

Number of Articles: 222
Percentage of Total: 0.7%
Rank: 69th

Weighted Number of Articles: 228.2
Percentage of Total: 0.7%
Rank: 73rd

Mean Publication Year: 1995.4
Weighted Mean Publication Year: 1987.9
Median Publication Year: 1996
Modal Publication Year: 1992

Topic with Most Overlap: Ordinary Language (0.0405)
Topic this Overlaps Most With: Concepts (0.0486)
Topic with Least Overlap: Crime and Punishment (5e-05)
Topic this Overlaps Least With: Crime and Punishment (7e-04)

A scatterplot showing which proportion of articles each year are in the wide contenttopic. The x-axis shows the year, the y-axis measures the proportion of articles each year in this topic. There is one dot per year. The highest value is in 1992 when 2.4% of articles were in this topic. The lowest value is in 1950 when 0.1% of articles were in this topic. The full table that provides the data for this graph is available in Table A.85 in Appendix A.

Figure 2.195: Wide content.

A set of twelve scatterplots showing the proportion of articles in each journal in each year that are in the Wide Contenttopic. There is one scatterplot for each of the twelve journals that are the focus of this book. In each scatterplot, the x-axis is the year, and the y-axis is the proportion of articles in that year in that journal in this topic. Here are the average values for each of the twelve scatterplots - these tell you on average how much of the journal is dedicated to this topic. Mind - 0.6%. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society - 0.8%. Ethics - 0.1%. Philosophical Review - 0.8%. Analysis - 1.1%. Philosophy and Public Affairs - 0.1%. Journal of Philosophy - 0.7%. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research - 0.9%. Philosophy of Science - 0.4%. Noûs - 1.2%. The Philosophical Quarterly - 0.9%. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science - 0.4%. The topic reaches its zenith in year 1998 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 2.4% of the articles. And it hits a minimum in year 1933 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 0.0% of the articles.

Figure 2.196: Wide content articles in each journal.

Table 2.205: Characteristic articles of the wide content topic.
Table 2.206: Highly cited articles in the wide content topic.


Contemporary debates about semantic externalism were kicked off by Saul Kripke’s “Naming and Necessity” and Hilary Putnam’s “Meaning and Reference”. Naming and Necessity isn’t in this study, though its impacts are felt in several places. But “Meaning and Reference” is, and it is even in this category. Here are the model’s views on where to place “Meaning and Reference”.

Table 2.207: Hilary Putnam, “Meaning And Reference.”
Subject Probability
Wide content 0.3907
Definitions 0.1760
Modality 0.0670
Ordinary language 0.0513
Meaning and use 0.0430
Universals and particulars 0.0401
Analytic/synthetic 0.0389
Sets and grue 0.0278
Radical translation 0.0271
Marx 0.0248
Concepts 0.0246
Speech acts 0.0222

Its largest topic is this one, but the model also notes it is about definitions and modality, which makes sense. But the probability that it is in this topic is comfortably largest. And it’s an incredibly influential paper, so I would have guessed that it would have been quickly followed by a flood of similar papers.

But that’s not remotely what happened. The model sees very little work on this topic for another decade. There is a bit of discussion in the mid-1980s, then it is Michael McKinsey’s 1991 paper “Anti-Individualism and Privileged Access”, that really starts the discussion going. Just to make this vivid, let’s focus on the last forty years of those graphs above, starting from Putnam’s original paper.

A version of figure 2.191 restricted to the years from 1973 to 2013. It shows that in each journal, the peak year for this topic was in or around the 1990s, not in the immediate aftermath of the famous works on wide content from the 1970s.

Figure 2.197: Recent work on wide content.

The lack of life in this topic through the 1970s and much of the 1980s was one of the biggest surprises to me of the whole project. In recent years it feels like topics can catch fire immediately after the publication of a high-profile paper. But that is really not what happened in debates about wide content. Putnam’s paper is one of the most influential of its time, and its time is the most important few years in the history of philosophy, but that influence was not felt for many years after its publication.