The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Harvey Lederman: Propositional Attitudes and Reference in Language Models

Harvey Lederman: Propositional Attitudes and Reference in Language Models

On propositional attitudes, puzzles in the philosophy of language, higher-order metaphysics, and explaining how LLMs' utterances could refer.

In episode 106 of The Gradient Podcast, Daniel Bashir speaks to Professor Harvey Lederman.

Professor Lederman is a professor of philosophy at UT Austin. He has broad interests in contemporary philosophy and in the history of philosophy: his areas of specialty include philosophical logic, the Ming dynasty philosopher Wang Yangming, epistemology, and philosophy of language. He has recently been working on incomplete preferences, on trying in the philosophy of language, and on Wang Yangming’s moral metaphysics.

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  • (00:00) Intro

  • (02:15) Harvey’s background

  • (05:30) Higher-order metaphysics and propositional attitudes

    • (06:25) Motivations

    • (12:25) Setup: syntactic types and ontological categories

    • (25:11) What makes higher-order languages meaningful and not vague?

      • (25:57) Higher-order languages corresponding to the world

      • (30:52) Extreme vagueness

    • (35:32) Desirable features of languages and important questions in philosophy

      • (36:42) Higher-order identity

    • (40:32) Intuitions about mental content, language, context-sensitivity

  • (50:42) Perspectivism

    • (51:32) Co-referring names, identity statements

    • (55:42) The paper’s approach, “know” as context-sensitive

    • (57:24) Propositional attitude psychology and mentalese generalizations

    • (59:57) The “good standing” of theorizing about propositional attitudes

    • (1:02:22) Mentalese

    • (1:03:32) “Does knowledge imply belief?” — when a question does not have good standing

  • (1:06:17) Sense, Reference, and Substitution

    • (1:07:07) Fregeans and the principle of Substitution

    • (1:12:12) Follow-up work to this paper

  • (1:13:39) Do Language Models Produce Reference Like Libraries or Like Librarians?

    • (1:15:02) Bibliotechnism

    • (1:19:08) Inscriptions and reference, what it takes for something to refer

    • (1:22:37) Derivative and basic reference

    • (1:24:47) Intuition: n-gram models and reference

    • (1:28:22) Meaningfulness in sentences produced by n-gram models

    • (1:30:40) Bibliotechnism and LLMs, disanalogies to n-grams

    • (1:33:17) On other recent work (vector grounding, do LMs refer?, etc.)

    • (1:40:12) Causal connections and reference, how bibliotechnism makes good on the meanings of sentences

    • (1:45:46) RLHF, sensitivity to truth and meaningfulness

    • (1:48:47) Intelligibility

    • (1:50:52) When LLMs produce novel reference

    • (1:53:37) Novel reference vs. find-replace

    • (1:56:00) Directionality example

    • (1:58:22) Human intentions and derivative reference

    • (2:00:47) Between bibliotechnism and agency

    • (2:05:32) Where do invented names / novel reference come from?

    • (2:07:17) Further questions

  • (2:10:04) Outro


The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Deeply researched, technical interviews with experts thinking about AI and technology. Hosted, recorded, researched, and produced by Daniel Bashir.