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International Conference


Demystifying the Given


China University of Political Science and Law

Beijing, 19-20 October 2019



Haojun Zhang & Andrea Altobrando


Keynote Speakers

Michelle Montague

James O'Shea

David Woodruff Smith

Shigeru Taguchi


Invited Speakers

Duoyi Fei

Donghui Han

Hong Li

Karl Mertens

Antonio Nunziante

Galen Strawson

Michela Summa

Hao Tang

Refeng Tang



Conference Announcement


Call for Papers



It seems to be obvious that in as good as any kind of experience something is given to the experiencer. One experiences something, be this a flower, an attraction towards a person, an artwork, beverage, the solution of a logical puzzle, etc. it seems to make no sense to speak of experience without some content which is supposed to be there, “in”, or “through”, the very experience itself. As it were, in most human activities, cognitive, emotional, and volitional, either we  have something in view. It seems, then, that most of our, both mental and bodily, life is a permanent hustle and bustle with the “givenness” of something. However, what is properly “given” is far from being clear. In some cases, the apparent paradoxes of an understanding of experience which makes use of the concept of givenness are particularly evident – signally in cases of hallucination, dream, imagination and fantasy, or when something is specifically experienced as absent, or as missing, and thus one would rather be inclined to consider it as un-given.

As known, the very issue of givenness, i.e. how things are given in experience, and what in experience is properly given, is famously one of the main concerns – if not the concern – of Husserl's Phenomenology, as well as, to a large extent, of the Brentano School from which Phenomenology partially derives and of most of the followers of Husserl's project. Likewise, the same issue, though mainly under the label of “content” (of perception, experience, intentional states, etc.) lies also in the centre of many debates in Analytic Philosophy of Mind, from Frege and Russell onwards. In both traditions, both at their very beginning, as well as in their recent developments, the debates on what it properly means that something is given, and the very legitimacy of speaking of givenness, have been abundant.

Either way, both in the Analytic and in the very Phenomenological, the idea that something is directly given in experience has been sharply and vigorously criticized. The most famous critique is quite certainly the one carried out by Wilfrid Sellars. At a first, superficial, sight, his demolition of the “myth of the given”, together with his “rylean” critique of qualia, constitute as good as a total disarming of the entire project of Phenomenology as such. However, critiques similar to the one of Sellars against the myth of the given, can be found within the very Phenomenological tradition itself. Indeed, already Heidegger, and later Derrida, and several other (more or less legitimate) descendants of Husserl's Phenomenological breakthrough, have themselves contested the idea of an immediate and direct givenness, and they have stressed the hermeneutic or semiotic character of experience itself.

With that said, one should acknowledge that, if any kind of givenness were really totally denied, it would be very difficult to understand in which sense we can speak of Phenomenological analyses. In all cases, Phenomenology analyzes what is experienced, and to deny the existence of any sort of givenness “in” or “through” experience would possibly amount to deny the very possibility of Phenomenology as such. What is more, also in the Analytic tradition, especially in the last few decades, a kind of need to reconsider experience itself, and to avoid its reduction to a kind of experience-less understanding of mind and intentionality, has been particularly vivid. As a consequence, a kind of exhortation to “return to experience itself” can be seen in Analytic Philosophy of Mind which seems to echo the famous, as well as, unfortunately, abused, Husserlian motto “back to the things themselves”. Indeed, this latter motto, at least in the original intentions of its proposer, would constitute the as good as natural result of the fulfillment of the return to experience. Husserl's exhortation is, indeed, to take a step back from our unreflected habits of understanding the contents of our experience, and to carefully analyze what is “really” given. A similar operation seem to be exactly what a number of contemporary scholars in Analytic Philosophy of Mind have been doing, especially in recent years.

On the basis of the aforesaid, we can then affirm, that the myths of the given which have been told and criticized during the past century, are now in need to be reconsidered and the very idea of the given should be possibly demystified.

In this conference, we aim to gather scholars who are willing to participate in this enterprise. We would like to spell out different understandings of “the given”, and the different myths which are, in case, connected to them, as well as to evaluate whether and how we can make a, so to say, secular and laic use of such the term, and thus, finally endorse a demystified and fruitful understanding of what it refers to.


Although the conference is mainly animated by questions concerning philosophy of mind, epistemology and metaphysics, contributions which deal with the problem of “the given” and its possible mythologies in ethics and aesthetics are warmly welcome and strongly encouraged as well.


Deadline for title and abstract submission: July 1, 2019

Conference Place: China University of Political Science and Law, Haidian District, Beijing

Conference Time: 19-20 October 2019


Confirmed speakers:

Duoyi Fei (China University of Political Science and Law)

Donghui Han (Renmin University)

Hong Li (Beijing Normal University)

Karl Mertens (Wuerzburg University)

Michelle Montague (Texas University at Austin)

Antonio Nunziante (Padua University)

James O'Shea (University College Dublin)

Galen Strawson (Texas University at Austin)

Michela Summa (Wuerzburg University)

David Woodruff Smith (University of California, Irvine)

Shigeru Taguchi (Hokkaido University)

Hao Tang (Tsinghua University)

Refeng Tang (Beijing Normal University)


Organizers: Haojun Zhang & Andrea Altobrando


Submission guidelines:

The paper proposal should include: name, affiliation, email address, contact telephone number, title of the paper, and an abstract of 200 to 300 words.

Deadline for title and abstract submission: July 1, 2019

Acceptance notification: before July 15, 2019

Deadline for paper submission: October 10, 2019

Please submit your abstract to the following addresses: andrea.altobrando@cupl.edu.cn; haojunzhang@cupl.edu.cn

Please write “Submission for Demystifying the Given conference_CUPL_Beijing2019” as the subject of your email.

Registration fee:

There is no registration fee.

Board and lodging:

The conference will provide four nights (arrival October 18, departure October 22) accommodation for all speakers from without China.

The conference will offer three dinners (October 18, 19 and 20) to all participants in the conference.

Travel costs:

The conference will not cover the travel costs of the selected speakers.

For all enquiries, you can write to the following address: andalt@gmail.com


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