BIOSEMANTICS. C ausal or informational theories of the . BIOSEMANTICS. senting (indicating RUTH GARRETT MILLIKAN. University of Connecticut/. The term ‘biosemantics’ has usually been applied only to the theory of mental Ruth Garrett Millikan is Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy. Millikan: Biosemantics. Martín Abreu Zavaleta. June 18, 1 False representations. Millikan, like Dretske, Chisholm and Brentano, thinks that what.

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Teleological theories of mental content try to explain the contents of mental representations by appealing to a teleological notion of function. Take, for example, the thought that blossoms are forming. On a representational theory of thought, this thought involves a representation of blossoms forming.

A theory of content aims among other things to tell us why this representation has that content; it aims to say why it is a thought about blossoms forming rather than about the sun shining or pigs flying or nothing at all. In general, a theory of content tries to say why a mental representation counts as representing what it represents.

According to millikaj theories of content, what a representation represents depends on the biosemantkcs of the systems that produce or use the representation.

Proponents of teleological theories of content generally understand such functions to be what the thing with the function was selected for, either by ordinary natural selection or by some other natural process of selection.

Teleological Theories of Mental Content

Many perhaps all mental states are about things or are directed on to things in the way that a belief that spring is coming is about spring coming or in the way that a desire for chocolate is directed on to chocolate. The philosopher Franz Brentano — spoke of such mental states as involving presentations of mi,likan objects of our thoughts.

The idea was that we couldn’t desire chocolate unless chocolate was in some way presented to our minds. Nowadays, we would say that chocolate must be represented in our minds if it is chocolate that we desire. Teleological theories of content, like other theories of mental content, attempt to solve what is often referred to as Brentano’s problem: One version of the problem, often attributed to Brentano but perhaps more correctly attributed to Roderick Chisholmconcerns thoughts about non-existent objects.

Chisholm argued that the aboutness or intentionality of mental states can not be a physical relation between a mental state and what it is about its object because in a physical relation each of the relata must exist whereas the objects of mental states might not exist. If Andrew kisses Kate both Andrew and Kate must exist and if the sun shines on a garden both the sun and the garden must exist too.

In contrast, Billy can love Santa and search for unicorns even if Santa does not exist and there are no unicorns. Chisholm concluded that it is hard to see how intentionality can be a physical phenomenon, but those who offer teleological theories almost always adopt a physicalist framework to try to explain how intentionality is possible.

Within that framework, it is a working hypothesis that intentionality is milikan ontologically fundamental, so most teleological theories try to show that intentionality is part of the natural milliksn by showing how it can be understood in terms of other natural things. It also needs to account for the normative millikan of mental representation.

Content is said to be normative because it legitimates certain evaluations. We evaluate bisemantics as true or false, memories as accurate or inaccurate, perceptions as biosemanticd or illusory and so on. We also evaluate desires as satisfied or not satisfied and motor instructions as correctly or incorrectly executed. Content that is normative is sometimes described as truth-evaluable. Representational buosemantics count as true or false etc.

For example, the truth of my belief that today is sunny mollikan on whether it is sunny but giosemantics also depends on its being a belief that today is sunny. If the content of the biosemmantics were different e. The normative nature of content poses a problem for naturalistic theories but those who propose teleological theories of mental content think that this problem is tractable.

Much attention is paid to the possibility of misrepresentation. This is because the distinction between correct and incorrect representation is often regarded as a central normative distinction and because a capacity to misrepresent is often thought to be essential for representing: Consider a mental representation of a cat.


If it is to have the content catso that all and only cats are in its extension, it must be that if it were used to label a biosemnatics e. However, there may be exceptions to the general rule that all representations can misrepresent e.

Misrepresentation is also not possible in every kind of mental context e. The possibility of misrepresentation also connects with Bisemantics concern with non-existent objects because a capacity to misrepresent amounts to a basic capacity to represent non-existent objects.

Imagine a simple detection device that normally goes into a RED-state in response to red. If the RED-state has the content there is red then, if RED could be tokened sometimes when nothing red is present, a token RED could represent a non-existent instantiation of red. There is more to explaining our capacity to represent non-existent objects than explaining how misrepresentation is possible biosemmantics explaining how misrepresentation is possible is a start.

Misrepresentation makes it clear that representing is often a three-place relation. Suppose, for example, that I see some crumpled newspaper blown by the wind as a cat slinking down the street. There are at least three things involved. First, there is the representation or representational vehicle that has the content. In us, it is presumably some sort of neurological state or event. Here, such mental representations are denoted by capitalized English expressions e.

Second, there is the thing that the representation is aimed at representing, in this case this is the newspaper. Cummins calls this the target of the representation. And third, there is the content of the representation. Since I represent the newspaper as a milliikan, the content of the representation in this case is cat. Misrepresentation has occurred in this case because the target of the representation is not in the extension of the representation; the newspaper is not a cat.

We can ask questions about each of these three places in the representation relation. First is the question of representational status: Why does CAT count as a representation? Or, more generally, what is the difference between natural states that are representational states and natural states that are not? Second is the boosemantics of target determination: What makes it the case that this token of CAT has the newspaper as its target?

Or, more generally, what makes anything the target of any given biosmantics Third is the question of content determination: What makes it the case that CAT has the content cat? Or, more generally, in virtue of what does any representation have the content that it has? Teleological theories of mental content are primarily concerned with content determination, but a complete solution to Brentano’s problem will millikzn to give answers to all three.

A distinction is sometimes made between representation of and representation as. Whether or not teleological theories of content are concerned with representation as or of depends on how those locutions are used. In one sense, referring biosemantiics to the previous example, my CAT-representation represents the newspaper as a cat, although it is a representation of the newspaper.

On this way of speaking, teleological theories of content are theories of representation as. For example, we can also say that I used a representation of a cat to represent the newspaper. The teleological theories that are currently on offer are generally theories of referential content not theories of cognitive content or mode of presentation. Many philosophers would agree that referential content, which is normative in the aforementioned sense, is not narrow content.

Proponents of teleological theories do not believe that referential content is biosemzntics.

PHL Some Thoughts on Millikan’s “Biosemantics”

In general, the proponents of teleological theories of content have shown little interest in the notion of narrow content, since they tend to reject the claim that cognitive science should restrict itself to using narrow notions. Still, a teleological theory of mental content could be combined with the view that cognitive science needs a narrow notion of content. A biosemanfics theory of content tries to explain the nature of psycho-semantic norms i.

It is to some extent a separate question whether such norms play a role in cognitive science and whether a narrow notion is needed instead or in addition. A further point about broad aims is that teleological theories of mental content are not usually intended as theories about how we grasp meanings or are conscious of them.

To grasp a meaning is plausibly a sophisticated intentional state that involves representations of meanings and not just representations with meanings. To understand how we grasp meanings, we might turn to psychological theories of concept possession and introspective access to conceptual structures. Such theories presuppose that there are representations with content, whereas teleological theories of mental content try to explain the biosemantis of intentionality at its most fundamental; they aim to say how we can, to begin with, have any representations with content.

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A final point about broad aims is that teleological theories of mental content are usually intended as real nature theories. These theories do not try to describe the criteria that we use in everyday life to identify the beliefs and desires of people, the criteria used in folk psychological intentional ascriptions though Price is an exception.

Those who offer real nature theories of mental content think that our everyday ability to recognize intentional states does not make us experts on the fundamental nature of intentional states, any more than our everyday ability to recognize water makes us experts on the fundamental nature of water. The idea is that we can recognize instances of a kind on the basis of the superficial appearances of things of the kind, while remaining ignorant of their essential nature.

So, most teleological theories of mental content do not entail that, if Bill thinks that Mavis knows that today is Tuesday then Bill must be thinking about the teleological functions of Mavis’s representation producing or using systems. As noted in the previous section, a crucial feature of content is that it legitimates semantic evaluations. While teleological theories of mental content come in a variety of forms, they all share the idea that the ibosemantics that underwrite these evaluations depend, in part at least, on functions.

The next section explains various ideas about the nature of this dependence. This section describes the notion of function that is employed. Let’s take the first term first. Talk of biological functions often has a teleological flavor.

For example, when we say that it is the function of the heart to pump blood this seems equivalent to saying that hearts are for pumping blood or that hearts are there in order to pump blood. There is a closely related concept of an artifact’s function that is purposive: Along analogous lines, when biologists say that pumping blood is the heart’s function, they seem to mean that hearts were selected for, adapted for and in that sense designed for pumping blood.

Some who favor teleological theories of mental content claim that Mother Nature is intentional or purposive. In the case of Millikanit is unclear whether there is a genuine as opposed to terminological disagreement with the substance of the preceding paragraph. However, Dennett’s claim is that there is no mind-independent determinate fact of the matter about meanings or bbiosemantics and that the bioosemantics of artifacts, the functions of biological systems and the contents of the thoughts of people are all dependent bioseantics interpretation, on our adopting either the design stance or the intentional stance toward them.

In Dennett’s view, nature leaves functions and meanings similarly indeterminate. Intuitively, the relevant concept of function seems to be normative as well, for biologists routinely talk about biossemantics functioning normally or properly, as well as about malfunctioning, dysfunction, functional impairment and so on. Those who offer teleological theories of mental content agree that the relevant notion of function permits the possibility of malfunction; it allows that a token trait could have a function to do Z even if it lacks the disposition to do Z.

For example, Joe’s pineal gland could have the function to secrete melatonin even if it cannot secrete melatonin because it is malfunctioning. On that way of speaking, a statement would count as normative only if it entails an ought-claim without the addition of further premises. Proponents of teleological theories of mental content can agree that no ought-claim follows from a function ascription without the addition of further premises for discussion, see Jacob and that functions are not prescriptive.

Those who favor teleological theories of content usually favor an etiological theory of functions, according to which an item’s function is determined by its history of selection or by past selection of things biowemantics that type.