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Summary Teleological accounts of mental content seek to account for the contents of our mental states in terms of the biological functions of the mechanisms that produce and use those states, and/or the functions of those states themselves. Such accounts are naturalistic because they posit the scientifically respectable, non-semantic property of biological function to explain why our mental states have the contents that they have. The main objection to teleological accounts is that they are unable to attribute determinate functions to the mechanisms that produce and use mental states, and so are unable to attribute determinate contents to those states. The major proponents of teleological accounts offer contrasting responses to this objection, which turn on differences in their respective theoretical frameworks.
Key works Millikan 1984 is the initial statement of the most influential version of the teleological account, while Millikan 1989 provides a more accessible overview. Other key papers on this version of the account are collected in Millikan 1993Papineau 1984 and Papineau 1987 introduce a rival teleological account. The indeterminacy problem for such accounts, first raised in Fodor 1990, is addressed in Neander 1995 and Papineau 1998, which also offer contrasting responses to the problem. The main papers on the notion of biological function are collected in Ariew et al 2002, while views on the current state of play in the literature on teleological accounts can be found in Macdonald & Papineau 2006
Introductions A useful overview article on teleological accounts is Neander 2004, while a recent summary of the most influential version of the account is Millikan 2009. An accessible introduction to the rival version of the account can be found in Papineau 1987
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  1. Marshall Abrams (2005). Teleosemantics Without Natural Selection. Biology and Philosophy 20 (1):97-116.
    Ruth Millikan and others advocate theories which attempt to naturalize wide mental content (e.g. beliefs.
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  2. Frederick R. Adams & Kenneth Aizawa (1997). Rock Beats Scissors: Historicalism Fights Back. Analysis 57 (4):273-81.
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  3. Nicholas Agar (1993). What Do Frogs Really Believe? Australasian Journal of Philosophy 71 (1):1-12.
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  4. Colin Allen (2001). A Tale of Two Froggies. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 31 (Supplement):105-115.
    There once was an ugly duckling. Except he wasn’t a duckling at all, and once he realized his error he lived happily ever after. And there you have an early primer from the animal literature on the issue of misrepresentation -- perhaps one of the few on this topic to have a happy ending. Philosophers interested in misrepresentation have turned their attention to a different fairy tale animal: the frog. No one gets kissed in this story and the controversial issue (...)
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  5. Michael L. Anderson (2005). Representation, Evolution and Embodiment. Theoria et Historia Scientarum.
    As part of the ongoing attempt to fully naturalize the concept of human being--and, more specifically, to re-center it around the notion of agency--this essay discusses an approach to defining the content of representations in terms ultimately derived from their central, evolved function of providing guidance for action. This 'guidance theory' of representation is discussed in the context of, and evaluated with respect to, two other biologically inspired theories of representation: Dan Lloyd's dialectical theory of representation and Ruth Millikan's biosemantics.
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  6. Louise M. Antony (1996). Equal Rights for Swamp-Persons. Mind and Language 11 (1):70-75.
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  7. Andre Ariew, Robert C. Cummins & Mark Perlman (eds.) (2002). Functions: New Essays in the Philosophy of Psychology and Biology. Oxford University Press.
    But what are functions? Here, 15 leading scholars of philosophy of psychology and philosophy of biology present new essays on functions.
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  8. Marc Artiga (2014). Signaling Without Cooperation. Biology and Philosophy 29 (3):357-378.
    Ethological theories usually attribute semantic content to animal signals. To account for this fact, many biologists and philosophers appeal to some version of teleosemantics. However, this picture has recently came under attack: while mainstream teleosemantics assumes that representational systems must cooperate, some biologists and philosophers argue that in certain cases signaling can evolve within systems lacking common interest. In this paper I defend the standard view from this objection.
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  9. Marc Artiga (2013). Teleosemantics and Pushmi-Pullyu Representations. Erkenntnis:1-22.
    One of the main tenets of current teleosemantic theories is that simple representations are Pushmi-Pullyu states, i.e. they carry descriptive and imperative content at the same time. In the paper I present an argument that shows that if we add this claim to the core tenets of teleosemantics, then (1) it entails that, necessarily, all representations are Pushmi-Pullyu states and (2) it undermines one of the main motivations for the Pushmi-Pullyu account.
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  10. Marc Artiga (2011). On Several Misuses of Sober's Selection for/Selection of Distinction. Topoi 30 (2):181-193.
    Teleological Theories of mental representation are probably the most promising naturalistic accounts of intentionality. However, it is widely known that these theories suffer from a major objection: the Indeterminacy Problem. The most common reply to this problem employs the Target of Selection Argument, which is based on Sober’s distinction between selection for and selection of . Unfortunately, some years ago the Target of Selection Argument came into serious attack in a famous paper by Goode and Griffiths. Since then, the question (...)
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  11. Mark Bauer (2009). Normativity Without Artifice. Philosophical Studies 144 (2):239-259.
    To ascribe a telos is to ascribe a norm or standard of performance. That fact underwrites the plausibility of, say, teleological theories of mind. Teleosemantics, for example, relies on the normative character of teleology to solve the problem of “intentional inexistence”: a misrepresentation is just a malfunction. If the teleological ascriptions of such theories to natural systems, e.g., the neurological structures of the brain, are to be literally true, then it must be literally true that norms can exist independent of (...)
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  12. H. Heath Bawden (1903). The Functional Theory of Parallelism. Philosophical Review 12 (3):299-319.
  13. James Blackmon, David Byrd, Robert C. Cummins, Alexa Lee & Martin Roth (2006). Representation and Unexploited Content. In Graham F. Macdonald & David Papineau (eds.), Teleosemantics. Oxford University Press.
    In this paper, we introduce a novel difficulty for teleosemantics, viz., its inability to account for what we call unexploited content—content a representation has, but which the system that harbors it is currently unable to exploit. In section two, we give a characterization of teleosemantics. Since our critique does not depend on any special details that distinguish the variations in the literature, the characterization is broad, brief and abstract. In section three, we explain what we mean by unexploited content, and (...)
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  14. Lisa Bortolotti (2002). Review of Carolyn Price, Functions in Mind: A Theory of Intentional Content. [REVIEW] Australasian Journal of Philosophy 80 (3):380 – 381.
    Book Information Functions in Mind: A Theory of Intentional Content. Functions in Mind: A Theory of Intentional Content Carolyn Price Oxford Clarendon Press 2001 vi + 263 Hardback £35 By Carolyn Price. Clarendon Press. Oxford. Pp. vi + 263. Hardback:£35.
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  15. David Braddon-Mitchell & Frank Jackson (2002). A Pyrrhic Victory for Teleonomy. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 80 (3):372-77.
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  16. David Braddon-Mitchell & Frank Jackson (1997). The Teleological Theory of Content. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 75 (4):474-89.
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  17. Jason Bridges (2006). Teleofunctionalism and Psychological Explanation. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 28 (September):359-372.
    Fred Dretske’s teleofunctional theory of content aims to simultaneously solve two ground-floor philosophical puzzles about mental content: the problem of naturalism and the problem of epiphenomenalism. It is argued here that his theory fails on the latter score. Indeed, the theory insures that content can have no place in the causal explanation of action at all. The argument for this conclusion depends upon only very weak premises about the nature of causal explanation. The difficulties Dretske’s theory encounters indicate the severe (...)
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  18. Cameron Buckner (forthcoming). The Semantic Problem(s) with Research on Animal Mindreading. Mind and Language.
    Philosophers have worried that research on animal mind-reading faces a “logical problem”: the difficulty of experimentally determining whether animals represent mental states (e.g. seeing) or merely the observable evidence for those states (e.g. line-of-gaze). The most impressive attempt to confront this problem has been mounted recently by Robert Lurz (2009, 2011). However, Lurz’ approach faces its own logical problem, revealing this challenge to be a special case of the more general problem of distal content. Moreover, participants in this debate do (...)
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  19. Rosa Cao (2012). A Teleosemantic Approach to Information in the Brain. Biology and Philosophy 27 (1):49-71.
    The brain is often taken to be a paradigmatic example of a signaling system with semantic and representational properties, in which neurons are senders and receivers of information carried in action potentials. A closer look at this picture shows that it is not as appealing as it might initially seem in explaining the function of the brain. Working from several sender-receiver models within the teleosemantic framework, I will first argue that two requirements must be met for a system to support (...)
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  20. William Charlton (1991). Teleology and Mental States. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 17:17-32.
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  21. Murray Clarke (1996). Darwinian Algorithms and Indexical Representation. Philosophy of Science 63 (1):27-48.
    In this paper, I argue that accurate indexical representations have been crucial for the survival and reproduction of homo sapiens sapiens. Specifically, I want to suggest that reliable processes have been selected for because of their indirect, but close, connection to true belief during the Pleistocene hunter-gatherer period of our ancestral history. True beliefs are not heritable, reliable processes are heritable. Those reliable processes connected with reasoning take the form of Darwinian Algorithms: a plethora of specialized, domain-specific inference rules designed (...)
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  22. Joe Cruz, On Teleosemantics and Natural Maps (Comments on Work by Rob Cummins Et Al.).
    Let me begin by signaling my enthusiasm both for the specific case offered by Cummins et al. against teleosemantics and for the overall framework from which this work derives. If the first approximation of the idea is that there will be material implicit in a representation that can be exploited by a cognitive agent that later acquires the right abilities to extract this material, and if this material looks a great deal like content, then the teleosemanticist will find accommodating it (...)
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  23. Paul S. Davies (2001). The Excesses of Teleosemantics. In J. S. McIntosh (ed.), Naturalism, Evolution, and Intentionality (Canadian Journal of Philosophy Supplementary Volume 27). University of Calgary Press. 117-137.
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  24. Daniel C. Dennett (2002). Brian Cantwell Smith on Evolution, Objectivity, and Intentionality. In Philosophy of Mental Representation. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
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  25. Daniel C. Dennett (1996). Granny Versus Mother Nature - No Contest. Mind and Language 11 (3):263-269.
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  26. Daniel C. Dennett (1993). Evolution, Teleology, Intentionality. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 16 (2):89-391.
    No response that was not as long and intricate as the two commentaries combined could do justice to their details, so what follows will satisfy nobody, myself included. I will concentrate on one issue discussed by both commentators: the relationship between evolution and teleological (or intentional) explanation. My response, in its brevity, may have just one virtue: it will confirm some of the hunches (or should I say suspicions) that these and other writers have entertained about my views. For more (...)
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  27. Daniel C. Dennett (1990). Granny's Campaign for Safe Science. In Barry M. Loewer & Georges Rey (eds.), Meaning in Mind: Fodor and His Critics. Blackwell.
    What do these various heresies have in common? From Fodor's point of view, two things, obviously: (1) they are all wrong, wrong, wrong! and (2) they are endorsed by people who are otherwise quite decent company. That would be thread enough to tie Fodor's targets together if he were right, but as one who finds more than a morsel of truth in each of the derided doctrines, I must seek elsewhere for a uniting principle, and I think I have found (...)
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  28. Daniel C. Dennett (1988). Evolution, Error and Intentionality. In The Intentional Stance. Mit Press.
    Sometimes it takes years of debate for philosophers to discover what it is they really disagree about. Sometimes they talk past each other in long series of books and articles, never guessing at the root disagreement that divides them. But occasionally a day comes when something happens to coax the cat out of the bag. "Aha!" one philosopher exclaims to another, "so that's why you've been disagreeing with me, misunderstanding me, resisting my conclusions, puzzling me all these years!".
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  29. Ezequiel A. Di Paolo (2005). Autopoiesis, Adaptivity, Teleology, Agency. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 4 (4):429-452.
    A proposal for the biological grounding of intrinsic teleology and sense-making through the theory of autopoiesis is critically evaluated. Autopoiesis provides a systemic language for speaking about intrinsic teleology but its original formulation needs to be elaborated further in order to explain sense-making. This is done by introducing adaptivity, a many-layered property that allows organisms to regulate themselves with respect to their conditions of viability. Adaptivity leads to more articulated concepts of behaviour, agency, sense-construction, health, and temporality than those given (...)
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  30. Fred Dretske (2006). Representation, Teleosemantics, and the Problem of Self-Knowledge. In Graham F. Macdonald & David Papineau (eds.), Teleosemantics. Oxford University Press.
  31. Fred Dretske (2001). Norms, History, and the Mental. In D. Walsh (ed.), Evolution, Naturalism and Mind. Cambridge University Press. 87-104.
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  32. Fred Dretske (2000). Perception, Knowledge and Belief: Selected Essays. Cambridge University Press.
    This collection of essays by eminent philosopher Fred Dretske brings together work on the theory of knowledge and philosophy of mind spanning thirty years. The two areas combine to lay the groundwork for a naturalistic philosophy of mind. The fifteen essays focus on perception, knowledge, and consciousness. Together, they show the interconnectedness of Dretske's work in epistemology and his more contemporary ideas on philosophy of mind, shedding light on the links which can be made between the two. The first section (...)
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  33. Fred Dretske (1986). Misrepresentation. In R. Bogdan (ed.), Belief: Form, Content, and Function. Oxford University Press. 17--36.
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  34. Crawford L. Elder, Mental Causation, Invariance, and Teleofunctional Content.
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  35. Crawford L. Elder (1998). What Sensory Signals Are About. Analysis 58 (4):273-276.
    In ‘Of Sensory Systems and the “Aboutness” of Mental States’, Kathleen Akins (1996) argues against what she calls ‘the traditional view’ about sensory systems, according to which they are detectors of features in the environment outside the organism. As an antidote, she considers the case of thermoreception, a system whose sensors send signals about how things stand with themselves and their immediate dermal surround (a ‘narcissistic’ sensory system); and she closes by suggesting that the signals from many sensory systems may (...)
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  36. Crawford L. Elder (1998). What Versus How in Naturally Selected Representations. Mind 107 (426):349-363.
    Empty judgements appear to be about something, and inaccurate judgements to report something. Naturalism tries to explain these appearances without positing non-real objects or states of affairs. Biological naturalism explains that the false and the empty are tokens which fail to perform the function proper to their biological type. But if truth is a biological 'supposed to', we should expect designs that achieve it only often enough. The sensory stimuli which trigger the frog's gulp-launching signal may be a poor guide (...)
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  37. Berent Enc (2002). Indeterminacy of Function Attributions. In Andre Ariew, Robert Cummins & Mark Perlman (eds.), Functions: New Essays in the Philosophy of Psychology and Biology. Oxford University Press. 291.
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  38. Brian Epstein (2006). Review of Millikan, Ruth Garrett, Language: A Biological Model. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2006 (5).
    Ruth Mil­likan is one of the most inter­est­ing and influ­en­tial philoso­phers alive. Her work is also hard to pen­e­trate. In this review, I try to present and assess her work on the nature of lan­guage, which is col­lected in this anthol­ogy. I also crit­i­cize her analy­sis of “nat­ural con­ven­tion” as well as her dis­cus­sion of illo­cu­tion­ary acts.
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  39. Oleg V. Favorov & Dan Ryder, Sinbad: A Neocortical Mechanism for Discovering Environmental Variables and Regularities Hidden in Sensory Input.
    We propose that a top priority of the cerebral cortex must be the discovery and explicit representation of the environmental variables that contribute as major factors to environmental regularities. Any neural representation in which such variables are represented only implicitly (thus requiring extra computing to use them) will make the regularities more complex and therefore more difficult, if not impossible, to learn. The task of discovering such important environmental variables is not an easy one, since their existence is only indirectly (...)
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  40. Kenneth G. Ferguson (2009). Meaning and the External World. Erkenntnis 70 (3):299 - 311.
    Realism, defined as a justified belief in the existence of the external world, is jeopardized by ‘meaning rationalism,’ the classic theory of meaning that sees the extension of words as a function of the intensions of individual speakers, with no way to ensure that these intensions actually correspond to anything in the external world. To defend realism, Ruth Millikan ( 1984 , 1989a , b , 1993 , 2004 , 2005 ) offers a biological theory of meaning called ‘teleosemantics’ in (...)
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  41. Kenneth G. Ferguson (2007). Biological Function and Normativity. Philo 10 (1):17-26.
    Ruth Millikan and others adopt a normative definition of biological functions that is heavily used in areas such as Millikan’s teleosemantics, and also for emerging efforts to naturalize other areas of philosophy. I propose an experiment called the Lapse Test to determine exactly what form of normativity, if any, truly applies to biological functions. Millikan has not gone far enough in playing down as “impersonal” or “quasi” the precise mode of normativity that she attributes to biological functions. Further, her mode (...)
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  42. Jerry A. Fodor (1990). A Theory of Content I. In , A Theory of Content. MIT Press.
  43. Jerry A. Fodor (1990). A Theory of Content and Other Essays. MIT Press.
  44. Jerry A. Fodor (1990). Psychosemantics, or, Where Do Truth Conditions Come From? In William G. Lycan (ed.), Mind and Cognition. Blackwell.
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  45. Graeme Forbes (1989). Biosemantics and the Normative Properties of Thought. Philosophical Perspectives 3:533-547.
  46. Christopher Gauker (1995). Review of Millikan, White Queen Psychology and Other Essays for Alice. [REVIEW] Philosophical Psychology 8:305-309.
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  47. Peter Godfrey-Smith (2004). Mental Representation, Naturalism, and Teleosemantics. In David Papineau & Graham MacDonald (eds.), Teleosemantics: New Philosophical Essays. Oxford University Press.
    The "teleosemantic" program is part of the attempt to give a naturalistic explanation of the semantic properties of mental representations. The aim is to show how the internal states of a wholly physical agent could, as a matter of objective fact, represent the world beyond them. The most popular approach to solving this problem has been to use concepts of physical correlation with some kinship to those employed in information theory (Dretske 1981, 1988; Fodor 1987, 1990). Teleosemantics, which tries to (...)
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  48. Peter Godfrey-Smith (1996). Complexity and the Function of Mind in Nature. Cambridge University Press.
    This book explains the relationship between intelligence and environmental complexity, and in so doing links philosophy of mind to more general issues about the relations between organisms and environments, and to the general pattern of 'externalist' explanations. The author provides a biological approach to the investigation of mind and cognition in nature. In particular he explores the idea that the function of cognition is to enable agents to deal with environmental complexity. The history of the idea in the work of (...)
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  49. Peter Godfrey-Smith (1994). A Continuum of Semantic Optimism. In Stephen P. Stich & Ted A. Warfield (eds.), Mental Representation: A Reader. Blackwell.
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  50. Peter Godfrey-Smith (1992). Indication and Adaptation. Synthese 92 (2):283-312.
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