Representationalism and the metonymic fallacy

Synthese 118 (1):13-30 (1999)
Representationalism in cognitive science holds that semantic meaning should be explained by representations in the mind or brain. In this paper it is argued that semantic meaning should instead be explained by an abstract theory of semantic machines -- machines with predicative capability. The concept of a semantic machine (like that of a Turing machine or of Dennett's intentional systems ) is not a physical concept -- although it has physical implementations. The predicative competence of semantic machines is defined in terms of independent agreement alone (cf. independent, and yet synchronised, clocks). Abstract theories are analysed as systems of quasi-apriori rules for abstract predicates. A relatively limited number of such theories and a few fundamental dimensions (space, time, mass, etc.) are today assumed to exhaust physical reality. However, that assumption need not be in conflict with predicates that cannot be defined in physical terms – for instance the functional and intentional terms that are crucial for cognitive science
Keywords Epistemology  Machine  Meaning  Representation  Semantics
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