Putnam, Searle, and externalism

Philosophical Studies 81 (1):27-69 (1995)
To sum up, then, both kinds of Putnam's arguments established externalism, though they suffer from several defects. Yet, I think Searle's discussion of these arguments contributes to our understanding of what makes externalism true, and forces us to accept a moderate version of externalism. Searle's own account of the TE story shows us, within a solipsistic outline, how two identical mental states can be directed towards different objects, and further, that the content-determination of indexical thoughts does not necessarily involve external factors. We are thus led to search elsewhere (i.e., not in the nature of indexical thoughts nor in the mere fact of there being identical thoughts with different intentionalities) for what makes the thoughts in question ‘external’. Searle formulates the thesis that intension determines extension as asserting that intension sets certain conditions that anything has to meet in order to fall under its extension. I showed that this is a trivial and implausible understanding of that thesis. Yet, it leads us to distinguish between an intension's setting conditions for falling under its extension and its fully determining such conditions, and thus to see in what sense externalism is true: in the sense that there are intensions that do not fully determine the conditions for falling under their extensions. Rather, they leave indeterminacies. This version of externalism is a moderate one, since though the intensions do not fully determine extensions, they, so to speak, determine their indeterminacies, by specifying the possible external facts that can complete the determination of extension. (The intensions, as I said, function like open sentences, and can be viewed as narrow contents.) So what's in the head plays a much more important role in determining content than Putnam takes it to play. Searle's pointing out that Hilary's concepts ‘elm’ and ‘beech’ are different also contributes to seeing this phenomenon: we realize that in that case the difference between the concepts is what is responsible for the fact that the completions of the extension-determinations are different. I think that this way of viewing the facts shows that ‘the externalist turn’ is not a great revolution, and that with the help of the concept of narrow content we can accept it without abandoning the traditional views about the mind as the source of content, and without being embarrassed by the very idea of (realistic) belief-desire psychology
Keywords Epistemology  Externalism  Knowledge  Psychology  Putnam, H  Searle, J
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DOI 10.1007/BF00354478
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