Learning and selection

Biology and Philosophy 23 (4):493-507 (2008)
Abstract
Are learning processes selection processes? This paper takes a slightly modified version of the account of selection presented in Hull et al. (Behav Brain Sci 24:511–527, 2001) and asks whether it applies to learning processes. The answer is that although some learning processes are selectional, many are not. This has consequences for teleological theories of mental content. According to these theories, mental states have content in virtue of having proper functions, and they have proper functions in virtue of being the products of selection processes. For some mental states, it is plausible that the relevant selection process is natural selection, but there are many for which it is not plausible. One response to this (due to David Papineau) is to suggest that the learning processes by which we acquire non-innate mental states are selection processes and can therefore confer proper functions on mental states. This paper considers two ways in which this response could be elaborated, and argues that neither of them succeed: the teleosemanticist cannot rely on the claim that learning processes are selection processes in order to justify the attribution of proper functions to beliefs.
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