On thinking of kinds: A neuroscientific perspective

In David Papineau & Graham MacDonald (eds.), Teleosemantics: New Philosophical Essays. Oup. 1-22 (2006)
Abstract
Reductive, naturalistic psychosemantic theories do not have a good track record when it comes to accommodating the representation of kinds. In this paper, I will suggest a particular teleosemantic strategy to solve this problem, grounded in the neurocomputational details of the cerebral cortex. It is a strategy with some parallels to one that Ruth Millikan has suggested, but to which insufficient attention has been paid. This lack of attention is perhaps due to a lack of appreciation for the severity of the problem, so I begin by explaining why the situation is indeed a dire one. One of the main tasks for a naturalistic psychosemantic theory is to describe how the extensions of mental representations are determined. (Such a theory may also attempt to account for other aspects of the “meaning” of mental representations, if there are any.) Some mental representations, e.g. the concept of water, denote kinds (I shall be assuming this is non-negotiable). How is this possible? Unfortunately, I haven’t the space to canvass all the theories out there and show that each one fails to accommodate the representation of kinds, but I will point out the major types of problems that arise for the kinds of theories that, judging by the literature, are considered viable contenders.1 In general, the theories either attempt and fail to account for the representation of kinds, or they fall back on something like an intention to refer to a kind – not exactly the most auspicious move for a reductive theory. There are a number of problems that prevent non-teleosemantic theories from explaining how it is possible to represent kinds. A concept of a kind K must..
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