Sign, sign, everywhere a sign! [Book Review]

For Millikan, purpose pervades the biological order, including the genes and genetically encoded traits of every living thing, the unconditioned reflexes and conditioned behavior of every animal, artifacts produced by humans or non-humans. There are also the conscious, explicit purposes and intentions of human beings. These are purposes in “a quite univocal sense,” Millikan insists. “In all cases,” she says, “the thing’s purpose is … what it was selected for doing.” Moreover, “…the purposes we attribute to whole persons … are composed of no more than the purposes of [their] parts and aspects, and of the ways these have been designed to work together.” (13) The chain of purposes forms a double helix with another great chain -- the great chain of signs. At the bottom of the great chain, sit locally recurrent natural signs. These are wholly natural occurrences or states of affairs that carry “local information.” Locally recurrent natural signs are not yet intentional signs but they are the ground on which intentionality ultimately rests. Local natural signs are “basic” representations in the following sense: … when the systems that produce and/or use intentional representations perform the tasks they were designed to perform and perform these tasks by means of their normal mechanism … then the intentional representations are basic representations. (69) When an intentional sign producing/consuming system is functioning “normally” its intentional signs will just be local natural signs. Systems don’t always function normally; So we can’t quite say that intentional signs are built out of locally recurrent natural signs. Still, without such signs subsisting at the ground level, there apparently could not be intentional signs. But it is far from clear whether locally recurrent natural sign can really carry the load Millikan needs them to carry. Locality seems designed to exorcise the ghost of disjunction that haunts many correlational theories of content..
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