This work discusses a number of issues concerning mental contents. Its main purpose is to account for our thinking about extra-mental reality. I wish, in other words, to answer the question what makes it the case that mental states have the specific contents that they do. I try to present a theory that answers this question without using any semantic/intentional terms. Yet, the theory is neutral regarding the ontological status of the intentional and of the mental generally.
This paper suggests a critique of the zombie argument that bypasses the need to decide on the truth of its main premises, and specifically, avoids the need to enter the battlefield of whether conceivability entails metaphysical possibility. It is argued that if we accept, as the zombie argument’s supporters would urge us, the assumption that an ideal reasoner can conceive of a complete physical description of the world without conceiving of qualia, the general principle that conceivability entails metaphysical possibility, and (...) the general principle that for any s and t the metaphysical possibility of s & − t entails that s does not necessitate t, we have to conclude not that materialism is false but rather that either materialism or the “mental paint” (or “phenomenist”) conception of phenomenality is false. And further, given the initial advantages of materialism, the fact that proponents of the zombie argument are not allowed to rely on arguments against materialism in confronting this dilemma, and difficulties with arguments in favor of phenomenism, we find ourselves pushed to reject the mental paint conception rather than materialism. Or at any rate, it is hard to see how the proponent of the zombie argument can carry the burden of proof that lies with her. Thus, whether or not those premises of the zombie argument are true, the argument fails to refute materialism. (shrink)
Computational properties, it is standardly assumed, are to be sharply distinguished from semantic properties. Specifically, while it is standardly assumed that the semantic properties of a cognitive system are externally or non-individualistically individuated, computational properties are supposed to be individualistic and internal. Yet some philosophers (e.g., Tyler Burge) argue that content impacts computation, and further, that environmental factors impact computation. Oron Shagrir has recently argued for these theses in a novel way, and gave them novel interpretations. In this paper I (...) present a conception of computation in cognitive science that takes Shagrir's conception as its starting point, but further develops it in various directions and strengthens it. I argue that the explanatory role of computational properties emerges from the idea that syntactical properties and the relevant external factors presented by cognitive systems compose wide computational properties. I also elaborate upon the notion of content that is in play, and argue that it is contents of the kind that are ascribed by transparent interpretations of content ascriptions that impact computation. This fact enables the thesis that external factors impact computation to rebuff the challenge which concerns the claim that psychology must be individualistic. (shrink)
In "Contents just are in the head" (Erkenntnis 54, pp. 321-4.) I have presented two arguments against the thesis of semantic externalism. In "Contents just aren't in the head" Anthony Brueckner has argued that my arguments are unsuccessful, since they rest upon some misconceptions regarding the nature of this thesis. (Erkenntnis 58, pp. 1-6.) In the present paper I will attempt to clarify and strengthen the case against semantic externalism, and show that Brueckner misses the point of my arguments.
The paper argues that Jackson's knowledge argument fails to undermine physicalist ontology. First, it is argued that, as this argument stands, it begs the question. Second, it is suggested that by supplementing the argument (and taking one of its premises for granted), this flaw can be remedied insofar as the argument is taken to be an argument against type-physicalism; however, this flaw cannot be remedied insofar as the argument is taken to be an argument against token-physicalism. The argument cannot be (...) supplemented so as to show that experiences have properties which are illegitimate from a physicalist perspective. (shrink)
The purpose of the paper is to show that semanticexternalism â the thesis that contents are notdetermined by ``individualistic'' features of mentalstates â is mistaken. Externalist thinking, it isargued, rests on two mistaken assumptions: theassumption that if there is an externalist wayof describing a situation the situation exemplifiesexternalism, and the assumption that cases in which adifference in the environment of an intentional stateentails a difference in the state's intentional objectare cases in which environmental factors determine thestate's content. Exposing these mistakes (...) leads to seethat the conditions that are required for thetruth of externalism are inconsistent. (shrink)
Physicalist epiphenomenalism is the conjunction of the doctrine that tokens of mental events are tokens of physical events and the doctrine that mental events do not exert causal powers by virtue of falling under mental types. The purpose of the paper is to show that physicalist epiphenomenalism, contrary to what many have thought, is not subject to the objections that have been raised against classic epiphenomenalism. This is argued with respect to five such objections: that introspection shows that our mental (...) properties are causally efficacious; that concrete existents and their properties necessarily possess causal powers; that the explanatory and predictive success of psychology implies that psychological properties exist and are causally efficacious; that epiphenomenalism cannot deal with the other minds problem, and that it is unlikely that our mentality does not endow us with evolutionary advantages and therefore it is unlikely that mental properties are not causally efficacious. (shrink)
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. (shrink)