This paper applies the theory of teleosemantics to the issue of moral content. Two versions of teleosemantics are distinguished: input-based and output-based. It is argued that applying either to the case of moral judgements generates the conclusion that such judgements have both descriptive (belief-like) and directive (desire-like) content, intimately entwined. This conclusion directly validates neither descriptivism nor expressivism, but the application of teleosemantics to moral content does leave the descriptivist with explanatory challenges which the expressivist does not (...) face. Since teleosemantics ties content to function, the paper also offers an account of the evolutionary function of moral judgements. (shrink)
Teleosemantics seeks to explain meaning and other intentional phenomena in terms of their function in the life of the species. This volume of new essays from an impressive line-up of well-known contributors offers a valuable summary of the current state of the teleosemantics debate.
Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism aims to show that the conjunction of contemporary evolutionary theory (E) with the claim that there is no God (N) cannot be rationally accepted. Where R is the claim that our cognitive faculties are reliable, the argument is: The probability of R given N and E is low or inscrutable.Anyone who sees (1) and accepts (N&E) has a defeater for R, and this defeater cannot be defeated or deflected.Anyone who has an undefeated, undeflected defeater (...) for R has an undefeated, undeflected defeater for everything she believes.Therefore she has an undefeated, undeflected defeater for (N&E).Plantinga (2011) defends the second premise. It examines and rejects several candidate defeater defeaters and defeater deflectors. One candidate is Millikan’s teleosemantics. I show that Plantinga’s motives for rejecting teleosemantics as a defeater deflector are inadequate. I then show that teleosemantics is not on its own an adequate defeater deflector. Then I offer an additional premise that constitutes a defeater deflector in conjunction with teleosemantics. (shrink)
There has been much discussion of so-called teleosemantic approaches to the naturalization of content. Such discussion, though, has been largely confined to simple, innate mental states with contents such as ?There is a fly here.? Even assuming we can solve the issues that crop up at this stage, an account of the content of human mental states will not get too far without an account of productivity: the ability to entertain indefinitely many thoughts. The best-known teleosemantic theory, Millikan's biosemantics, offers (...) an account of productivity in thought. This paper raises a basic worry about this account: that the use of mapping functions in the theory is unacceptable from a naturalistic point of view. (shrink)
The "teleosemantic" program is part of the attempt to give a naturalistic explanation of the semantic properties of mental representations. The aim is to show how the internal states of a wholly physical agent could, as a matter of objective fact, represent the world beyond them. The most popular approach to solving this problem has been to use concepts of physical correlation with some kinship to those employed in information theory (Dretske 1981, 1988; Fodor 1987, 1990). Teleosemantics, which tries (...) to solve the problem using a concept of biological function, arrived in the mid 1980s with ground-breaking works by Millikan (1984) and Papineau (1984, 1987).<sup>1</sup>. (shrink)
In a recent article, William F. Harms (2000) argues in a novel way for a form of moral realism. He does not actually argue that moral realism is true, but rather that if morality is the product of natural selection.
How do frogs represent their prey? This question has been the focus of many debates among proponents of naturalistic theories of content, especially among proponents of teleosemantics. This is because alternative versions of the teleosemantic approach have different implications for the content of frog representations, and it is still controversial which of these content ascriptions (if any) is the most adequate. Theorists often appeal to intuitions here, but this is a dubious strategy. In this paper, I suggest an alternative, (...) empirical test for theories of content. I propose that we should examine whether a theory generates content ascriptions that fit with our best scientific explanations of animal behavior. I then focus on the most prominent version of teleosemantics, Ruth Millikan’s consumer-oriented approach, and argue that it fails the empirical test in the frog case, since it yields a content ascription that (i) does not include properties that should be included (namely, being small, dark and moving ) and (ii) includes a property that should not be included (namely, being frog food ). This is an important result in itself, but it also demonstrates by way of example how progress can be made in the complex debate about theories of content. (shrink)
Ethological theory standardly attributes representational content to animal signals. In this article I first assess whether Ruth Millikan’s teleosemantic theory accounts for the content of animal signals. I conclude that it does not, because many signals do not exhibit the required sort of cooperation between signal‐producing and signal‐consuming devices. It is then argued that Kim Sterelny’s proposal, while not requiring cooperation, sometimes yields the wrong content. Finally, I outline an alternative view, according to which consumers alone are responsible for conferring (...) representational status and determining content. I suggest that consumer‐based teleosemantics reconstruct the content of both cooperative and noncooperative signals and explain how a given trait can mean different things to different consumers. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, King’s College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, U.K.; e‐mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (shrink)
The success of a piece of behaviour is often explained by its being caused by a true representation (similarly, failure falsity). In some simple organisms, success is just survival and reproduction. Scientists explain why a piece of behaviour helped the organism to survive and reproduce by adverting to the behaviour’s having been caused by a true representation. That usage should, if possible, be vindicated by an adequate naturalistic theory of content. Teleosemantics cannot do so, when it is applied to (...) simple representing systems (Godfrey-Smith 1996). Here it is argued that the teleosemantic approach to content should therefore be modified, not abandoned, at least for simple representing systems. The new ‘infotel-semantics’ adds an input condition to the output condition offered by teleosemantics, recognising that it is constitutive of content in a simple representing system that the tokening of a representation should correlate probabilistically with the obtaining of its specific evolutionary success condition. (shrink)
Argues that the meaning of perceptual states depends on certain simple "actions" of conditioning and habituation innately associated with them. A game theoretic account of the meaning of perceptual states is offered.
Let me begin by signaling my enthusiasm both for the specific case offered by Cummins et al. against teleosemantics and for the overall framework from which this work derives. If the first approximation of the idea is that there will be material implicit in a representation that can be exploited by a cognitive agent that later acquires the right abilities to extract this material, and if this material looks a great deal like content, then the teleosemanticist will find accommodating (...) it challenging. Moreover, the distinction between representation and indication is intriguing and important, and the discussion of structural transformation and isomorphism is illuminating. While Cummins has been urging these themes for some time now, it seems to me that they have not been sufficiently appreciated in the literature. (shrink)
Teleosemantic theories of content constitute a mixed family of different proposals and accounts about what consists mental content. In the present paper, I would like examine the scope and limits of a particular and well defined teleosemantic theory such as Millikan’s account. My aim entails presenting arguments in order to show how her theory of mental content is unnable of giving a complete account of the whole mental life almost for adult human agents without commiting certain adaptationist assumptions. I am (...) going to present my arguments in the following order. In section 1 I present an outline of the Millikan’s theory of mental content. In section 2, after defining useless content I pay attention to her treatment of it. In section 3 I set out my queries concerning to the fixation of useless content defended by Millikan. Finally, I conclude that the theory about useless content doesn’t identify content in terms of sufficient and necessary conditions. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to defend the teleological theory of representation against an objection by Jerry Fodor. I shall argue that previous attempts to answer this objection fail to recognize the importance of belief-desire structure for the teleological theory of representation.
I pose the following dilemma for Millikan's teleological theory of mental content. There is only one way that her theory can avoid Gauker's [(1995) Review of Millikan's White queen psychology and other essays for Alice, Philosophical Psychology, 8, 305-309] charge that it relies on an unexplained notion of mapping or isomorphism between mental state and world. Mental content must be explained in terms of the mapping relation that is required for mental state producing and consuming mechanisms to perform their biologically (...) proper functions, i.e. producing mental states that are consumed in systematically adaptive practical inferences. However, this proposal leads to unacceptably counterintuitive ascriptions of content to mythological beliefs and related desires: such beliefs and desires must "map onto" environmental states that make them adaptive, not onto the mythological states of affairs that (would) make them true or fulfilled. I conclude by discussing the merits and drawbacks of a potential solution to this problem: the view that the contents of mythological beliefs and desires are determined by the non-mythological concepts out of which they are constructed, rather than by the environmental states that make them adaptive. The affinities of this proposal with Pascal Boyer's recent theory of mythological concepts [(2001) Religion explained, New York: Basic Books] are also discussed. (shrink)
The main thesis of this paper is twofold. In the first half of the paper, (§§1-2), I argue that there are two notions of mental representation, which I call objective and subjective. In the second part (§§3-7), I argue that this casts familiar tracking theories of mental representation as incomplete: while it is clear how they might account for objective representation, they at least require supplementation to account for subjective representation.
On a currently popular reading of Locke, an idea represents its cause, or what God intended to be its cause. Against Martha Bolton and my former self (among others), I argue that Locke cannot hold such a view, since it sins against his epistemology and theory of abstraction. I argue that Locke is committed to a resemblance theory of representation, with the result that ideas of secondary qualities are not representations.
Ruth Millikan’s teleological theory of mental content is complex and often misunderstood. This paper motivates and clarifies some of the complexities of the theory, and shows that paying careful attention to its details yields answers to a number of common objections to teleological theories, in particular, the problem of novel mental states, the problem of functionally false beliefs, and problems about indeterminacy or multiplicity of function.
I clarify some of the details of the modal theory of function I outlined in Nanay (2010): (a) I explicate what it means that the function of a token biological trait is fixed by modal facts; (b) I address an objection to my trait type individuation argument against etiological function and (c) I examine the consequences of replacing the etiological theory of function with a modal theory for the prospects of using the concept of biological function to explain mental content.
In this paper, we introduce a novel difficulty for teleosemantics, viz., its inability to account for what we call unexploited content—content a representation has, but which the system that harbors it is currently unable to exploit. In section two, we give a characterization of teleosemantics. Since our critique does not depend on any special details that distinguish the variations in the literature, the characterization is broad, brief and abstract. In section three, we explain what we mean by unexploited (...) content, and argue that any theory of content adequate to ground representationalist theories in cognitive science must allow for it.1 In section four, we show that teleosemantic theories of the sort we identify in section two cannot accommodate unexploited content, and are therefore unacceptable if intended as attempts to ground representationalist cognitive science. Finally, in section five, we speculate that the existence and importance of unexploited content has likely been obscured by a failure to distinguish representation from indication, and by a tendency to think of representation as reference. (shrink)
Ruth Millikan is one of the most interesting and influential philosophers alive. Her work is also hard to penetrate. In this review, I try to present and assess her work on the nature of language, which is collected in this anthology. I also criticize her analysis of “natural convention” as well as her discussion of illocutionary acts.
There is only one physically possible process that builds and operates purposive systems in nature: natural selection. What it does is build and operate systems that look to us purposive, goal directed, teleological. There really are not any purposes in nature and no purposive processes ether. It is just one vast network of linked causal chains. Darwinian natural selection is the only process that could produce the appearance of purpose. That is why natural selection must have built and must continually (...) shape the intentional causes of purposive behavior. Fodor’s argument against Darwinian theory involves a biologist’s modus tollens which is a cognitive scientist’s modus ponens. Assuming his argument is valid, the right conclusion is not that Darwin’s theory is mistaken but that Fodor’s and any other non-Darwinian approaches to the mind are wrong. It shows how getting things wrong in the philosophy of biology leads to mistaken conclusions with the potential to damage the acceptance of a theory with harmful consequences for human well-being. Fodor has shown that the real consequence of rejecting a Darwinian approach to the mind is to reject a Darwinian theory of phylogenetic evolution. This forces us to take seriously a notion that otherwise would not have much of a chance: that when it comes to the nature of mental states, indeterminacy rules. This is an insight that should have the most beneficial impact on freeing cognitive neuroscience from demands on the adequacy of its theories that it could never meet. (shrink)
The purposes of this paper are first, to develop clearly the problem of mental conditionals for Millikan’s theory; second, to show why existing approaches to conditional semantics face serious challenges from a teleosemantic perspective; and third, to offer an account of the function of mental conditionals that meets the requirements of Millikan’s theory. We end up not only with a solution to a standing problem for teleosemantics, but also with a novel avenue for research in conditional semantics.
The brain is often taken to be a paradigmatic example of a signaling system with semantic and representational properties, in which neurons are senders and receivers of information carried in action potentials. A closer look at this picture shows that it is not as appealing as it might initially seem in explaining the function of the brain. Working from several sender-receiver models within the teleosemantic framework, I will first argue that two requirements must be met for a system to support (...) genuine semantic information: 1. The receiver must be competent —that is, it must be able to extract rewards from its environment on the basis of the signals that it receives. 2. The receiver must have some flexibility of response relative to the signal received. In the second part of the paper, this initial framework will be applied to neural processes, pointing to the surprising conclusion that signaling at the single-neuron level is only weakly semantic at best. Contrary to received views, neurons will have little or no access to semantic information (though their patterns of activity may carry plenty of quantitative, correlational information) about the world outside the organism. Genuine representation of the world requires an organism - level receiver of semantic information, to which any particular set of neurons makes only a small contribution. (shrink)
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.. (shrink)
What is the difference between an emotional appraisal and a dispassionate judgement? It has been suggested that emotional appraisals are states of a special kind that play a distinctive role in our psychology; it has also been suggested that emotional appraisals have a distinctive kind of content. In this paper, I explore the links between the function and content of an emotional appraisal, making use of a teleosemantic account of intentional content that I have developed elsewhere.
Papineau in his book provides a detailed defense of physicalism via what has recently been dubbed the “phenomenal concept strategy”. I share his enthusiasm for this approach. But I disagree with his account of how a physicalist should respond to the conceivability arguments. Also I argue that his appeal to teleosemantics in explaining mental quotation is more like a promissory note than an actual theory.
Realism, defined as a justified belief in the existence of the external world, is jeopardized by ‘meaning rationalism,’ the classic theory of meaning that sees the extension of words as a function of the intensions of individual speakers, with no way to ensure that these intensions actually correspond to anything in the external world. To defend realism, Ruth Millikan ( 1984 , 1989a , b , 1993 , 2004 , 2005 ) offers a biological theory of meaning called ‘teleosemantics’ (...) in which words, without requiring any contribution from the speaker’s intensions, are supposedly matched directly with their extensions by external norms. But even if one granted as a theoretical possibility that word meaning might possibly be stabilized through an external process, nonetheless, realists who wish to appeal to teleosemantics for a semantic proof of the external world must be capable of identifying these external norms, something that Millikan describes as highly fallible. Furthermore, because they can be aware of these norms only as these are internally represented, it would also be necessary for realists to verify that these internal representations accurately reflect the norms as they occur in the external world. But given that this is virtually the same stumbling block to realism found in meaning rationalism, it is concluded that teleosemantics is not likely to restore faith in this worldview. (shrink)
To ascribe a telos is to ascribe a norm or standard of performance. That fact underwrites the plausibility of, say, teleological theories of mind. Teleosemantics, for example, relies on the normative character of teleology to solve the problem of “intentional inexistence”: a misrepresentation is just a malfunction. If the teleological ascriptions of such theories to natural systems, e.g., the neurological structures of the brain, are to be literally true, then it must be literally true that norms can exist independent (...) of intentional and psychological agency. Davies, for one, has argued that such norms are impossible within a naturalistic worldview. Consequently, teleological theories of mind, for example, cannot be literally true. I will show, however, that the truth conditions on normative statements do not presuppose intentional and psychological agency and, further, that a selectional regime is one naturalistic mechanism that satisfies those truth conditions. Norms, then, exist in the world independent of intentional and psychological agency. (shrink)
Millikan’s theory of content purports to rely heavily on the existence of isomorphisms between a system of representations and the things in the world which they represent — “the mapping requirement for being intentional signs” (Millikan 2004, p. 106). This paper asks whether those isomorphisms are doing any substantive explanatory work. Millikan’s isomorphism requirement is deployed for two main purposes. First, she claims that the existence of an isomorphism is the basic representing relation, with teleology playing a subsidiary role — (...) to account for misrepresentation (the possibility of error). Second, Millikan relies on an isomorphism requirement in order to guarantee that a system of representations displays a kind of productivity. This seemingly strong reliance on isomorphism has prompted the objection that isomorphism is too liberal to be the basic representing relation: there are isomorphisms between any system of putative representations and any set, of the same cardinality, of items putatively represented. This paper argues that all the work in fixing content is in fact done by the teleology. Deploying Millikan’s teleology-based conditions to ascribe contents will ensure that there is an isomorphism between representations and the things they represent, but the isomorphism ‘requirement’ is playing no substantive explanatory role in Millikan’s account of content determination. So an objection to her theory based on the liberality of isomorphism is misplaced. The second role for isomorphism is to account for productivity. If some kind of productivity is indeed necessary for representation, then functional isomorphism will again be too liberal a constraint to account for that feature. The paper suggests an alternative way of specifying the relation between a system of representations and that which they represent which is capable of playing an explanatory role in accounting for Millikan’s type of productivity. In short, the liberality of isomorphism is no objection to Millikan’s teleosemantics, since the isomorphism ‘requirement’ need play no independent substantive role in Millikan’s account of representation. (shrink)
There are three major theses in Plantinga’s latest version of his evolutionary argument against naturalism. (1) Given materialism, the conditional probability of the reliability of human cognitive mechanisms produced by evolution is low; (2) the same conditional probability given reductive or non-reductive materialism is still low; (3) the most popular naturalistic theories of content and truth are not admissible for naturalism. I argue that Plantinga’s argument for (1) presupposes an anti-materialistic conception of content, and it therefore begs the question against (...) materialism. To argue for (2), Plantinga claims that the adaptiveness of a belief is indifferent to its truth. I argue that this claim is unsupported unless it again assumes an anti-materialistic conception of content and truth. I further argue that Plantinga’s argument for (3) is not successful either, because an improved version of teleosemantics can meet his criticisms. Moreover, this version of teleosemantics implies that the truth of a belief is (probabilistically) positively related to its adaptiveness, at least for simple beliefs about physical objects in human environments. This directly challenges Plantinga’s claim that adaptiveness is indifferent to truth. (shrink)
Language is at the core of the cognitive revolution that has transformed that discipline over the last forty years or so, and it is also the central paradigm for the most prominent attempt to synthesise psychology and evolutionary theory. A single and distinctively modular view of language has emerged out of both these perspectives, one that encourages a certain idealisation. Linguistic competence is uniform, independent of other cognitive capacities, and with a developmental trajectory that is largely independent of environmental input (...) (Pinker 1994; Pinker 1997). Thus language is seen as a paradigm of John Tooby and Leda Cosmides’ concept of “evoked culture”: linguistic experience serves only to select a specific item from a menu of innately available options (Tooby and Cosmides 1992). In explaining this concept, they appeal to the metaphor of a jukebox. The human genome pre-stores a set of options, and the different experiences provided by different cultures select different elements out of this option set. I think an appropriate evolutionary perspective on language substantially undercuts this idealisation and the evoked culture model of language. Variability between speakers; the sensitivity of linguistic development to environmental input; and the limits of encapsulation are not noise. They are central to the language and its evolution. (shrink)
We draw on Short’s work on Peirce’s theory of signs to propose a new general definition of interpretation. Short argues that Peirce’s semiotics rests on his naturalised teleology. Our proposal extends Short’s work by modifying his definition of interpretation so as to make it more generally applicable to putatively interpretative processes in biological systems. We use our definition as the basis of an account of different kinds of misinterpretation and we discuss some questions raised by the definition by reference to (...) parallel problems in the field of teleosemantics. We propose that interpretative responses fulfilling the criteria of our definition may be made by relatively simple molecular entities and we suggest two specific empirical applications of the definition to experimental work in the field of origin of life research. Our wider aim is to suggest that a well formulated naturalistic definition of interpretation will allow a re-evaluation of the role of semiotic phenomena in biological systems, including the generation of empirically testable hypotheses. (shrink)
Ruth Millikan and others adopt a normative definition of biological functions that is heavily used in areas such as Millikan’s teleosemantics, and also for emerging efforts to naturalize other areas of philosophy. I propose an experiment called the Lapse Test to determine exactly what form of normativity, if any, truly applies to biological functions. Millikan has not gone far enough in playing down as “impersonal” or “quasi” the precise mode of normativity that she attributes to biological functions. Further, her (...) mode fails to qualify as genuine normativity at all, lacking an essential feature: some lapse of responsibility on the part of any entity or system that is charged with failing to do as it is “supposed.” Nor, as we will see, is there anything in English idioms used to describe biological functions that can provide a persuasive argument to rehabilitate Millikan’s normative definition. (shrink)
There is ongoing controversy as to whether the genome is a representing system (Sterelny K., <span class='Hi'>Smith</span> K.C. and Dickson M. 1996. Biol. Philos. 11: 377–403; Griffiths P.E. 2001. Philos. Sci. 68: 394–412). Although it is widely recognised that DNA carries information, both correlating with and coding for various outcomes, neither of these implies that the genome has semantic properties like correctness or satisfaction conditions (Godfrey-<span class='Hi'>Smith</span> P. 2002. In: Wolenski J. and Kajania-Placek K. (eds), In the Scope of Logic, (...) Methodology, and the Philosophy of Sciences, Vol. II. Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 387–400). Here a modified version of teleosemantics is applied to the genome to show that it does indeed have semantic properties – there is representation in the genome. The account differs in three respects from previous attempts to apply teleosemantics to genes. It emphasises the role of the consumer of representations (in addition to their mode of production). It rejects the standard assumption that genetic representation can be used to explain the course of an organism’s development. And it identifies the explanatory role played by representational properties of the genome. A striking consequence of this account is that other inheritance systems could also be representational. Thus, a version of the parity thesis is accepted (Griffiths P.E. 2001. Philos. Sci. 68: 394–412). However, the criteria for being an inheritance system are demanding, so semantic properties are not ubiquitous. (shrink)
This paper explores John Maynard Smith’s conceptual work on animal signals. Maynard Smith defined animal signals as traits that (1) change another organism’s behaviour while benefiting the sender, that (2) are evolved for this function, and that (3) have their effects through the evolved response of the receiver. Like many ethologists, Maynard Smith assumed that animal signals convey semantic information. Yet his definition of animal signals remains silent on the nature of semantic information and on the conditions determining its content. (...) I therefore compare three ways to specify the semantic content of animal signals. The first suggestion models semantic content on Maynard Smith’s theory of genetic information. On the second proposal, semantic content is equated with a condition identified by conventional content ascriptions. The third suggestion is to explain semantic content in terms of consumer-based teleosemantics. I show how these accounts equate semantic content with distinct kinds of conditions and how they differ with respect to the kinds of traits that qualify as carrying semantic information. (shrink)
Empty judgements appear to be about something, and inaccurate judgements to report something. Naturalism tries to explain these appearances without positing non-real objects or states of affairs. Biological naturalism explains that the false and the empty are tokens which fail to perform the function proper to their biological type. But if truth is a biological 'supposed to', we should expect designs that achieve it only often enough. The sensory stimuli which trigger the frog's gulp-launching signal may be a poor guide (...) to the signal's content. Teleosemantics should be anti-verificationist. (shrink)
In this essay we try an answer to the question has intentionality to be reduced to anything? We propose that it is possible to reduce any variety of intentionality to a specification of mechanisms (internal organization of the items involved in a given intentional phenomenon) and a historical pattern of interaction (structure of mutual significant relations historically acquired by different items involved in the same intentional phenomenon). We first clarify the meaning of this proposal having recourse to the Ruth Millikan’s (...)teleosemantics. Then, we assess the relevance and feasibility of our proposal, considering, in a succession, the case of animals and humans, of machines, and of sophisticated human collectives. We conclude arguing the heuristic nature of the proposed reduction. DOI:10.5007/1808-1711.2010v14n2p255. (shrink)
I give an analysis of how empirical terms do their work in communication and the gathering of knowledge that is fully externalist and that covers the full range of empirical terms. It rests on claims about ontology. A result is that armchair analysis fails as a tool for examining meanings of ‘basic’ empirical terms because their meanings are not determined by common methods or criteria of application passed from old to new users, by conventionally determined ‘intensions’. Nor do methods of (...) application used by individual speakers constitute definitive reference-determining intensions for their idiolect terms or associated concepts. Conventional intensions of non-basic empirical terms ultimately rest on basic empirical concepts, so no empirical meaning is found merely ‘in the head’. I discuss the nature of lexical definition, why empirical meanings cannot ultimately be modelled as functions from possible worlds to extensions, and traps into which armchair analysis of meaning can lead us. A coda explains how ‘Swampman’ examples, as used against teleosemantic theories of content, illustrate such traps. (shrink)
This commentary will seek to clarify certain core features of Thompson’s proposal about the enactive nature of basic mentality, as best it can, and to bring his ideas into direct conversation with accounts of basic cognition of the sort favoured by analytical philosophers of mind and more traditional cognitive scientists – i.e. those who tend to be either suspicious or critical of enactive/embodied approaches (to the extent that they confess to understanding them at all). My proposed way of opening up (...) this sort of dialogue is to concentrate on the close similarities between Thompson’s biologically-based proposal about non-representational forms of basic cognition and what I take to be a reasonable modification to the ambitions of teleosemantic theories of content. Insofar as today’s theories of mental representation are less concerned to understand content in properly semantic terms they are moving ever closer to the sorts of account proposed by enactivists of the Thompsonian stripe – close enough to have meaningful debates about the nature of basic mentality. It is against this backdrop that I put a spotlight on the true promise and value of enactivism, providing some compelling reasons for wanting to go Thompson’s way. (shrink)
John Maynard Smith has defended against philosophical criticism the view that developmental biology is the study of the expression of information encoded in the genes by natural selection. However, like other naturalistic concepts of information, this ‘teleosemantic’ information applies to many non-genetic factors in development. Maynard Smith also fails to show that developmental biology is concerned with teleosemantic information. Some other ways to support Maynard Smith’s conclusion are considered. It is argued that on any definition of information the view that (...) development is the expression of genetic information is misleading. Some reasons for the popularity of that view are suggested. (shrink)
There are presently three broad approaches the project of naturalizing intentionality: a purely informational approach (Dretske and Fodor), a purely teleological approach (Millikan and Papineau), and a mixed informationally-based teleological approach (Dretske again). I will argue that the last teleosemantic theory offers the most promising approach. I also think, however, that the most explicit version of a pure teleosemantic theory of content, namely Millikan’s admirable theory, faces a pair of objections. My goal in this paper is to spell out Millikan’s (...) pure teleosemantic theory; then to present two objections; and finally to ask the question whether a teleosemantic framework can be saved from the objections. (shrink)
I show that extant teleosemantic accounts of content are, declarations to the contrary notwithstanding, unable to secure univocal content attributions to simple mental states. I then sketch an alternative account which is free from this problem.
Should moods be regarded as intentional states, and, if so, what kind of intentional content do they have? I focus on irritability (understood as an angry mood) and apprehension (understood as a fearful mood), which I examine from the perspective of a teleosemantic theory of content. Eric Lormand has argued that moods are non-intentional states, distinct from emotions; Robert Solomon and Peter Goldie argue that moods are generalised emotions and that they have intentional content of a correspondingly general kind. I (...) present a third model, on which moods are regarded, not as generalised emotions, but as states of vigilance; and I argue that, on this model, moods should be regarded as intentional states of a kind quite distinct from emotions. An advantage of this account is that it allows us to distinguish between a mood of apprehension and an episode of objectless fear. (shrink)
Much of the debate surrounding the concept of information in biology centers on the question of whether or not biological systems ‘really’ carry information. The criterion for determining if a system “really” carries information is whether or not there is a principled, theoretical account of information that captures the relevant biological usages. If biological systems do not carry information in this sense, information talk is termed merely heuristic and dismissed as philosophically uninteresting. To date, all three proposed theoretical accounts of (...) information—mathematical, causal and teleosemantic—fail to capture the meaning of biologists. Details of other biological practices that utilize informational concepts are often lost because the debate is too focused on one instance of information talk—genetic information and because biological representations are thought to need a certain kind of theoretical foundation. The problem with this methodology is that it takes the failure of philosophical accounts of information to capture current biological practices as conclusive evidence that informational representations in biology are incoherent. This approach is backwards. A better strategy is to get a clear understanding of biological practice and then to use it to shape our understanding of the philosophical significance of biological information. In this paper, I shift attention from abstract reasoning about information in the philosophical literature to concrete reasoning about informational models in biology. The current debate pays too little attention to the biologically prominent concept of signal. I develop a contextualized understanding of signaling models in biological practice. I argue that biologists use the concept of signal to model distinct functional roles in biological systems and not in any of the theoretical senses of information found in the current philosophical literature. For cell biologists, a signal causally indicates the state of a system at a given point and is used in the context of a style of functional explanation generally known as ‘causal role function,’ in which a mechanism or entity has a function if its behavior explains a contribution to a capacity of interest. I support this analysis with an example drawn from cell biology and reframe the debate over the significance of informational terms in biology. The focus on signal recasts the debate by highlighting examples of information talk which are central to active research programs in biology. The advantage of looking at these models is that their centrality to biological practice forces us to reconsider the adequacy of a methodology that dismisses biological models because we lack a particular kind of philosophical understanding of them. Standard philosophical accounts of information rely on assumptions appropriate for the needs of philosophers but are ill-suited for capturing biological practice. A contextualized understanding of the role of signal in biological practice allows us to work out from the details of practice to tackle broader philosophical issues. On this view, the significance of information talk in biology hinges more on our understanding of how biologists represent function than on our understanding of philosophical accounts of information. (shrink)
According to Marin Cureau de La Chambre—steering a middleway between the Aristotelian and the Cartesian conception of the soul—everything that lives cognizes and everything that cognizes is alive. Cureau sticks with the general tripart distinction of vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual soul. Each part of the soul has its own cognition. Cognition is the way in which living beings regulate bodily equilibirum and environmental navigation. This regulative activity is gouverned by acquired or by innate images. Natural cognition (or instinct) is cognition (...) by innate images only. Cureau develops a highly originel theory of natural (or 'specialized') instinct. His theory attempts to explain five features of instinct (innateness, specialization, species-specifitiy, coerciveness, teleological nature). According to my interpretation, Cureau proposes a species of what is called a 'teleosemantic theory' of innate cognition. (shrink)
The ‘gene of’ is a teleosemantic expression that conveys a simplistic and linear relationship between a gene and a phenotype. Throughout the 20th century, geneticists studied these genes of traits. The studies were often polemical when they concerned human traits: the ‘crime gene’, ‘poverty gene’, ‘IQ gene’, ‘gay gene’ or ‘gene of alcoholism’. Quite recently, a controversy occurred in 2006 in New Zealand that started with the claim that a ‘warrior gene’ exists in the Mãori community. This claim came from (...) a geneticist working on the MAOA gene. This article is interested in the responsibility of that researcher regarding the origin of the controversy. Several errors were made: overestimation of results, abusive use of the ‘gene of’ kind of expression, poor communication with the media and a lack of scientific culture. The issues of the debate were not taken into account sufficiently, either from the political, social, ethical or even the genetic points of view. After more than 100 years of debates around ‘genes of’ all kinds (here, the ‘warrior gene’), geneticists may not hide themselves behind the media when a controversy occurs. Responsibilities have to be assumed. (shrink)
I present an outline of a normative and non selectionist theory capable of ascribing functional statements to biological items. Biological items are ussually exemplified by the organs as well as traits or behaviours. But we can consider representations too. In fact, my proposal is focused towards a teleosemantical theory of mental content. The teleosemantic approach explains the content of beliefs in terms of the biological functions of those states. Usually, teleosemantical theories of mental representation either ellaborate previously a general theory (...) of functions for biological items, this is the case for Millikan, Neander or Price, orassume a previous selectionist one, as Papineau does. But these proposals are frequently adaptationist in order to keep normatitvity in whatever functional adscription. The recent contributions to the state of the art show the problems of this kind of selectionist view. But they don’t consider the problem of normativity in functional adscriptions. And this problem become important when we pay attention to mental representations as biological facts. I propose an outline of a nonselectionist nor adaptationist account of biological functions capable of keeping normativity. My account is suitable to biological traits, in general, and mental representations characterized in terms of biological functions. (shrink)