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)
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)
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)
The aim of teleosemantics is to give a scientifically respectable, or ‘naturalistic’ theory of mental content. In the debates surrounding the scope and merits of teleosemantics a lot has been said about the concept of indication (or carrying information). The aim of this paper is to focus on the other key concept of teleosemantics: biological function. It has been universally accepted in the teleosemantics literature that the account of biological function one should use to flesh out (...)teleosemantics is that of etiological function. My claim is that if we replace this concept of function with an alternative one (that we have independent reasons to accept) and if we also restrict the scope of teleosemantics, we can arrive at an account of biologizing mental content that is much less problematic than the previous attempts. (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.
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: email@example.com. (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 representation are often criticized as being “too liberal”, i.e. as categorizing states as representations which are not representational at all. Recently, a powerful version of this objection has been put forth by Tyler Burge. Focusing on perception, Burge defends the claim that all teleosemantic theories apply too broadly, thereby missing what is distinctive about representation. Contra Burge, I will argue in this paper that there is a teleosemantic account of perceptual states that does not fall prey to (...) this problem, and that we can arrive at this account by combining some of Burge’s insights with a producer-oriented version of teleosemantics. The resulting theory turns out to be attractive and perfectly coherent. By contrast, the coherence of Burge’s own anti-teleosemantic approach becomes quite doubtful under closer examination—or so I will argue. (shrink)
One of the main tenets of current teleosemantic theories is that simple representations are Pushmi-Pullyu states, i.e. they carry descriptive and imperative content at the same time. In the paper I present an argument that shows that if we add this claim to the core tenets of teleosemantics, then (1) it entails that, necessarily, all representations are Pushmi-Pullyu states and (2) it undermines one of the main motivations for the Pushmi-Pullyu account.
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)
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)
Whether “information” exists in biology, and in what sense, has been a topic of much recent discussion. I explore Shannon, Dretskean, and teleosemantic theories, and analyze whether or not they are able to give a successful naturalistic account of information—specifically accounts of meaning and error—in biological systems. I argue that the Shannon and Dretskean theories are unable to account for either, but that the teleosemantic theory is able to account for meaning. However, I argue that it is unable to account (...) for error. Thus I conclude that while talk of informational meaning is justifiable within a naturalistic framework, talk of informational error is not, and must be used in a metaphorical sense only. (shrink)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
Conventional wisdom has it that evolution makes a sham of morality, even if morality is an adaptation. I disagree. I argue that our best current adaptationist theory of meaning offers objective truth conditionsfor signaling systems of all sorts. The objectivity is, however, relative to species – specifically to the adaptive history of the signaling system in question. While evolution may not provide the kind of species independent objective standards that (e.g.) Kantians desire, this should be enough for the practical work (...) of justifying our confidence in the objectivity of moral standards. If you believe morality is an adaptation, you should be a moral realist. (shrink)
Evolving signaling systems can be said to induce partitions on the space of world states as they approach equilibrium. Formalizing this claim provides a general framework for understanding what it means for language to “cut nature at its seams”. In order to avoid taking our current best science as providing the adaptive target for all evolving systems, the state space of the world must be characterized exclusively in terms of the coincidence of stimuli and payoffs that drives the evolution of (...) cognitive complexity. Cognition exploits the reliable clustering of events in this space. Using this framework to analyze our ordinary concepts of truth and justification, it appears that while justification can be a simple matter of conforming to historically entrenched strategies, truth cannot be fully specified on the basis of the system’s causal history, but requires a robust clustering in the larger world state space. (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.
Spencer’s heritage, while almost a forgotten chapter in the history of biology, lives on in psychology and the philosophy of mind. I particularly discuss externalist views of meaning, on which meaning crucially depends on a notion of reference, and ask whether reference should be thought of as cause or effect. Is the meaning of a word explained by what it refers to, or should we say that what we use a word to refer to is explained by what concept it (...) expresses? I argue for the latter view, which I call ‘Darwinian’, and against the former, ‘Spencerian’ one, assuming conceptual structures in humans to be an instance of adaptive structures, and adaptive relations to an environment to be the effect rather than the cause of evolutionary novelties. I conclude with the deficiency – both empirically and methodologically – of a functionalist study of human concepts and the languages they are embedded in, as it would be undertaken in a paradigm that identifies meaning with reference or that gives reference an explanatory role to play for what concepts we have. (shrink)