What is involved in having a singular thought about an ordinary object? On the leading epistemic view, one has this capacity if and only if one has belief-forming dispositions which would reliably enable one to get its properties right (Dickie, 2015). I first argue that Dickie’s official view entails surprising and unpalatable claims about either rationality or singular thought, before offering a precisification. Once we have reached that level of abstraction, it becomes difficult to see what is distinctively epistemic about (...) the framework. If we are to tease out the delicate connection between singular thought and knowledge, we should suspend the assumption that there is a homogeneous core, present in all cases of such thought, and that it is from there that its (univocal) epistemic character derives. (shrink)
We offer an interpretation of the mental files framework that eliminates the metaphor of files, information being contained in files, etc. The guiding question is whether, once we move beyond the metaphors, there is any theoretical role for files. We claim not. We replace the file-metaphor with two theses: the semantic thesis that there are irreducibly relational representational facts (viz. facts about the coordination of representations); and the metasemantic thesis that processes tied to information-relations ground those facts. In its canonical (...) statement, the ‘file’-theory makes reference to a certain kind of relational representational feature, and a certain kind of mental activity. Mental files need not come into it. In short, we posit mental filing without mental files. Our interpretation avoids awkward problems that arise on the standard interpretation and clarifies the explanatory commitments of the theory. (shrink)
Event concepts are unstructured atomic concepts that apply to event types. A paradigm example of such an event type would be that of diaper changing, and so a putative example of an atomic event concept would be DADDY'S-CHANGING-MY-DIAPER.1 I will defend two claims about such concepts. First, the conceptual claim that it is in principle possible to possess a concept such as DADDY'S-CHANGING-MY-DIAPER without possessing the concept DIAPER. Second, the empirical claim that we actually possess such concepts and that they (...) play an important role in our cognitive lives. The argument for the empirical claim has the form of an inference to the best explanation and is aimed at those who are already willing to attribute concepts and beliefs to infants and nonhuman animals. Many animals and prelinguistic infants seem capable of re-identifying event-types in the world, and they seem to store information about things happening at particular times and places. My account offers a plausible model of how such organisms are able to do this without attributing linguistically structured mental states to them. And although language allows adults to form linguistically structured mental representations of the world, there is no good reason to think that such structured representations necessarily replace the unstructured ones. There is also no good reason for a philosopher who is willing to explain the behavior of an organism by appealing to atomic concepts of individuals or kinds to not use a similar form of explanation when explaining the organism's capacity to recognize events. -/- We can form empirical concepts of individuals, kinds, properties, event-types, and states of affairs, among other things, and I assume that such concepts function like what François Recanati calls ‘mental files’ or what Ruth Millikan calls ‘substance concepts’ (Recanati 2012; Millikan 1999, 2000, 2017). To possess such a concept one must have a reliable capacity to re-identify the object in question, but this capacity of re-identification does not fix the reference of the concept. Such concepts allow us to collect and utilize useful information about things that we re-encounter in our environment. We can distinguish between a perception-action system and a perception-belief system, and I will argue that empirical concepts, including atomic event concepts, can play a role in both systems. The perception-action system involves the application of concepts in the service of (often skilled) action. We can think of the concept as a mental file containing motor-plans that can be activated once the individual recognizes that they are in a certain situation. In this way, recognizing something (whether an object or an event) as a token of a type, plays a role in guiding immediate action. The perception-belief system, in contrast, allows for the formation of beliefs that can play a role in deliberation and planning and in the formation of expectations. I distinguish between two particular types of belief which I call where-beliefs and when-beliefs, and I argue that we can model the formation of such perceptual beliefs in nonlinguistic animals and human infants in terms of the formation of a link between an empirical concept and a position on a cognitive map. According to the account offered, seemingly complex beliefs, such as a baby's belief that Daddy changed her diaper in the kitchen earlier, will not be linguistically structured. If we think that prelinguistic infants possess such concepts and are able to form such beliefs, it is likely that adults do too. The ability to form such beliefs does not require the capacity for public language, and we can model them in nonlinguistic terms; thus, we have no good reason to think of such beliefs as propositional attitudes. Of course, we can use sentences to refer to such beliefs, and thus it is possible to think of such beliefs as somehow relations to propositions. But it is not clear to me what is gained by this as we have a perfectly good way to think about the structure of such beliefs that does not involve any appeal to language. (shrink)
How seriously should we take the idea that the mind employs mental files? Goodman and Gray (2022) argue that mental filing – a thinker rationally treating her cognitive states as being about the same thing – can be explained without files. Instead, they argue that the standard commitments of mental file theory, as represented by Recanati’s indexical model, are better seen in terms of a relational representational feature of object representations, which in turn is based on the epistemic links a (...) thinker bears to objects. This paper argues that this revision is misguided. Neither the representational property nor any basic role for epistemic links are needed for an adequate explanatory theory that makes use of the image of a mental filing system. A better alternative to the indexical model does posit files, albeit as causal-functional entities. This makes additional representational features redundant, and shows that epistemic links play a secondary role. (shrink)
A traditional view holds that the self-concept is essentially indexical. In a highly influential article, Ruth Millikan famously held that the self-concept should be understood as a Millian name with a sui generis functional role. This article presents a novel explanatory argument against the Millian view and in favor of the indexical view. The argument starts from a characterization of the self-concept as a device of information integration. It then shows that the indexical view yields a better explanation of the (...) integration function than the Millian view. The resulting account can rebut Millikan’s objections and it has broader implications for the debate on the essential indexical. (shrink)
In Mental Files, Recanati proposes a non-descriptivist approach to reference in terms of mental files, mental representations that play the role of Fregean mode of presentation. Recanati argues that we refer via mental files and that the reference of a file is determined relationally, rather than satisficationally; files are not to be equated to the information they contain, but typed by their function—to store information gained through certain epistemically rewarding relation to objects in the environment. I offer a critical overview (...) of Recanati’s framework and raise two questions about the nature and workings of files. (shrink)
We argue that the most ambitious version of the mental files theory of singular thought, according to which mental files are a wide-ranging psychological natural kind underlying all and only singular thinking, is unsupported by the available psychological data. Nevertheless, critical examination of the theory from a psychological perspective opens up promising avenues for research, especially concerning the relationship between our perceptual capacity to individuate and track basic individuals, and our higher level capacities for singular thought.
The notorious problem of the many makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that almost coincident with any ordinary object are a vast number of near-indiscernible objects. As Unger was aware in his presentation of the problem, this abundance raises a concern as to how—and even whether—we achieve singular thought about ordinary objects. This paper presents, clarifies, and defends a view which reconciles a plenitudinous conception of ordinary objects with our having singular thoughts about those objects. Indeed, this strategy has (...) independent application in the case of singular thoughts about other putatively ‘abundant’ phenomena, such as locations or lumps of matter. In essence, singular thought-vehicles need not express just one singular content. If there are many objects, one’s singular thought-vehicle may express as many thought-contents. (shrink)
Starting with Gareth Evans, there’s an important tradition of theorizing about perception-based demonstrative thought which assigns necessary epistemic conditions to it. Its core idea is that demonstrative reference in thought is grounded in information links, understood as links which carry reliable information about their targets and which a subject exploits for demonstrative reference by tokening the mental files fed by these links. Perception, on these views, is not fundamental to perception-based demonstrative thought but is only the information link exploited in (...) these cases. Evans himself assigns a further epistemic condition, while more recently Imogen Dickie has expanded the reliability requirement into a more complex account centered around justification. In this paper I synthesize three central proponents of this approach and show that the epistemic conditions they place on perception-based demonstrative thought are not actually required. My argument gives two examples in which there is perceptual contact with an object but this perceptual contact fails to do the epistemic work in question. The first case is stimulus-incorporating dream experiences, the second involves multimodal binding failures. I argue that this perceptual contact still affords demonstrative thought in these cases. (shrink)
There is much to be said for a diachronic or interpersonal individuation of singular modes of presentation (MOPs) in terms of a criterion of epistemic transparency between thought tokens. This way of individuating MOPs has been discussed recently within the mental files framework, though the issues discussed here arise for all theories that individuate MOPs in terms of relations among tokens. All such theories face objections concerning apparent failures of the transitivity of the ‘same MOP’ relation. For mental files, these (...) transitivity failures most obviously occur because mental files can merge or undergo fission. In this paper I argue that this problem is easily resolved once mental files are properly construed as continuants, whose metaphysics is analogous to that of persons or physical objects. All continuants can undergo fission or fusion, leading to similar transitivity problems, but there are well-established theories of persistence that accommodate this. I suggest that, in particular, the stage theory best suits the purposes of a continuant theory of MOPs. (shrink)
I discuss the view tentatively put forward by Recanati in Mental Files to turn two potentially contradictory claims compatible: the claim to the effect that acquaintance is a necessary condition of singular thought and the claim that we do entertain acquaintanceless singular thoughts (i.e. thoughts directed at particulars as particulars). Key to the proposal is a normative construal of the acquaintance constraint. I show the proposal as it stands is wanting, first, because the norm the users of descriptive names are (...) subject to has no (determinate) conditions of satisfaction within the framework ; second, because the kind of mental simulation involved in exploiting the norm in this type of case is misdescribed as a “local lapse into fiction” ; third, because it leaves the issue pertaining to the conditions of satisfaction of the acquaintance norm over time unaddressed. (shrink)
This paper proposes a novel conception of mental files, aimed at addressing Frege puzzles. Classical Frege puzzles involve ignorance and discovery of identity. These may be addressed by accounting for a more basic way for identity to figure in thought—the treatment of beliefs by the believer as being about the same thing. This manifests itself in rational inferences that presuppose the identity of what the beliefs are about. Mental files help to provide a functional characterization of a mind capable of (...) this presupposition, but more must be said to show how it may be rational. I argue that this can be done by drawing out the way in which mental files interact with a thinker's motivational states and so come to have normative functional properties. I show how this theory works better than some other treatments of mental files. (shrink)
What would be an adequate theory of social understanding? In the last decade, the philosophical debate has focused on Theory Theory, Simulation Theory and Interaction Theory as the three possible candidates. In the following, we look carefully at each of these and describe its main advantages and disadvantages. Based on this critical analysis, we formulate the need for a new account of social understanding. We propose the Person Model Theory as an independent new account which has greater explanatory power compared (...) to the existing theories. (shrink)
The focus of this paper will be on singular thoughts. In the first section I will present Jeshion’s cognitivism; a view that holds that one should characterize singular thoughts by their cognitive roles. In the second section I will argue that, contrary to Jeshion’s claims, results from studies of object tracking in cognitive psychology do not support cognitivism. In the third section I will discuss Jeshion’s easy transmission of singular thought and argue that it ignores a relevant distinction between general (...) and specific understanding of names. Finally, the last section will argue that conscious attention should replace Jeshion’s significance condition as a necessary condition for one to have a singular thought. The paper will show that we need to take seriously the acquaintance requirement for singular thoughts, as even the easy transmission of singular thoughts with the use of names will be called into question. (shrink)
A thesis I call the name-based singular thought thesis is part of orthodoxy in contemporary philosophy of mind and language: it holds that taking part in communication involving a proper name puts one in a position to entertain singular thoughts about the name’s referent. I argue, first, that proponents of the NBT thesis have failed to explain the phenomenon of name-based singular thoughts, leaving it mysterious how name-use enables singular thoughts. Second, by outlining the reasoning that makes the NBT thesis (...) seem compelling and showing how it can be resisted, I argue that giving up the NBT thesis is not a cost, but rather a benefit. I do this by providing an expanded conception of understanding for communication involving names, which sheds light on the nature of communication involving names and the structure of name-using practices. (shrink)
What is it for two people to think of an object, natural kind or other entity under the same mode of presentation (MOP)? This has seemed a particularly difficult question for advocates of the Mental Files approach, the Language of Thought, or other ‘atomistic’ theories. In this paper I propose a simple answer. I first argue that, by parallel with the synchronic intrapersonal case, the sharing of a MOP should involve a certain kind of epistemic transparency between the token thoughts (...) of the two thinkers. I then explain how shared words help bring about this transparency. Finally, I show how this account can be extended for thoughts expressed using demonstratives or indexicals. (shrink)
This paper argues that applying the mental files framework for singular thought to thoughts about specific times could produce an account of tensed thought with significant advantages over competing theories. After describing the framework and motivating the paper, I discuss the possible make-up and function of a NOW indexical mental file. The last section argues that, if all ‘now’ thoughts can be coherently analyzed as thinking of a time under the NOW file, one would have a plausible explanation of the (...) following issues: how the thought can refer to extended temporal intervals of various length; why reference to times is not destroyed by thought delays; and how a ‘now’ thought results in timely actions and relief. (shrink)
The phenomenon of intentional identity has bemused philosophical communities since Geach (1967). I argue that the phenomenon is ubiquitous and much more significant than previously acknowledged. The foundations of the problem are implicated in many other well-knownpuzzles, such as Kripke’s (1979) puzzles about beliefs. Thus, the need for a proper analysis is eminently pressing. I specify a template for generalizing intentional identity, identify the challenges involved, and argue that positing a level of representational entity in both philosophy of mind and (...) language(e.g., mental files) is a promising approach to tackling the problem across the board. (shrink)
This paper presents the hypothesis that the representational repertoire underpinning our ability to process the lexical items of a natural language can be modeled as a system of mental files. To start, I clarify the basic phenomena that an account of lexical knowledge should be able to elucidate. Then, I propose to evaluate whether the mental files theory can be brought to bear on an account of the representational format of lexical knowledge by modeling mental words as recognitional files.
It has become popular of late to identify the phenomenon of thinking a singular thought with that of thinking with a mental file. Proponents of the mental files conception of singular thought claim that one thinks a singular thought about an object o iff one employs a mental file to think about o. I argue that this is false by arguing that there are what I call descriptive mental files, so some file-based thought is not singular thought. Descriptive mental files (...) are mental files for which descriptive information plays four roles: determines which object the file is about, if any, it sets limits on possible mistakes that fall within the scope of successful reference for the file, it acts as a ‘gatekeeper’ for the file, and it determines persistence conditions for the file. Contrary to popular assumption, a description playing these roles is consistent with the file-theoretic framework. Recognising this allows us to distinguish the notion of singular thought from that of file-thinking and better understand the nature and role of both. (shrink)
Francois Recanati’s Mental Files presents a picture of the mind on which mental representations are indexical and transparent. I dispute this picture: there is no clear case for regarding mental representations as indexical, and there are counterexamples to transparency.
My goal in this paper is to discuss the 'Fregean' account of inferences proposed by Recanati in his 'Mental Files' (Oxford University Press, 2012). I raise the following dilemma for the mental files theory. (a) If the premises of certain inferences involve 'the same file' in a strict sense of the expression, then files cannot play the role of modes of presentation. (b) If, on the other hand, the files involved in the premises are 'the same' only in a loose (...) sense, then the notion of file sameness plays no role in accounting for rational inferences, contra Recanati's Fregean account. (shrink)
This paper is a response to Niklas Möller’s (Philosophical Studies, 2013) recent criticism of our relational (Jazz) model of meaning of thin evaluative terms. Möller’s criticism rests on a confusion about the role of coordinating intentions in Jazz. This paper clarifies what’s distinctive and controversial about the Jazz proposal and explains why Jazz, unlike traditional accounts of meaning, is not committed to analycities.
Anti-individualists claim that concepts are individuated with an eye to purely external facts about a subject's environment about which she may be ignorant or mistaken. This paper offers a novel reason for thinking that anti-individualistic concepts are an ineliminable part of commonsense psychology. Our commitment to anti-individualism, I argue, is ultimately grounded in a rational epistemic agent's commitment to refining her own representational practices in the light of new and surprising information about her environment. Since anti-individualism is an implicit part (...) of responsible epistemic practices, we cannot abandon it without compromising our own epistemic agency. The story I tell about the regulation of one's own representational practices yields a new account of the identity conditions for anti-individualistic concepts. (shrink)
In this paper, I develop a novel account of concept acquisition for an atomistic theory of concepts. Conceptual atomism is rarely explored in cognitive science because of the feeling that atomistic treatments of concepts are inherently nativistic. My model illustrates, on the contrary, that atomism does not preclude the learning of a concept.