About this topic
Summary Teleological accounts of mental content seek to account for the contents of our mental states in terms of the biological functions of the mechanisms that produce and use those states, and/or the functions of those states themselves. Such accounts are naturalistic because they posit the scientifically respectable, non-semantic property of biological function to explain why our mental states have the contents that they have. The main objection to teleological accounts is that they are unable to attribute determinate functions to the mechanisms that produce and use mental states, and so are unable to attribute determinate contents to those states. The major proponents of teleological accounts offer contrasting responses to this objection, which turn on differences in their respective theoretical frameworks.
Key works Millikan 1984 is the initial statement of the most influential version of the teleological account, while Millikan 1989 provides a more accessible overview. Other key papers on this version of the account are collected in Millikan 1993Papineau 1984 and Papineau 1987 introduce a rival teleological account. The indeterminacy problem for such accounts, first raised in Fodor 1990, is addressed in Neander 1995 and Papineau 1998, which also offer contrasting responses to the problem. The main papers on the notion of biological function are collected in Ariew et al 2002, while views on the current state of play in the literature on teleological accounts can be found in Macdonald & Papineau 2006
Introductions A useful overview article on teleological accounts is Neander 2004, while a recent summary of the most influential version of the account is Millikan 1989. An accessible introduction to the rival version of the account can be found in Papineau 1987
Related categories

222 found
1 — 50 / 222
  1. Teleosemantics Without Natural Selection.Marshall Abrams - 2005 - Biology and Philosophy 20 (1):97-116.
    Ruth Millikan and others advocate theories which attempt to naturalize wide mental content (e.g. beliefs.
  2. Probabilistic Foundations of Teleology and Content.Marshall David Abrams - 2002 - Dissertation, The University of Chicago
    Ruth Millikan and others advocate theories which attempt to naturalize wide mental content in terms of functions, where the latter are in turn based in part on facts concerning past natural selection. While I support basing content on functions which are constituted by facts about the past, I argue that it is a mistake to base content on selection. This dissertation works out an alternative concept of function which is a more appropriate basis for a theory of mental content. In (...)
  3. Rock Beats Scissors: Historicalism Fights Back.Frederick R. Adams & Kenneth Aizawa - 1997 - Analysis 57 (4):273-81.
  4. Constancy Mechanisms and the Normativity of Perception.Zed Adams & Chauncey Maher - 2017 - In Zed Adams & Jacob Browning (eds.), Giving a Damn: Essays in Dialogue with John Haugeland. Cambridge, MA: MIT Pres.
    In this essay, we draw on John Haugeland’s work in order to argue that Burge is wrong to think that exercises of perceptual constancy mechanisms suffice for perceptual representation. Although Haugeland did not live to read or respond to Burge’s Origins of Objectivity, we think that his work contains resources that can be developed into a critique of the very foundation of Burge’s approach. Specifically, we identify two related problems for Burge. First, if (what Burge calls) mere sensory responses are (...)
  5. What Do Frogs Really Believe?Nicholas Agar - 1993 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 71 (1):1-12.
  6. A Tale of Two Froggies.Colin Allen - 2001 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 31 (Supplement):105-115.
    There once was an ugly duckling. Except he wasn’t a duckling at all, and once he realized his error he lived happily ever after. And there you have an early primer from the animal literature on the issue of misrepresentation -- perhaps one of the few on this topic to have a happy ending. Philosophers interested in misrepresentation have turned their attention to a different fairy tale animal: the frog. No one gets kissed in this story and the controversial issue (...)
  7. Representation, Evolution and Embodiment.Michael L. Anderson - 2005 - Theoria Et Historia Scientarum.
    As part of the ongoing attempt to fully naturalize the concept of human being--and, more specifically, to re-center it around the notion of agency--this essay discusses an approach to defining the content of representations in terms ultimately derived from their central, evolved function of providing guidance for action. This 'guidance theory' of representation is discussed in the context of, and evaluated with respect to, two other biologically inspired theories of representation: Dan Lloyd's dialectical theory of representation and Ruth Millikan's biosemantics.
  8. Equal Rights for Swamp-Persons.Louise M. Antony - 1996 - Mind and Language 11 (1):70-75.
  9. Functions: New Essays in the Philosophy of Psychology and Biology.Andre Ariew, Robert Cummins & Mark Perlman (eds.) - 2002 - Oxford University Press.
  10. Teleosemantic Modeling of Cognitive Representations.Marc Artiga - 2016 - Biology and Philosophy 31 (4):483-505.
    Naturalistic theories of representation seek to specify the conditions that must be met for an entity to represent another entity. Although these approaches have been relatively successful in certain areas, such as communication theory or genetics, many doubt that they can be employed to naturalize complex cognitive representations. In this essay I identify some of the difficulties for developing a teleosemantic theory of cognitive representations and provide a strategy for accommodating them: to look into models of signaling in evolutionary game (...)
  11. Signaling Without Cooperation.Marc Artiga - 2014 - Biology and Philosophy 29 (3):357-378.
    Ethological theories usually attribute semantic content to animal signals. To account for this fact, many biologists and philosophers appeal to some version of teleosemantics. However, this picture has recently came under attack: while mainstream teleosemantics assumes that representational systems must cooperate, some biologists and philosophers argue that in certain cases signaling can evolve within systems lacking common interest. In this paper I defend the standard view from this objection.
  12. Teleosemantics and Pushmi-Pullyu Representations.Marc Artiga - 2014 - Erkenntnis 79 (S3):1-22.
    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.
  13. Teleosemantics, Infotel-Semantics and Circularity.Marc Artiga - 2014 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 22 (4):583-603.
    Peter Godfrey-Smith and Nicholas Shea have argued that standard versions of teleosemantics render explanations of successful behavior by appealing to true beliefs circular and, consequently, non-explanatory. As an alternative, Shea has recently suggested an original teleosemantic account (that he calls ?Infotel-semantics?), which is supposed to be immune to the problem of circularity. The paper argues that the standard version of teleosemantics has a satisfactory reply to the circularity objection and that, in any case, Infotel-semantics is not better off than standard (...)
  14. Reliable Misrepresentation and Teleosemantics.Marc Artiga - 2013 - Disputatio (37).
    Mendelovici (forthcoming) has recently argued that (1) tracking theories of mental representation (including teleosemantics) are incompatible with the possibility of reliable misrepresentation and that (2) this is an important difficulty for them. Furthermore, she argues that this problem commits teleosemantics to an unjustified a priori rejection of color eliminativism. In this paper I argue that (1) teleosemantics can accommodate most cases of reliable misrepresentation, (2) those cases the theory fails to account for are not objectionable and (3) teleosemantics is not (...)
  15. On Several Misuses of Sober’s Selection for/Selection of Distinction.Marc Artiga - 2011 - Topoi 30 (2):181-193.
    Teleological Theories of mental representation are probably the most promising naturalistic accounts of intentionality. However, it is widely known that these theories suffer from a major objection: the Indeterminacy Problem. The most common reply to this problem employs the Target of Selection Argument, which is based on Sober’s distinction between selection for and selection of . Unfortunately, some years ago the Target of Selection Argument came into serious attack in a famous paper by Goode and Griffiths. Since then, the question (...)
  16. Emergence of Public Meaning From a Teleosemantic and Game Theoretical Perspective.Karim Baraghith - 2018 - Kriterion - Journal of Philosophy (AO):1-30.
    The generalized theory of evolution suggests that evolutionary algorithms apply to biological and cultural processes like language alike. Variation, selection and reproduction constitute abstract and formal traits of complex, open and often self-regulating systems. Accepting this basic assumption provides us with a powerful background methodology for this investigation: explaining the emergence and proliferation of semantic patterns, that become conventional. A teleosemantic theory of public (conventional) meaning (Millikan 1984; 2005) grounded in a generalized theory of evolution explains the proliferation of public (...)
  17. Ahistorical Teleosemantics: An Alternative to Nanay.Mark Bauer - 2017 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 55 (2):158-176.
    The dominant view in teleosemantics is that semantic functions are historically determined. That reliance on history has been subject to repeated criticism. To sidestep such criticisms, Nanay has recently offered an ahistorical alternative that swaps out historical properties for modal properties. Nanay's ahistorical modal alternative suffers, I think, serious problems of its own. I suggest here another ahistorical alternative for teleosemantics. The motivation for both the historical view and Nanay's is to provide a naturalistic basis to characterize some item as (...)
  18. Normativity Without Artifice.Mark Bauer - 2009 - Philosophical Studies 144 (2):239-259.
    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 (...)
  19. The Functional Theory of Parallelism.H. Heath Bawden - 1903 - Philosophical Review 12 (3):299-319.
  20. Strategic Content: Representations of Epistemic Modality in Biosemantics.Gunnar Björnsson - 2018 - Theoria 84 (3):259-277.
    A central idea in Ruth Millikan’s biosemantics is that a representation’s content is restricted to conditions required for the normal success of actions that it has as its function to guide. This paper raises and responds to a problem for this idea. The problem is that the success requirement seems to block us from saying that epistemic modal judgments represent our epistemic circumstances. For the normal success of actions guided by these judgments seems to depend on what is actually the (...)
  21. Representation and Unexploited Content.James Blackmon, David Byrd, Robert C. Cummins, Alexa Lee & Martin Roth - 2006 - In Graham F. Macdonald & David Papineau (eds.), Teleosemantics. Oxford University Press.
    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 (...)
  22. Categorical Desires and the Badness of Animal Death.Matt Bower & Bob Fischer - 2018 - Journal of Value Inquiry 52 (1):97-111.
    One way to defend humane animal agriculture is to insist that the deaths of animals aren’t bad for them. Christopher Belshaw has argued for this position in the most detail, maintaining that death is only bad when it frustrates categorical desires, which he thinks animals lack. We are prepared to grant his account of the badness of death, but we are skeptical of the claim that animals don’t have categorical desires. We contend that Belshaw’s argument against the badness of animal (...)
  23. A Pyrrhic Victory for Teleonomy.David Braddon-Mitchell & Frank Jackson - 2002 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 80 (3):372-77.
  24. The Teleological Theory of Content.David Braddon-Mitchell & Frank Jackson - 1997 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 75 (4):474-89.
  25. Teleofunctionalism and Psychological Explanation.Jason Bridges - 2006 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 28 (September):359-372.
    Fred Dretske’s teleofunctional theory of content aims to simultaneously solve two ground-floor philosophical puzzles about mental content: the problem of naturalism and the problem of epiphenomenalism. It is argued here that his theory fails on the latter score. Indeed, the theory insures that content can have no place in the causal explanation of action at all. The argument for this conclusion depends upon only very weak premises about the nature of causal explanation. The difficulties Dretske’s theory encounters indicate the severe (...)
  26. Representation and the Active Consumer.Patrick Butlin - forthcoming - Synthese:1-18.
    One of the central tasks for naturalistic theories of representation is to say what it takes for something to be a representation, and some leading theories have been criticised for being too liberal. Prominent discussions of this problem have proposed a producer-oriented solution; it is argued that representations must be produced by systems employing perceptual constancy mechanisms. However, representations may be produced by simple transducers if they are consumed in the right way. It is characteristic of representations to be consumed (...)
  27. A Teleosemantic Approach to Information in the Brain.Rosa Cao - 2012 - Biology and Philosophy 27 (1):49-71.
    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 (...)
  28. The Normativity Problem: Evolution and Naturalized Semantics.Mason Cash - 2008 - Journal of Mind and Behavior 29 (1-2):99-137.
    Representation is a pivotal concept in cognitive science, yet there is a serious obstacle to a naturalistic account of representations’ semantic content and intentionality. A representation having a determinate semantic content distinguishes correct from incorrect representation. But such correctness is a normative matter. Explaining how such norms can be part of a naturalistic cognitive science is what I call the normativity problem. Teleosemantics attempts to naturalize such norms by showing that evolution by natural selection establishes neural mechanisms’ functions, and such (...)
  29. Teleology and Mental States.William Charlton - 1991 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 17:17-32.
  30. Darwinian Algorithms and Indexical Representation.Murray Clarke - 1996 - Philosophy of Science 63 (1):27-48.
    In this paper, I argue that accurate indexical representations have been crucial for the survival and reproduction of homo sapiens sapiens. Specifically, I want to suggest that reliable processes have been selected for because of their indirect, but close, connection to true belief during the Pleistocene hunter-gatherer period of our ancestral history. True beliefs are not heritable, reliable processes are heritable. Those reliable processes connected with reasoning take the form of Darwinian Algorithms: a plethora of specialized, domain-specific inference rules designed (...)
  31. Epistemological Holism and Semantic Holism.William Cornwell - 2002 - In Yves Bouchard (ed.), Perspectives on Coherentism. Aylmar, Quebec: Editions du Scribe. pp. 17-33.
    This paper draws upon the works of Wilfred Sellars, Jerry Fodor, and Ruth Millikan to argue against epistemological holism and conceptual holism. In the first section, I content that contrary to confirmation holism, there are individual beliefs ("basic beliefs") that receive nondoxastic/noninferential warrant. In the earliest stages of cognitive development, modular processes produce basic beliefs about how things are. The disadvantage of this type of basic belief is that the person may possess information that should have defeated the belief but (...)
  32. On Teleosemantics and Natural Maps (Comments on Work by Rob Cummins Et Al.).Joe Cruz - manuscript
    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 (...)
  33. The Excesses of Teleosemantics.Paul S. Davies - 2001 - In J. S. McIntosh (ed.), Canadian Journal of Philosophy. University of Calgary Press. pp. 117-137.
  34. Brian Cantwell Smith on Evolution, Objectivity, and Intentionality.Daniel C. Dennett - 2002 - In Philosophy of Mental Representation. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  35. Granny Versus Mother Nature - No Contest.Daniel C. Dennett - 1996 - Mind and Language 11 (3):263-269.
  36. Evolution, Teleology, Intentionality.Daniel C. Dennett - 1993 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 16 (2):89-391.
    No response that was not as long and intricate as the two commentaries combined could do justice to their details, so what follows will satisfy nobody, myself included. I will concentrate on one issue discussed by both commentators: the relationship between evolution and teleological (or intentional) explanation. My response, in its brevity, may have just one virtue: it will confirm some of the hunches (or should I say suspicions) that these and other writers have entertained about my views. For more (...)
  37. Granny's Campaign for Safe Science.Daniel C. Dennett - 1990 - In Barry M. Loewer & Georges Rey (eds.), Meaning in Mind: Fodor and His Critics. Blackwell.
    What do these various heresies have in common? From Fodor's point of view, two things, obviously: (1) they are all wrong, wrong, wrong! and (2) they are endorsed by people who are otherwise quite decent company. That would be thread enough to tie Fodor's targets together if he were right, but as one who finds more than a morsel of truth in each of the derided doctrines, I must seek elsewhere for a uniting principle, and I think I have found (...)
  38. Evolution, Error and Intentionality.Daniel C. Dennett - 1988 - In The Intentional Stance. MIT Press.
    Sometimes it takes years of debate for philosophers to discover what it is they really disagree about. Sometimes they talk past each other in long series of books and articles, never guessing at the root disagreement that divides them. But occasionally a day comes when something happens to coax the cat out of the bag. "Aha!" one philosopher exclaims to another, "so that's why you've been disagreeing with me, misunderstanding me, resisting my conclusions, puzzling me all these years!".
  39. All in the Family.Willem A. Devries - 2013 - In Dan Ryder, Justine Kingsbury & Kenneth Williford (eds.), Millikan and Her Critics. Wiley. pp. 259--280.
    This article considers Ruth Millikan's relationship to Robert Brandom and most especially their common influence, Wilfrid Sellars.
  40. Autopoiesis, Adaptivity, Teleology, Agency.Ezequiel A. Di Paolo - 2005 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 4 (4):429-452.
    A proposal for the biological grounding of intrinsic teleology and sense-making through the theory of autopoiesis is critically evaluated. Autopoiesis provides a systemic language for speaking about intrinsic teleology but its original formulation needs to be elaborated further in order to explain sense-making. This is done by introducing adaptivity, a many-layered property that allows organisms to regulate themselves with respect to their conditions of viability. Adaptivity leads to more articulated concepts of behaviour, agency, sense-construction, health, and temporality than those given (...)
  41. Teleofunctionalism and the Normativity of Practical Rationality.David DiDomenico - unknown
    In this thesis, I apply teleofunctionalism to a current debate concerning the normativity of practical rationality. Assuming teleofunctionalism is the correct theory of mental phenomena, I argue that it can provide a promising account of the normativity of practical rationality. This claim is motivated by the idea that a capacity to represent internal states, external states, and relations between these states as reasons for action has a teleofunction, and is thus a source of normativity. This teleofunction is marked by a (...)
  42. Representation, Teleosemantics, and the Problem of Self-Knowledge.Fred Dretske - 2006 - In Graham F. Macdonald & David Papineau (eds.), Teleosemantics. Oxford University Press.
  43. Norms, History, and the Mental.Fred Dretske - 2001 - In D. Walsh (ed.), Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement. Cambridge University Press. pp. 87-104.
    Many people think the mind evolved. Some of them think it had to evolve. They think the mind not only has a history, but a history essential to its very existence.
  44. Perception, Knowledge and Belief: Selected Essays.Fred Dretske - 2000 - Cambridge University Press.
    This collection of essays by eminent philosopher Fred Dretske brings together work on the theory of knowledge and philosophy of mind spanning thirty years. The two areas combine to lay the groundwork for a naturalistic philosophy of mind. The fifteen essays focus on perception, knowledge, and consciousness. Together, they show the interconnectedness of Dretske's work in epistemology and his more contemporary ideas on philosophy of mind, shedding light on the links which can be made between the two. The first section (...)
  45. Misrepresentation.Fred Dretske - 1986 - In R. Bogdan (ed.), Belief: Form, Content, and Function. Oxford University Press. pp. 17--36.
  46. What Sensory Signals Are About.C. L. Elder - 1998 - Analysis 58 (4):273-276.
    In ‘Of Sensory Systems and the “Aboutness” of Mental States’, Kathleen Akins (1996) argues against what she calls ‘the traditional view’ about sensory systems, according to which they are detectors of features in the environment outside the organism. As an antidote, she considers the case of thermoreception, a system whose sensors send signals about how things stand with themselves and their immediate dermal surround (a ‘narcissistic’ sensory system); and she closes by suggesting that the signals from many sensory systems may (...)
  47. Millikan, Realism, and Sameness.Crawford L. Elder - 2013 - In Dan Ryder, Justine Kingsbury & Kenneth Williford (eds.), Millikan and Her Critics. Wiley. pp. 155--175.
  48. What Versus How in Naturally Selected Representations.Crawford L. Elder - 1998 - Mind 107 (426):349-363.
    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 (...)
  49. Indeterminacy of Function Attributions.Berent Enc - 2002 - In Andre Ariew, Robert Cummins & Mark Perlman (eds.), Functions: New Essays in the Philosophy of Psychology and Biology. Oxford University Press. pp. 291.
  50. IV. Normativität und Bewusstsein.Eva-Maria Engelen - 2014 - In Vom Leben Zur Bedeutung: Philosophische Studien Zum Verhältnis von Gefühl, Bewusstsein Und Sprache. De Gruyter. pp. 129-162.
    Emotionen sind als erlebte Bewertungen eine Form von Normativität, die intrinsisch im Spüren enthalten ist, also weder explizit gefolgert noch propositional gefasst ist. Geprüft wird in diesem Kapitel, ob Emotionen dadurch als natürliche Grundlage selbst für moralische oder genuine Normativität gelten können und sich diese letztere Form der Normativität daher auf biologisch angelegte Formen von Normativität reduzieren lässt. Diese Diskussion weist insofern Überschneidungen mit den in den vorangegangenen Kapiteln erörterten Fragen auf, als die verschiedenen Formen der Bewertung mit verschiedenen Bewusstseinsstufen (...)
1 — 50 / 222