Representationalism and Cognition: Topics in the Foundations of Cognitive Science

Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania (1991)
Abstract
In broad terms, the problem is this: What is a metaphysically and scientifically adequate characterization of mental states in general and cognitive states in particular? One such characterization of cognitive states argues that, in light of their essentially intentional nature, they are most satisfactorily modeled in terms of computations on representational states. This is the theory I call Representationalism, and there are strong arguments in its support. For one, since many hold that persons actually have beliefs and desires, and that beliefs and desires are capable of mediating stimuli and behavior, a theory of mind should explain how such psychological states are to be modeled. Representationalism is just such a theory. Second, by ignoring the content of mental states, reductionistic and syntactic theories of mind miss important psychological regularities which are only captured, defenders of Representationalism argue, by theories of mind which advert to the intentional nature of mentality. And third, proponents of Representationalism believe that, because the brain is essentially an information processing organ, computers might actually be capable of emulating cognitive states--which would presumably settle the question of how a physical organism can be said to have mental states. The dissertation proceeds by detailing a Representational theory of mind, offering strong prima facie arguments for it, and then considering arguments found throughout the literature against it. The final chapter provides a detailed discussion of Daniel Dennett's views on the status of genuine believers and original intentionality as well as Stephen Stich's syntactic theory of mind. Both are found to have strong, and in some instances successful, arguments against Representationalism
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