The Explanatory Role Of Externalism

Eran Asoulin
University of New South Wales
I discuss externalism from the point of view of explanatory scientific theories. I ask what externalism is supposed to explain, and whether such an explanation is or should be a scientific one. In contrast to leading externalists, I argue that whatever merits externalism may possess, it is unable to provide a fruitful explanatory framework for a scientific theory of the mind. I argue that an externalist explanation of meaning is concerned with ascription of meaning rather than the mechanisms of meaning. That is, externalism is not concerned with the mental mechanisms in virtue of which humans produce and comprehend meaning. I argue that a fruitful scientific explanation is one that aims to uncover the underlying mechanisms in virtue of which the observable phenomena are made possible, and that a scientific psychology should be doing just that. Therefore, externalist explanations are not part of the cognitive psychological explanation of the mechanisms in virtue of which meaning is made possible. Rather, externalist explanations are what may be termed a philosophical-hermeneutic explanatory project in that they play an interpretive function for the theorist by linking internal psychological states and the world.
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