The scientific use of 'representation' and 'function': Avoiding explanatory vacuity

Synthese 161 (1):119 - 139 (2008)
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Nearly all of the ways philosophers currently attempt to define the terms ‘representation’ and ‘function’ undermine the scientific application of those terms by rendering the scientific explanations in which they occur vacuous. Since this is unacceptable, we must develop analyses of these terms that avoid this vacuity. Robert Cummins argues in this fashion in Representations, Targets, and Attitudes. He accuses ‘use theories’ of representational content of generating vacuous explanations, claims that nearly all current theories of representational content are use theories, and offers a non-use theory of representational content which avoids explanatory vacuity. One task I undertake in this article is to develop an alternative non-use theory which avoids an objection fatal to that theory



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