Biological functions and perceptual content

Journal of Philosophy 85 (January):5-27 (1988)

Authors
Mohan Matthen
University of Toronto at Mississauga
Abstract
Perceptions "present" objects as red, as round, etc.-- in general as possessing some property. This is the "perceptual content" of the title, And the article attempts to answer the following question: what is a materialistically adequate basis for assigning content to what are, after all, neurophysiological states of biological organisms? The thesis is that a state is a perception that presents its object as "F" if the "biological function" of the state is to detect the presence of objects that are "F". The theory contrasts with causal/informational theories, and with internalist theories, for example those which assign content on the basis of introspected feel. Its advantages are that it permits perceptual error while at the same time allowing content to be expressed in terms of external properties. The argument of the paper is illustrated throughout by examples from biology and computational psychology.
Keywords Natural Selection  Content  Function  Perception  error
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DOI 10.2307/2026898
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