Problems of representation I: nature and role

In Sarah Robins, John Symons & Paco Calvo (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Psychology. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 233 (2009)
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Abstract

Introduction There are some exceptions, which we shall see below, but virtually all theories in psychology and cognitive science make use of the notion of representation. Arguably, folk psychology also traffics in representations, or is at least strongly suggestive of their existence. There are many different types of things discussed in the psychological and philosophical literature that are candidates for representation-hood. First, there are the propositional attitudes – beliefs, judgments, desires, hopes etc. (see Chapters 9 and 17 of this volume). If the propositional attitudes are representations, they are person-level representations – the judgment that the sun is bright pertains to John, not a subpersonal part of John. By contrast, the representations of edges in V1 of the cerebral cortex that neuroscientists talk about and David Marr’s symbolic representations of “zero-crossings” in early vision (Marr 1982) are at the “sub-personal” level – they apply to parts or states of a person (e.g. neural parts or computational states of the visual system). Another important distinction is often made among perceptual, cognitive, and action-oriented representations (e.g. motor commands). Another contrast lies between “stored representations” (e.g. memories) and “active representations” (e.g. a current perceptual state). Related to this is the distinction between “dispositional representations” and “occurrent representations.” Beliefs that are not currently being entertained are dispositional, e.g. your belief that the United States is in North America - no doubt you had this belief two minutes ago, but you were not consciously accessing it until you read this sentence. Occurrent representations, by contrast, are active, conscious thoughts or perceptions. Which leads us to another important distinction: 1 between conscious and non-conscious mental representations, once a bizarre-sounding distinction that has become familiar since Freud (see Chapter 4 of this volume). I mention these distinctions at the outset to give you some idea of the range of phenomena we will be considering, and to set the stage for our central “problem of representation”: what is a mental representation, exactly, and how do we go about deciding whether there are any? We know there are public representations of various kinds: words, maps, and pictures, among others..

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Dan Ryder
University of British Columbia

Citations of this work

Self-Referential Memory and Mental Time Travel.Jordi Fernández - 2020 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 11 (2):283-300.
Neural Representations Beyond “Plus X”.Vivian Cruz & Alessio Plebe - 2018 - Minds and Machines 28 (1):93-117.
What is an aesthetic concept?Andrea Sauchelli - 2022 - Asian Journal of Philosophy 1 (1):1-17.

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