This collection of essays serves both as an introduction to Ruth Millikan’s much-discussed volume Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories and as an extension and application of Millikan’s central themes, especially in the philosophy of psychology. The title essay discusses meaning rationalism and argues that rationality is not in the head, indeed, that there is no legitimate interpretation under which logical possibility and necessity are known a priori. In other essays, Millikan clarifies her views on the nature of mental representation, (...) explores whether human thought is a product of natural selection, examines the nature of behavior as studied by the behavioral sciences, and discusses the issues of individualism in psychology, psychological explanation, indexicality in thought, what knowledge is, and the realism/antirealism debate. Table of Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction 1 In Defense of Proper Functions 2 Propensities, Exaptations, and the Brain 3 Thoughts without Laws 4 Biosemantics 5 On Mentalese Orthography, Part 1 6 Compare and Contrast Dretske, Fodor, and Millikan on Teleosemantics 7 What Is Behavior? A Philosophical Essay on Ethology and Individualism in Psychology, Part 1 8 The Green Grass Growing All Around: A Philosophical Essay on Ethology and Individualism in Psychology, Part 2 9 Explanation in Biopsychology 10 Metaphysical Antirealism? 11 Truth Rules, Hoverflies, and the Kripke-Wittgenstein Paradox 12 Naturalist Reflections on Knowledge 13 The Myth of the Essential Indexical 14 White Queen Psychology; or, The Last Myth of the Given References Index. (shrink)
I defend the historical definition of "function" originally given in my Language, Thought and Other Biological Categories (1984a). The definition was not offered in the spirit of conceptual analysis but is more akin to a theoretical definition of "function". A major theme is that nonhistorical analyses of "function" fail to deal adequately with items that are not capable of performing their functions.
Written by one of today's most creative and innovative philosophers, Ruth Garrett Millikan, this book examines basic empirical concepts; how they are acquired, how they function, and how they have been misrepresented in the traditional philosophical literature. Millikan places cognitive psychology in an evolutionary context where human cognition is assumed to be an outgrowth of primitive forms of mentality, and assumed to have 'functions' in the biological sense. Of particular interest are her discussions of the nature of abilities as different (...) from dispositions, her detailed analysis of the psychological act of reidentifying substances, and her critique of the language of thought for mental representation. In a radical departure from current philosophical and psychological theories of concepts, this book provides the first in-depth discussion on the psychological act of reidentification. (shrink)
Ruth Millikan is well known for having developed a strikingly original way for philosophers to seek understanding of mind and language, which she sees as biological phenomena. She now draws together a series of groundbreaking essays which set out her approach to language. Guiding the work of most linguists and philosophers of language today is the assumption that language is governed by prescriptive normative rules. Millikan offers a fundamentally different way of viewing the partial regularities that language displays, comparing them (...) to biological norms that emerge from natural selection. This yields novel and quite radical consequences for our understanding of the nature of public linguistic meaning, the process of language understanding, how children learn language, and the semantics/pragmatics distinction. (shrink)
Ruth Garrett Millikan presents a strikingly original account of how we get to grips with the world in thought. Her question is Kant's 'How is knowledge possible?', answered from a contemporary naturalist standpoint. We begin with an understanding of what the world is like prior to cognition, then develop a theory of cognition within that world.
A list of groceries, Professor Anscombe once suggested, might be used as a shopping list, telling what to buy, or it might be used as an inventory list, telling what has been bought (Anscombe 1957). If used as a shopping list, the world is supposed to conform to the representation: if the list does not match what is in the grocery bag, it is what is in the bag that is at fault. But if used as an inventory list, the (...) representation is supposed to conform to the world: if the list does not match what is in the bag, it is the list that is at fault. The first kind of representation, where the world is supposed to conform to the list, can be called "directive"; it represents or directs what is to be done. The second, where the list is supposed to conform to the world, can be called "descriptive"; it represents or describes what is the case. I wish to propose that there exist representations that face both these ways at once. With apologies to Dr. Doolittle, I call them pushmi-pullyu representations or PPRs. (shrink)
There are no "special sciences" in Fodor's sense. There is a large group of sciences, "historical sciences," that differ fundamentally from the physical sciences because they quantify over a different kind of natural or real kind, nor are the generalizations supported by these kinds exceptionless. Heterogeneity, however, is not characteristic of these kinds. That there could be an univocal empirical science that ranged over multiple realizations of a functional property is quite problematic. If psychological predicates name multiply realized functionalist properties, (...) then there is no single science dealing with these: human psychology, ape psychology, Martian psychology and robot psychology are necessarily different sciences. (shrink)
Concepts are highly theoretical entities. One cannot study them empirically without committing oneself to substantial preliminary assumptions. Among the competing theories of concepts and categorization developed by psychologists in the last thirty years, the implicit theoretical assumption that what falls under a concept is determined by description () has never been seriously challenged. I present a nondescriptionist theory of our most basic concepts, which include (1) stuffs (gold, milk), (2) real kinds (cat, chair), and (3) individuals (Mama, Bill Clinton, the (...) Empire State Building). On the basis of something important that all three have in common, our earliest and most basic concepts of substances are identical in structure. The membership of the category like that of is a natural unit in nature, to which the concept does something like pointing, and continues to point despite large changes in the properties the thinker represents the unit as having. For example, large changes can occur in the way a child identifies cats and the things it is willing to call without affecting the extension of its word The difficulty is to cash in the metaphor of in this context. Having substance concepts need not depend on knowing words, but language interacts with substance concepts, completely transforming the conceptual repertoire. I will discuss how public language plays a crucial role in both the acquisition of substance concepts and their completed structure. (shrink)
Correctly understood, teleosemantics is the claim that “representation” is a function term. Things are called “representations” if they have a certain kind of function or telos and perform it in a certain kind of way. This claim is supported with a discussion and proposals about the function of a representation and of how representations perform that function. These proposals have been retrieved by putting together current descriptions from the literature on neural representations with earlier explorations of the features common to (...) most things we are inclined to call representations as these were assessed in Millikan. Of interest is the degree to which these independent sources converge. I conclude that there is no need to employ any new or technical sense of the term “representation” for it to play an important role in neuroscience. (shrink)
I give an analysis of how empirical terms do their work in communication and the gathering of knowledge that is fully externalist and that covers the full range of empirical terms. It rests on claims about ontology. A result is that armchair analysis fails as a tool for examining meanings of ‘basic’ empirical terms because their meanings are not determined by common methods or criteria of application passed from old to new users, by conventionally determined ‘intensions’. Nor do methods of (...) application used by individual speakers constitute definitive reference-determining intensions for their idiolect terms or associated concepts. Conventional intensions of non-basic empirical terms ultimately rest on basic empirical concepts, so no empirical meaning is found merely ‘in the head’. I discuss the nature of lexical definition, why empirical meanings cannot ultimately be modelled as functions from possible worlds to extensions, and traps into which armchair analysis of meaning can lead us. A coda explains how ‘Swampman’ examples, as used against teleosemantic theories of content, illustrate such traps. (shrink)
Suppose lightning strikes a dead tree in a swamp; I am standing nearby. My body is reduced to its elements, while entirely by coincidence (and out of different molecules) the tree is turned into my physical replica. My replica, The Swampman.....moves into my house and seems to write articles on radical interpretation. No one can tell the difference.
By whatever general principles and mechanisms animal behavior is governed, human behavior control rides piggyback on top of the same or very similar mechanisms. We have reflexes. We can be conditioned. The movements that make up our smaller actions are mostly caught up in perception-action cycles following perceived Gibsonian affordances. Still, without doubt there are levels of behavior control that are peculiar to humans. Following Aristotle, tradition has it that what is added in humans is rationality ("rational soul"). Rationality, however, (...) can be and has been characterized in many different ways. I am going to speculate about two different kinds of cognitive capacities that we humans seem to have, each of which is at least akin to rationality as Aristotle described it. The first I believe we share with many other animals, the second perhaps with none. Since this session of the conference on rational animals has been designated a "brainstorming" session, I will take philosopher's license, presenting no more than the softest sort of intuitive evidence for these ideas. (shrink)
The positions of Brandom and Millikan are compared with respect to their common origins in the works of Wilfrid Sellars and Wittgenstein. Millikan takes more seriously the “picturing” themes from Sellars and Wittgenstein. Brandom follows Sellars more closely in deriving the normativity of language from social practice, although there are also hints of a possible derivation from evolutionary theory in Sellars. An important claim common to Brandom and Millikan is that there are no representations without function or “attitude”.
At the start of Convention (1969) Lewis says that it is "a platitude that language is ruled by convention" and that he proposes to give us "an analysis of convention in its full generality, including tacit convention not created by agreement." Almost no clause, however, of Lewis's analysis has withstood the barrage of counter examples over the years,1 and a glance at the big dictionary suggests why, for there are a dozen different senses listed there. Left unfettered, convention wanders freely (...) from conventional wisdom through conventional medicine, conventions of art and "conventions of morality" to conventions of bidding in bridge.2 Surely it is unwise to try to fell these all with a single stone. Lewis's original goal, however, pursued further in (Lewis 1975), was to describe the conventionality of language, and this may be a more reasonable target. (shrink)
In his essay "Consumers Need Information: Supplementing Teleosemantics with an Input Condition" (this issue) Nicholas Shea argues, with support from the work of Peter Godfrey-Smith (1996), that teleosemantics, as David Papinau and I have articulated it, cannot explain why "content attribution can be used to explain successful behavior." This failure is said to result from defining the intentional contents of representations by reference merely to historically normal conditions for success of their "outputs," that is, of their uses by interpreting or (...) consuming mechanisms, bypassing the more traditional focus, of those who would naturalize intentional content, on causal or informational inputs. Shea proposes to "add an input condition to teleosemantics," requiring that simple representations must carry "correlational information." I am grateful to Shea for his paper, as it presents me with an opportunity to clarify two fairly central features of my position on intentional content, one of which seems to have been overlooked in the literature (Millikan 1993a), the other of which I have stated previously only in a confusing way (Millikan 2004, Chapters 3-4). The first clarification concerns the general form that I take explanation by reference to intentional states to have. The second concerns my description of "locally recurrent natural information," why this kind of information is needed in place of Shea's "correlational information" to explain what feeds simple representational systems, and why no reference to natural information is needed to account for the success of behaviors by reference to the truth of representations that motivate them. (shrink)
"According to informational semantics, if it's necessary that a creature can't distinguish Xs from Ys, it follows that the creature can't have a concept that applies to Xs but not Ys." (Jerry Fodor, The Elm and the Expert, p.32).
....a notion of 'common, public language' that remains mysterious...useless for any form of theoretical explanation....There is simply no way of making sense of this prong of the externalist theory of meaning and language, as far as I can see, or of any of the work in theory of meaning and philosophy of language that relies on such notions, a statement that is intended to cut rather a large swath. (Chomsky 1995, pp. 48-9) It is a striking fact that despite the (...) constant reliance on some notion of 'community language' or 'abstract language,' there is virtually no attempt to explain what it might be. (Chomsky 1993, p. 39) ....either we must deprive the notion communication of all significance, or else we must reject the view that the purpose of language is communication. ...It is difficult to say what 'the purpose' of language is, except, perhaps, the expression of thought, a rather empty formulation. The functions of language are various. (Chomsky 1980, p. 230) I have yet to see a formulation that makes any sense of the position that "the essence of language is communication." (Chomsky 1980, p. 80; see also 1992b, p 215). (shrink)
Lewis’s view of the way conventions are passed on may have some especially interesting consequences for the study of language. I’ll start by briefly discussing agreements and disagreements that I have with Lewis’s general views on conventions and then turn to how linguistic conventions spread. I’ll compare views of main stream generative linguistics, in particular, Chomsky’s views on how syntactic forms are passed on, with the sort of view of language acquisition and language change advocated by usage-based or construction grammars, (...) which seem to fit better with Lewis’s ideas. Then I will illustrate the interest of Lewis’s perspective on the dissemination of conventions with a variety of linguistic examples. (shrink)
‘According to informational semantics, if it's necessary that a creature can't distinguish Xs from Ys, it follows that the creature can't have a concept that applies to Xs but not Ys.’ There is, indeed, a form of informational semantics that has this verificationist implication. The original definition of information given in Dretske'sKnowledge and the Flow of Information, when employed as a base for a theory of intentional representation or ‘content,’ has this implication. I will argue that, in fact, most of (...) what an animal needs to know about its environment is not available as natural information of this kind. It is true, I believe, that there is one fundamental kind of perception that depends on this kind of natural information, but more sophisticated forms of inner representation do not. It is unclear, however, exactly what ‘natural information’ is supposed to mean, certainly in Fodor's, and even in Dretske's writing. In many places, Dretske seems to employ a softer notion than the one he originally defines. I will propose a softer view of natural information that is, I believe, at least hinted at by Dretske, and show that it does not have verificationist consequences. According to this soft informational semantics, a creature can perfectly well have a representation of Xs without being able to discriminate Xs from Ys. (shrink)
"Paleontologists like to say that to a first approximation, all species are extinct (ninety- nine percent is the usual estimate). The organisms we see around us are distant cousins, not great grandparents; they are a few scattered twig-tips of an enormous tree whose branches and trunk are no longer with us." (p. 343-44). The historical life bush consists mainly in dead ends.
On Reading Signs; Some Differences between Us and The Others If there are certain kinds of signs that an animal cannot learn to interpret, that might be for any of a number of reasons. It might be, first, because the animal cannot discriminate the signs from one another. For example, although human babies learn to discriminate human speech sounds according to the phonological structures of their native languages very easily, it may be that few if any other animals are capable (...) of fully grasping the phonological structures of human languages. If an animal cannot learn to interpret certain signs it might be, second, because the decoding is too difficult for it. It could be, for example, that some animals are incapable of decoding signs that exhibit syntactic embedding, or signs that are spread out over time as opposed to over space. Problems of these various kinds might be solved by using another sign system, say, gestures rather than noises, or visual icons laid out in spatial order, or by separating out embedded propositions and presenting each separately. But a more interesting reason that an animal might be incapable of understanding a sign would be that it lacked mental representations of the necessary kind. It might be incapable of representing mentally what the sign conveys. When discussing what signs animals can understand or.. (shrink)
I try to focus our differences by examining the relation between what Dennett has termed "the intentional stance" and "the design stance." Dennett takes the intentional stance to be more basic than the design stance. Ultimately it is through the eyes of the intentional stance that both human and natural design are interpreted, hence there is always a degree of interpretive freedom in reading the mind, the purposes, both of Nature and of her children. The reason, or at least a (...) reason, is that intentional interpretation is holistic, hence indeterminate, for the kinds of reasons given by Davidson and Quine. In contrast, I take the design stance to be more basic than the intentional stance. Intentional attributions express our best guesses about the locations of effects of certain kinds of natural design. And although there is often indeterminacy, ambiguity, or vagueness concerning what it is that natural selection (or learning) has selected for, these indeterminacies and vaguenesses are local, not holistic. There is reason to suppose that the better portion of Nature's purposes and the intentional states of her children are determinate in content within quite closely defined limits. I propose to defend this position as well as I can, so as to call from Dennett his own views on precisely where our paths separate (if they really do). (shrink)
I sketch in miniature the whole of my work on the relation between language and thought. Previously I have offered closeups of this terrain in various papers and books, and I reference them freely. But my main purpose here is to explain the relations among the parts, hoping this can serve as a short introduction to my work on language and thought for some, and for others as a clarification of the larger plan.