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)
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)
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¿.
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)
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)
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)
Many students of pragmatics and child language have come to believe that in order to learn a language a child must first have a 'theory of mind,' a grasp that speakers mentally represent the content they would convey when they speak. This view is reinforced by the Gricean theory of communication, according to which speakers intend their words to cause hearers to believe or to do certain things and hearers must recognize these intentions if they are to comply. The view (...) rests on an underlying assumption that learning language involves associating words with things (objects, kinds, events, properties and so forth) or with concepts of these, these associations being acquired, one by one, by observing the usage of others. Accomplishing this task is facilitated, it is thought, by engaging in joint attention with speakers who are attending to the things they are talking about as they talk, and joint attention requires an understanding that others have minds that represent things. (shrink)
Sainsbury and Tye (2011) propose that, in the case of names and other simple extensional terms, we should substitute for Frege's second level of content—for his senses—a second level of meaning vehicle—words in the language of thought. I agree. They also offer a theory of atomic concept reference—their ‘originalist’ theory—which implies that people knowing the same word have the ‘same concept’. This I reject, arguing for a symmetrical rather than an originalist theory of concept reference, claiming that individual concepts are (...) possessed only by individual people. Concepts are classified rather than identified across different people. (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)
Both the human capacity for language and individual languages have evolved, in part, by natural selection. This paper considers certain aspects and consequences of this, concerning, among other things, the semantics-pragmatics distinction.
A number of clarifications of the target article and some corrections are made. I clarify which concepts the thesis was intended to be about, what “descriptionism” means, the difference between “concepts” and “conceptions,” and why extensions are not determined by conceptions. I clarify the meaning of “substances,” how one knows what inductions to project over them, the connection with “basic level categories,” how it is determined what substance a given substance concept is of, how equivocation in concepts occurs, and the (...) role of language in the conception of substances. Finally, I clarify exactly why I said that concepts of individuals, real kinds, and stuffs have “a common structure,”. (shrink)
“Intentionality,” as introduced to modern philosophy by Brentano, denotes the property that distinguishes the mental from all other things. As such, intentionality has been related to purposiveness. I suggest, however, that there are many kinds of purposes that are not mental nor derived from anything mental, such as the purpose of one’s stomach to digest food or the purpose of one’s protective eye blink reflex to keep out the sand. These purposes help us to understand intentionality in a naturalistic way. (...) The naturalist challenge here is to show, first, that natural purposiveness can explain the intentionality of explicitly represented purposes, hence that it is associated with “aboutness”. Second, it needs to show how the same kind of analysis can also be used to naturalize intentionality in cases where facts are represented rather than purposes or ends. (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's Knowledge 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)
I highlight and amplify three central points that McKay & Dennett (M&D) make about the origin of failures to perform biologically proper functions. I question whether even positive illusions meet criteria for evolved misbelief.
Something of the relation of my work on substance concepts to Gibsonian theories of perception–action is discussed. What historical relations tie a particular substance concept to a particular substance is discussed.
The target article can be strengthened by supplementing it with a better theory of mental representation. Given such a theory, there is reason to suppose that, first, even the most primitive representations are mostly of distal affairs; second, the most primitive representations also turn out to be directed two ways at once, both stating facts and directing action.