This paper applies the theory of teleosemantics to the issue of moral content. Two versions of teleosemantics are distinguished: input-based and output-based. It is argued that applying either to the case of moral judgements generates the conclusion that such judgements have both descriptive (belief-like) and directive (desire-like) content, intimately entwined. This conclusion directly validates neither descriptivism nor expressivism, but the application of teleosemantics to moral content does leave the descriptivist with explanatory challenges which the expressivist does not (...) face. Since teleosemantics ties content to function, the paper also offers an account of the evolutionary function of moral judgements. (shrink)
The aim of teleosemantics is to give a scientifically respectable, or ‘naturalistic’ theory of mental content. In the debates surrounding the scope and merits of teleosemantics a lot has been said about the concept of indication (or carrying information). The aim of this paper is to focus on the other key concept of teleosemantics: biological function. It has been universally accepted in the teleosemantics literature that the account of biological function one should use to flesh out (...)teleosemantics is that of etiological function. My claim is that if we replace this concept of function with an alternative one (that we have independent reasons to accept) and if we also restrict the scope of teleosemantics, we can arrive at an account of biologizing mental content that is much less problematic than the previous attempts. (shrink)
How do frogs represent their prey? This question has been the focus of many debates among proponents of naturalistic theories of content, especially among proponents of teleosemantics. This is because alternative versions of the teleosemantic approach have different implications for the content of frog representations, and it is still controversial which of these content ascriptions (if any) is the most adequate. Theorists often appeal to intuitions here, but this is a dubious strategy. In this paper, I suggest an alternative, (...) empirical test for theories of content. I propose that we should examine whether a theory generates content ascriptions that fit with our best scientific explanations of animal behavior. I then focus on the most prominent version of teleosemantics, Ruth Millikan’s consumer-oriented approach, and argue that it fails the empirical test in the frog case, since it yields a content ascription that (i) does not include properties that should be included (namely, being small, dark and moving ) and (ii) includes a property that should not be included (namely, being frog food ). This is an important result in itself, but it also demonstrates by way of example how progress can be made in the complex debate about theories of content. (shrink)
Teleosemantics seeks to explain meaning and other intentional phenomena in terms of their function in the life of the species. This volume of new essays from an impressive line-up of well-known contributors offers a valuable summary of the current state of the teleosemantics debate.
Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism aims to show that the conjunction of contemporary evolutionary theory (E) with the claim that there is no God (N) cannot be rationally accepted. Where R is the claim that our cognitive faculties are reliable, the argument is: The probability of R given N and E is low or inscrutable.Anyone who sees (1) and accepts (N&E) has a defeater for R, and this defeater cannot be defeated or deflected.Anyone who has an undefeated, undeflected defeater (...) for R has an undefeated, undeflected defeater for everything she believes.Therefore she has an undefeated, undeflected defeater for (N&E).Plantinga (2011) defends the second premise. It examines and rejects several candidate defeater defeaters and defeater deflectors. One candidate is Millikan’s teleosemantics. I show that Plantinga’s motives for rejecting teleosemantics as a defeater deflector are inadequate. I then show that teleosemantics is not on its own an adequate defeater deflector. Then I offer an additional premise that constitutes a defeater deflector in conjunction with teleosemantics. (shrink)
There has been much discussion of so-called teleosemantic approaches to the naturalization of content. Such discussion, though, has been largely confined to simple, innate mental states with contents such as ?There is a fly here.? Even assuming we can solve the issues that crop up at this stage, an account of the content of human mental states will not get too far without an account of productivity: the ability to entertain indefinitely many thoughts. The best-known teleosemantic theory, Millikan's biosemantics, offers (...) an account of productivity in thought. This paper raises a basic worry about this account: that the use of mapping functions in the theory is unacceptable from a naturalistic point of view. (shrink)
The "teleosemantic" program is part of the attempt to give a naturalistic explanation of the semantic properties of mental representations. The aim is to show how the internal states of a wholly physical agent could, as a matter of objective fact, represent the world beyond them. The most popular approach to solving this problem has been to use concepts of physical correlation with some kinship to those employed in information theory (Dretske 1981, 1988; Fodor 1987, 1990). Teleosemantics, which tries (...) to solve the problem using a concept of biological function, arrived in the mid 1980s with ground-breaking works by Millikan (1984) and Papineau (1984, 1987).<sup>1</sup>. (shrink)
In a recent article, William F. Harms (2000) argues in a novel way for a form of moral realism. He does not actually argue that moral realism is true, but rather that if morality is the product of natural selection.
This essay reviews a collection of thirteen critical essays on the work of Ruth Millikan. The collection covers a broad range of her work, focusing in particular on her account of simple intentionality, her theory of concepts and her metaphysical views. I highlight and briefly discuss three issues that crop up repeatedly though the collection: (1) Millikan’s externalism (and in particular, her emphasis on how intentional states are used, rather than how they are produced); (2) the nature of intentional explanation; (...) and (3) the normativity of meaning. (shrink)
The success of a piece of behaviour is often explained by its being caused by a true representation (similarly, failure falsity). In some simple organisms, success is just survival and reproduction. Scientists explain why a piece of behaviour helped the organism to survive and reproduce by adverting to the behaviour’s having been caused by a true representation. That usage should, if possible, be vindicated by an adequate naturalistic theory of content. Teleosemantics cannot do so, when it is applied to (...) simple representing systems (Godfrey-Smith 1996). Here it is argued that the teleosemantic approach to content should therefore be modified, not abandoned, at least for simple representing systems. The new ‘infotel-semantics’ adds an input condition to the output condition offered by teleosemantics, recognising that it is constitutive of content in a simple representing system that the tokening of a representation should correlate probabilistically with the obtaining of its specific evolutionary success condition. (shrink)
Perceptual representations have distal content: they represent external objects and their properties, not light waves or retinal images. This basic fact presents a fundamental problem for ‘input-oriented’ theories of perceptual content. As I show in the first part of this paper, this even holds for what is arguably the most sophisticated input-oriented theory to date, namely Karen Neander's informational teleosemantics. In the second part of the paper, I develop a new version of informational teleosemantics, drawing partly on empirical (...) psychology, and partly on philosophical considerations. I shall argue that this version has all the virtues of Neander's original theory, but also the further crucial advantage of being able to account for the distality of perceptual content. (shrink)
Ethological theory standardly attributes representational content to animal signals. In this article I first assess whether Ruth Millikan’s teleosemantic theory accounts for the content of animal signals. I conclude that it does not, because many signals do not exhibit the required sort of cooperation between signal‐producing and signal‐consuming devices. It is then argued that Kim Sterelny’s proposal, while not requiring cooperation, sometimes yields the wrong content. Finally, I outline an alternative view, according to which consumers alone are responsible for conferring (...) representational status and determining content. I suggest that consumer‐based teleosemantics reconstruct the content of both cooperative and noncooperative signals and explain how a given trait can mean different things to different consumers. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, King’s College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, U.K.; e‐mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (shrink)
Teleosemantics explains mental representation in terms of biological function and selection history. One of the main objections to the account is the so-called ‘Swampman argument’ (Davidson 1987), which holds that there could be a creature with mental representation even though it lacks a selection history. A number of teleosemanticists reject the argument by emphasising that it depends on assuming a creature that is fi ctitious and hence irrelevant for teleosemantics because the theory is only concerned with representations in (...) real-world organisms (Millikan 1996, Neander 1996, 2006, Papineau 2001, 2006). I contend that this strategy doesn’t succeed. I off er an argument that captures the spirit of the original Swampman objection but relies only on organisms found in the actual world. Th e argument undermines the just mentioned response to the Swampman objection, and furthermore leads to a particular challenge to strong representationalist theories of consciousness that endorse teleosemantics such as, e.g., Dretske’s (1995) and Tye’s (1995, 2000) accounts. On these theories, the causal effi cacy of consciousness in actual creatures will be undermined. (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)
Mendelovici (forthcoming) has recently argued that (1) tracking theories of mental representation (including teleosemantics) are incompatible with the possibility of reliable misrepresentation and that (2) this is an important difficulty for them. Furthermore, she argues that this problem commits teleosemantics to an unjustified a priori rejection of color eliminativism. In this paper I argue that (1) teleosemantics can accommodate most cases of reliable misrepresentation, (2) those cases the theory fails to account for are not objectionable and (3) (...)teleosemantics is not committed to any problematic view on the color realism-antirealism debate. (shrink)
According to standard teleosemantics, intentional states are selectional states. This claim is put forward not as a conceptual analysis, but as a ‘theoretical reduction’—an a posteriori hypothesis analogous to ‘water = H2O’. Critics have tried to show that this meta-theoretical conception of teleosemantics leads to unacceptable consequences. In this paper, I argue that there is indeed a fundamental problem with the water/H2O analogy, as it is usually construed, and that teleosemanticists should therefore reject it. Fortunately, there exists a (...) viable alternative to the water/H2O model which avoids the fundamental problem, while explaining the a posteriori character of teleosemantics equally well. (shrink)
Peter Godfrey-Smith and Nicholas Shea have argued that standard versions of teleosemantics render explanations of successful behavior by appealing to true beliefs circular and, consequently, non-explanatory. As an alternative, Shea has recently suggested an original teleosemantic account (that he calls ?Infotel-semantics?), which is supposed to be immune to the problem of circularity. The paper argues that the standard version of teleosemantics has a satisfactory reply to the circularity objection and that, in any case, Infotel-semantics is not better off (...) than standard teleosemantics. (shrink)
Teleosemantics is a naturalistic research programme in the philosophy of mind and language. Its ambition is to achieve a reduction, first, of mental content to teleological function; second, of teleological function to non‐teleological notions. This article explores the second step, particularly as envisaged by Millikan’s etiological theory of function.
Argues that the meaning of perceptual states depends on certain simple "actions" of conditioning and habituation innately associated with them. A game theoretic account of the meaning of perceptual states is offered.
The dominant view in teleosemantics is that semantic functions are historically determined. That reliance on history has been subject to repeated criticism. To sidestep such criticisms, Nanay has recently offered an ahistorical alternative that swaps out historical properties for modal properties. Nanay's ahistorical modal alternative suffers, I think, serious problems of its own. I suggest here another ahistorical alternative for teleosemantics. The motivation for both the historical view and Nanay's is to provide a naturalistic basis to characterize some (...) item as possessing a function independent of its actual performance and, thereby, provide a grip on intentional inexistence and misrepresentation. I suggest that attending to the logic of mechanistic explanation suffices to provide the sought for naturalistic basis. The key advantage to the approach offered here is its relative parsimony: unlike its alternatives, it requires no substantive existential commitments, for example, commitments to natural selection, copying relations, or fitness-enhancing modal properties, to naturalize semantic content. (shrink)
One of the main tenets of current teleosemantic theories is that simple representations are Pushmi-Pullyu states, i.e. they carry descriptive and imperative content at the same time. In the paper I present an argument that shows that if we add this claim to the core tenets of teleosemantics, then (1) it entails that, necessarily, all representations are Pushmi-Pullyu states and (2) it undermines one of the main motivations for the Pushmi-Pullyu account.
Let me begin by signaling my enthusiasm both for the specific case offered by Cummins et al. against teleosemantics and for the overall framework from which this work derives. If the first approximation of the idea is that there will be material implicit in a representation that can be exploited by a cognitive agent that later acquires the right abilities to extract this material, and if this material looks a great deal like content, then the teleosemanticist will find accommodating (...) it challenging. Moreover, the distinction between representation and indication is intriguing and important, and the discussion of structural transformation and isomorphism is illuminating. While Cummins has been urging these themes for some time now, it seems to me that they have not been sufficiently appreciated in the literature. (shrink)
In the first part of the paper, I present a framework for the description and evaluation of teleosemantic theories of intentionality, and use it to argue that several different objections to these theories (the various indeterminacy and adequacy problems) are, in a certain precise sense, manifestations of the same underlying issue. I then use the framework to show that Millikan's biosemantics, her own recent declarations to the contrary notwithtanding, presents indeterminacy. In the second part, I develop a novel teleosemantic proposal (...) which makes progress in the treatment of this family of problems. I describe a procedure to derive a (unique) homeostatic property cluster [HPC] from facts having to do with the properties that a certain indicator relied on, in the events leading to its fixation in a certain population. This HPC is the one that should figure in the content attribution to the indicator in question. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to defend the teleological theory of representation against an objection by Jerry Fodor. I shall argue that previous attempts to answer this objection fail to recognize the importance of belief-desire structure for the teleological theory of representation.
Since the publication of Ruth Millikan's Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories in 1984, a great deal of literature has discussed her so-called teleosemantic or biosemantic solution to the problem of intentionality. Only recently, though, has much attention been paid to her co-ordinated solution to the problem of productivity. This article, first, clearly describes the problems of intentionality, productivity, and compositionality, and describes their relationships and their relevance for the theory of meaning. It then describes Millikan's proposal with respect to (...) the problem of intentionality and shows how this buys her a novel solution to the problem of productivity. The article closes by discussing some alternative teleosemantic theories and some issues that will contribute to deciding between them. (shrink)
I pose the following dilemma for Millikan's teleological theory of mental content. There is only one way that her theory can avoid Gauker's [(1995) Review of Millikan's White queen psychology and other essays for Alice, Philosophical Psychology, 8, 305-309] charge that it relies on an unexplained notion of mapping or isomorphism between mental state and world. Mental content must be explained in terms of the mapping relation that is required for mental state producing and consuming mechanisms to perform their biologically (...) proper functions, i.e. producing mental states that are consumed in systematically adaptive practical inferences. However, this proposal leads to unacceptably counterintuitive ascriptions of content to mythological beliefs and related desires: such beliefs and desires must "map onto" environmental states that make them adaptive, not onto the mythological states of affairs that (would) make them true or fulfilled. I conclude by discussing the merits and drawbacks of a potential solution to this problem: the view that the contents of mythological beliefs and desires are determined by the non-mythological concepts out of which they are constructed, rather than by the environmental states that make them adaptive. The affinities of this proposal with Pascal Boyer's recent theory of mythological concepts [(2001) Religion explained, New York: Basic Books] are also discussed. (shrink)
Teleosemantic theories of content constitute a mixed family of different proposals and accounts about what consists mental content. In the present paper, I would like examine the scope and limits of a particular and well defined teleosemantic theory such as Millikan’s account. My aim entails presenting arguments in order to show how her theory of mental content is unnable of giving a complete account of the whole mental life almost for adult human agents without commiting certain adaptationist assumptions. I am (...) going to present my arguments in the following order. In section 1 I present an outline of the Millikan’s theory of mental content. In section 2, after defining useless content I pay attention to her treatment of it. In section 3 I set out my queries concerning to the fixation of useless content defended by Millikan. Finally, I conclude that the theory about useless content doesn’t identify content in terms of sufficient and necessary conditions. (shrink)