Phil 473/673: Introduction
on time. Wed aft?
permission for undergrads
(1985, Aritficial Intelligence: The Very Idea, MIT Press, p. 27):
The basic question is: How can
thought parcels mean anything? The analogy with spoken or written
symbols is no help here, since the meanings of these are already derivative
from the meanings of thoughts. That is, the meaningfulness of words depends on
the prior meaningfulness of our thinking: if a sound (or sequence of letters)
'horse' happens to mean a certain kind of animal, that's only because we
(English speakers) mean that by it. Now obviously the meaningfulness of
thoughts themselves cannot be explained in the same way; for that would be to
say that the meanings of our thoughts derive from the meanings of our thoughts,
which is circular. Hence some independent account is required.
is to say that a Neo-Gricean account of mental meaning won't work for
mental meaning as it does for nonmental (i.e. linguistic) meaning. This
account basically says that a word means something in virtue of the
intentions of the person who uses it. There is a 'shared meaning' insofar
as there are conventions of groups of speakers about what some word means.
Of course, this explanation depends on the intentions of an agent,
and thus can't be applied to 'internal' representations. This is why
mental representation has what is called 'original meaning'. It is this kind of meaning, and
the representations that underly it that we are interested in.
Some history of mental representation(s)
- A useful distinction. Cummins
distinguishes between mental Representations and mental Representation
(note only the former has an 's' at the end). Theories of the first are
theories of the vehicles, the objects that carry meaning in our
heads. Theories of the second (Representation) are theories of the
relation between the things in our head and the things in the word that
ground them, i.e. theories that determine what representations mean (i.e.
what content they carry). Cummins thinks these are independent problems,
although I disagree.
- In the following I alternate a
chronological presentation of a theory of representations with theory of
- Aristotle though the representations
were mind stuff that got the same form as the equivalent matter (e.g. grey
cat forms in matter give grey cat, grey cat forms in mind stuff give the
idea of grey cat). (all
pictures taken from Cummins, 1989, Meaning and Mental Representation, MIT
- Stoics: Eliasmith,
2001: Who were the stoics (ethics, physics)? What was their basic
theory of mind? What were the 3 main ingredients/questions they want to
- Berkeley and Hume had the same basic
idea, but talked in terms of images rather than mind stuff with forms.
That is, grey cat ideas are representations of grey cat because they
resemble grey cat (i.e. share properties with grey cat).
- Descartes: Eliasmith,
2001: What is Descartes famous problem? How does it come out
of his theory of mind and metaphysics? What are three main stages of his
theory? What are his 3 concerns? (e.g. sun, stick).
- Locke: Eliasmith, 2001: How does Locke compare
with Descartes? How does he compare with the Stoics?
- Hobbes thought of representations as
symbols, or words. Unlike 'picture theories' (above) symbols don't
resemble what they represent. So, thoughts of grey cat would be more like
a list of symbols that pick out properties somehow related to one another
and grey cat.
- Fodor: Eliasmith, 2001: What is the problem
of perception for Fodor? What is new in Fodor's and his contemporaries'
approach? How does representational content and cause come apart?
- Hebb held the view that representations
are just neurophyisological states. There is no 'computational
abstraction' that can usefully replace those states in a theory of mental
- Neuroscientists: Often speak of
representations, but often seem to rely on a na´ve causal theory. Not many
subscribe to Hebb's view.
- Mental content: How are mental and
linguistic content related? What is the relation between content (i.e.
propositions) and sentences (e.g. bright star)? What's one definition of
content (ascribed properties)? What's another (aboutness=reference?)? What's
the difference between sense and reference? Which is more like content?
What's Frege's famous example (Hesperus, Phosphorus)?
- Language and meaning: Are content and
meaning the same? How might they not be? Why think language is not the
place to start for a theory of content?
- Causal theories: What is such a theory? What
are the two kinds of causal theory? (note: Fodor's theory in
psychosemantics is internalist) What is the motivation behind this kind of
theory? What kinds of problem arise for this theory? (misrepresentation)
What's Fodor's solution? (asymmetric dependence) Does it work? What's
Dretske's solution? What's a proper function?
- Conceptual role theories: What other
names are there for this kind of theory? What is such a theory? What is
the motivation behind this kind of theory? (transformations, explaining
Frege cases, explaining behavior) What kinds of problem arise for this
theory (truth conditions, relativism)?
- Two factor theories: What is such a
theory? What is the motivation behind this kind of theory? (independent
difficulties with the others) What kinds of problem arise for this theory?
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