Naturalizing Mental Meaning

Note: The first lecture will be held Wednesday, September 14, at 1pm in HH357. At this meeting we will arrange the time and place for the remaining lectures.

Instructor: Chris Eliasmith
Office hours: Tues 3-4 and by appointment, HH331.
Time: TBA

Course Readings:

The Course will consist of a series of readings, as outlined in the syllabus. The will be made available in the Philosophy Office (HH365). You will be responsible for copying and reading them before class. The schedule of readings is below the list of readings.

  1. Eliasmith, C. (2001). Introduction to Contemporary Theories of Content. Unpublished.
  2. Pitts, D. (2000) 'Mental Representation'. Online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  3. Harman, G. (1982). 'Conceptual Role Semantics.' Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic. 23: 242-256.
  4. Dretske, F. (1983). 'Precis of Knowledge and the Flow of Information'. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 6: 55-63.
  5. Dretske, F. (1988). Representational Systems. In Explaining Behavior: Reasons in a World of Causes. MIT Press. Chapter 3.
  6. Block, N. (1986). 'Advertisement for a Semantics for Psychology'. Midwest Studies in Philosophy. P. French, T. Uehling and H. Wettstein. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press. X: 615-678.
  7. Fodor, J. and E. Lepore (1992). Holism: A Shopper's Guide. Blackwell. Chs. 1 and 6.
  8. Fodor, J. (1987). Psychosemantics. MIT Press.
  9. Schwartz (1994). 'Representation'. In Guttenplan (ed.) Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Mind. Blackwell.
  10. Peacocke (1994). 'Content (1)'. In Guttenplan (ed.) Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Mind. Blackwell.
  11. Papineau (1994). 'Content (2)'. In Guttenplan (ed.) Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Mind. Blackwell.
  12. Cummins (1997) Representation, Targets and Attitudes. MIT Press. Chp 7.
  13. O'Brien, G. & Opie, J. (2004) Notes towards a structuralist theory of mental representation. In H. Clapin, P. Staines & P. Slezak (eds.) Representation in Mind: New Approaches to Mental Representation, Elsevier.
  14. Eliasmith, C. (2003). Moving beyond metaphors: Understanding the mind for what it is. Journal of Philosophy. C(10):493-520.
  15. Eliasmith, C. (2005). 'Neurosemantics and categories.' In C. Lefebvre and H. Cohen (eds.). Categorisation in Cognitive Science. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  16. Ryder, (2004) 'SINBAD Neurosemantics: A theory of mental representation'. Mind & Language. 19: 211-240.
  17. Fodor (1994). The elm and the expert. MIT Press.
  18. Millikan (1989). Biosemantics. Journal of Philosophy. 86: 218-297.
  19. Usher M. (2004). Comment on Ryder's SINBAD Neurosemantics: Is Teleofunction Isomorphism the Way to Understand Representations? Mind and Language, 19, 241-248.


Course Description: This is a upper level course examining contemporary attempts to naturalize meaning. During the semester, students will read recent work in philosophy of mind that 1) defines the problem of naturalizing meaning, 2) describes a series of challenges for those wishing to take on this project, and 3) attempts to solve the problem and meet these challenges. Specifically, students will examine three contemporary attempts (with some variations), at naturalizing the meaning of mental states. Many of these attempts take psychological states to be those that must be ascribed mental content. As time permits, students will be exposed to the most recent attempts to naturalize meaning, which focus more on neural, rather than psychological states.







Course Outline

Intro: Eliasmith (2001) (pdf)




Schwartz (1994)
Fodor (1987), Chp 4

Naturalizing meaning



Peacocke (1994). Content(1)
Papineau (1994). Content (2)
Pitts (2000) Wide and Narrow Content


Content and Twinearth



Drestke (1988)
Fodor (1994), Chp 2


Misrepresentation, Twinearth and Frege



Dretske (1983) (and commentaries)

Information Theory (causal theory 1)



Millikan (1989)

Teleofunction (causal theory 2)



Harman (1982)
Fodor (1987), Ch. 3

Conceptual Role



Block (1986);
Fodor and Lepore (1992), chp 6

Two Factor Theories



Cummins (1996), chp 7
O'Brien and Opie (2004) Structuralist theory.




Eliasmith (2003)
Eliasmith (2005)

Neurosemantics (1)



Ryder (2004)
Usher (2004)

Neurosemantics (2)



Essay presentations


Grading: The course requires the writing of a final essay (about 4000 words; 80%) plus a seminar presentation during which the student will guide discussion regarding that week's reading (20%). Essays are due Dec. 16, 2005.

Note on avoidance of academic offenses: All students registered in the courses of the Faculty of arts are expected to know what constitutes an academic offense, to avoid committing academic offenses, and to take responsibility for their academic actions. When the commission of an offense is established, it will be acknowledged by disciplinary penalties. For information on categories of offenses and types of penalties, students are directed to consult the summary of Policy #71 (Student Academic Discipline) which is supplied in the Undergraduate Calendar (p. 1:11).