Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-x

Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xvi

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1 Thinking about Thought

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pp. 1-26

When you taste a cup of coffee, recall a white sandy beach or imagine walking on Mars, your mental state represents, is about, or refers to the taste of the coffee, the white sandy beach, or your walking on Mars. Your thoughts have contents. In a way, nothing could be more familiar to us than this representational power of mental states, and yet its fundamental nature remains mysterious. How do our thoughts have this power? How do they have the contents they have? This book, in a nutshell, is about the representational power of the mind. It is, in other words, about how minds...

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2 Positing Nonconceptual Representations

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pp. 27-46

A methodological argument for teleosemantics is given in chapter 4. Before that, some further groundwork is needed. This chapter describes some research in cognitive science in order to make some preliminary points about it. One of these points is that nonconceptual (also sometimes called “preconceptual”) representations are posited in this research. How to characterize the distinction between conceptual and nonconceptual mental representations is elsewhere debated, with different theorists bringing different desiderata to the table, as well as different recommendations with...

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3 Functional Analysis and the Species Design

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pp. 47-72

Why conceive of the components of a living system as having functions that permit the possibility of malfunction if their having such functions is not causally efficacious in the operation of the system? This question parallels the one raised in relation to mental content in chapter 2. The topic of mental content is set to one side in this chapter, but while out of sight it is not out of mind, for this chapter offers support for some claims on which the methodological argument for teleosemantics will be premised (in chapter 4). The topic for this chapter is the nature of functional explanation in...

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4 The Methodological Argument for Informational Teleosemantics

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pp. 73-96

Stampe (1977) and Dretske (1986) both endorsed two main theses: (i) that semantically evaluable mental content is, at its most fundamental, grounded in functional norms (teleosemantics), and (ii) that it is grounded in causal or natural-factive information relations (informational semantics).1 This chapter makes explicit a methodological argument in support of the dual thesis—informational teleosemantics.2 It is methodological in the sense that it relies on claims concerning explanatory concepts and practices in the mind and brain sciences. The first section gives the bare-bones...

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5 Simple Minds

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pp. 97-124

The previous chapter argued for teleosemantics in general and an informational version of it in particular, conditional on a mainstream information-processing approach to explaining cognition being on the right lines in key respects. (Remember that “cognition” is used broadly in this book, to include perception.) This chapter looks at reasons to prefer one content ascription to another, conditional on the same assumption.1

On the wish list for a good theory of mental content is that it delivers the right contents for representations within its scope. While this...

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6 Response Functions

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pp. 125-148

Informational semantic theories appeal to natural-factive information. The starting point for these theories is usually that perceptual representations carry information about the events that cause them. Teleosemantic theories appeal to normal-proper functions, which are usually given an etiological analysis. A (or the) function of an entity is said to be what it was (or what items of the type were) selected to do. One might think that the two ideas could be combined, with the unifying idea being that perceptual systems have the function to produce states that carry natural-factive...

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7 The Content-Determinacy Challenges

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pp. 149-174

A sensory-perceptual representation refers to what is supposed to cause it. This simple, intuitive idea is refined in the causal-informational version of teleosemantics given in this chapter and in the two that follow. The idea that we begin with is that the contents of sensory-perceptual representations are determined by the response functions of the systems that produce them. My starting point is thus very much like Stampe’s (1977)—and, a little less closely, like that of Dretske’s (1986). It differs from Stampe’s, however, in a few crucial ways. For one, its scope is restricted to nonconceptual...

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8 Causally Driven Analogs

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pp. 175-216

The simple starter theory outlined in the previous chapter captures the intuitive and theoretically well-motivated claim that sensory-perceptual representations are supposed to be caused by their contents (i.e., by the environmental features to which they refer). It is a causal-informational version of teleosemantics (CT), which tells us that the contents of the preconceptual representations involved in perception depend on the response functions of the systems that produce them. This chapter further develops the idea that such contents depend on response functions. It does so by...

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9 Distal and Distant Red Squares

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pp. 217-244

Finally, we turn to the last of the content-determinacy challenges laid out in chapter 7. This last challenge poses the problem of distal content (also known as “the stopping problem” or “the horizontal problem”). It is standardly understood as the problem of explaining why a thought is about (e.g.) a cow, rather than something more proximal, such as the pattern of light reflected from its hide to the eyes of a perceiver, or the retinal impressions produced in the perceiver’s eyes as a result. When one recognizes a cow as a cow, one uses a concept of a cow to do so, and conceptualized...

Notes

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pp. 245-284

References

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pp. 285-308

Index

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pp. 309-327