Functions and mental representation

the theoretical role of representations and its real nature

Miguel Angel Sebastián

pp. 317-336

Representations are not only used in our folk-psychological explanations of behaviour, but are also fruitfully postulated, for example, in cognitive science. The mainstream view in cognitive science maintains that our mind is a representational system. This popular view requires an understanding of the nature of the entities they are postulating. Teleosemantic theories face this challenge, unpacking the normativity in the relation of representation by appealing to the teleological function of the representing state. It has been argued that, if intentionality is to be explained in teleological terms, then the function of a state cannot depend on its phylogenetical history, given the metaphysical possibility of a duplicate of an intentional being that lacks an evolutionary history (Swampman). In this paper, I present a method to produce, according to our current knowledge in genetic engineering, human-like individuals who are not the product of natural selection in the required sense. This variation will be used to shed light on the main replies that have been offered in the literature to the Swampman thought experiment. I argue that these replies are not satisfactory: representations should better not depend on natural selection. I conclude that a non-etiological notion of function is to be preferred for characterizing the relation of representation.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11097-015-9452-9

Full citation:

Sebastián, M.A. (2017). Functions and mental representation: the theoretical role of representations and its real nature. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 16 (2), pp. 317-336.

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