A Slim Book about Narrow Content
189 pp., 5 x 8 in,
- Published: June 2, 2000
- Published: June 2, 2000
A good understanding of the nature of a property requires knowing whether that property is relational or intrinsic. Gabriel Segal's concern is whether certain psychological properties—specifically, those that make up what might be called the "cognitive content" of psychological states—are relational or intrinsic. He claims that content supervenes on microstructure, that is, if two beings are identical with respect to their microstructural properties, then they must be identical with respect to their cognitive contents.
Segal's thesis, a version of internalism, is that being in a state with a specific cognitive content does not essentially involve standing in any real relation to anything external. He uses the fact that content locally supervenes on microstructure to argue for the intrinsicness of content. Cognitive content is fully determined by intrinsic, microstructural properties: duplicate a subject in respect to those properties and you duplicate their cognitive contents.
The book, written in a clear, engaging style, contains four chapters. The first two argue against the two leading externalist theories. Chapter 3 rejects popular theories that endorse two kinds of content: "narrow" content, which is locally supervenient, and "broad" content, which is not. Chapter 4 defends a radical alternative version of internalism, arguing that narrow content is a variety of ordinary representation, that is, that narrow content is all there is to content. In defending internalism, Segal does not claim to defend a general philosophical theory of content. At this stage, he suggests, it should suffice to cast reasonable doubt on externalism, to motivate internalism, and to provide reasons to believe that good psychology is, or could be, internalist.
Bradford Books imprint
Psychological states clearly enter into action, and relate in some way to the mind-external world. They have 'causal' and 'representational' properties, in standard usage (which is far from innocent). How these dual aspects of such states can be understood and reconciled has become a central topic in the study of thought and language. Segal provides a judicious critical analysis of much of the important work that has addressed these issues, also developing original and provocative ideas of his own that offer new perspectives. It is a valuable and most welcome contribution.
Noam Chomsky, MIT
This is a lively little book full of clear, sensible, interesting arguments. The debate between advocates of internalist and externalist accoutns of content has been center stage in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of psychology for over two decades. For anyone interested in that debate, this sophisticated defense of narrow content is must reading.
Stephen Stich, Professor of Philosophy & Cognitive Science, Rutgers University