A Mark of the Mental
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From Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology

A Mark of the Mental

In Defense of Informational Teleosemantics

By Karen Neander

Drawing on insights from causal theories of reference, teleosemantics, and state space semantics, a theory of naturalized mental representation.

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Summary

Drawing on insights from causal theories of reference, teleosemantics, and state space semantics, a theory of naturalized mental representation.

In A Mark of the Mental, Karen Neander considers the representational power of mental states—described by the cognitive scientist Zenon Pylyshyn as the “second hardest puzzle” of philosophy of mind (the first being consciousness). The puzzle at the heart of the book is sometimes called “the problem of mental content,” “Brentano's problem,” or “the problem of intentionality.” Its motivating mystery is how neurobiological states can have semantic properties such as meaning or reference. Neander proposes a naturalistic account for sensory-perceptual (nonconceptual) representations.

Neander draws on insights from state-space semantics (which appeals to relations of second-order similarity between representing and represented domains), causal theories of reference (which claim the reference relation is a causal one), and teleosemantic theories (which claim that semantic norms, at their simplest, depend on functional norms). She proposes and defends an intuitive, theoretically well-motivated but highly controversial thesis: sensory-perceptual systems have the function to produce inner state changes that are the analogs of as well as caused by their referents. Neander shows that the three main elements—functions, causal-information relations, and relations of second-order similarity—complement rather than conflict with each other. After developing an argument for teleosemantics by examining the nature of explanation in the mind and brain sciences, she develops a theory of mental content and defends it against six main content-determinacy challenges to a naturalized semantics.

Hardcover

$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262036146 344 pp. | 9 in x 6 in 13 b&w illus.

Endorsements

  • Karen Neander is a founder of teleosemantics. Her book reveals years of subtle thought on the naturalistic explanation of original intentionality, of how, ultimately, representations can be about the world. Neander's explanation, at the preconceptual level of sensory-perceptual representations, is wonderfully informed and detailed. This book is a major advance.

    Michael Devitt

    Distinguished Professor, Graduate Center, City University of New York; author of Ignorance of Language

  • While informational and teleosemantic approaches to content have been around for decades, Neander carefully builds the case for a unique view that fuses the best elements from each. A Mark of the Mental will hold significant interest for philosophers of mind and cognitive science, and its discussions of functions will be relevant to philosophers of biology as well.

    Daniel Weiskopf

    Associate Professor of Philosophy, Georgia State University; coauthor of An Introduction to the Philosophy of Psychology

  • Neander's book addresses some of the most important and challenging topics in perceptual psychology and the philosophy of perception, in each case making important advances. The main goal of the book is to develop and defend a theory of what it is for a perceptual state to represent an external object or property. The account that Neander offers, which is based on the notions of causation and biological function, is in my judgment the most promising one that has so far appeared. Among other virtues, it meshes nicely with information-processing psychology. The book also addresses a range of important ancillary topics. To illustrate, Neander argues persuasively that nonconceptual perceptual representations can (in a content-constitutive way) be analogs of their contents, and that their contents are “thin,” in the sense that they involve properties like colors, sizes and shapes, and complex configurations of such properties, as opposed to higher-level properties like PREY, CAUSE, and MALE-FACE. The book is aimed at professors of philosophy and cognitive science, and at advanced students of those disciplines. If you're in one of those groups, I strongly urge you to buy a copy – and also to read it!

    Chris Hill

    Professor of Philosophy, Brown University