Millikan, Ruth, and . Biosemantics

1989, Journal of Philosophy 86 (1989): 281-97.

Summary: The term ‘biosemantics’ has usually been applied only to the theory of mental representation. This article first characterizes a more general class of theories called ‘teleological theories of mental content’ of which biosemantics is an example. Then it discusses the details that distinguish biosemantics from other naturalistic teleological theories. Naturalistic theories of mental representation attempt to explain, in terms designed to fit within the natural sciences, what it is about a mental representation that makes it represent something. Frequently these theories have been classified as either picture theories, causal or covariation theories, information theories, functionalist or causal-role theories, or teleological theories, the assumption being that these various categories are side by side with one another.

Comment: This would be useful in a course in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of biology, or any course in which naturalistic accounts of mental content are relevant. The paper makes use of memorable illustrative examples, which will help to convey its central ideas to students, and addresses objections to the position developed by Millikan. Suitable for undergraduate as well as graduate courses.

Neander, Karen, and . Teleological Theories of Mental Content

2012, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Abstract: Teleological theories of mental content try to explain the contents of mental representations by appealing to a teleological notion of function. Take, for example, the thought that blossoms are forming. On a representational theory of thought, this thought involves a representation of blossoms forming. A theory of content aims among other things to tell us why this representation has that content; it aims to say why it is a thought about blossoms forming rather than about the sun shining or pigs flying or nothing at all. In general, a theory of content tries to say why a mental representation counts as representing what it represents.

According to teleological theories of content, what a representation represents depends on the functions of the systems that produce or use the representation. The relevant notion of function is said to be the one that is used in biology and neurobiology in attributing functions to components of organisms (as in “the function of the pineal gland is secreting melatonin” and “the function of brain area MT is processing information about motion”). Proponents of teleological theories of content generally understand such functions to be what the thing with the function was selected for, either by ordinary natural selection or by some other natural process of selection.

Comment: This would be useful in a course in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of biology, or any course in which naturalistic accounts of mental content are relevant. The entry is detailed and quite lengthy. It also serves as an excellent source of further reading. Suitable for advanced undergraduates and graduates.