Psychosemantics explores the relation between commonsense psychological Building on and extending Fodor’s earlier work it puts folk psychology on firm. very long manuscript called “Psychosemantics,” and a somewhat of. Mind. ( hence. RTM. ; for discussion see., among other sources.,. Fodor.,. FA. ; Fodor. Psychosemantics: The Problem of Meaning in the Philosophy of. Mind Jerry Fodor, as the leading philosophical exponent of cognitive science, has sparked.

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I recently had a conversation with todor self-identified Rutgers people two Rutgers faculty plus a senior philosopher who visited Rutgers in the early s who claimed that at Rutgers it is accepted wisdom that psychosemantics was a failure.

But when I suggested that the glass may be seen as half full rather than half empty, the three Rutgers people acted as though I was hopelessly naive and had missed the radical psyvhosemantics in which psychosemantics had failed. At the same time, these Rutgers people could not explain in detail off the top of their head why psychosemantics was such an abject failure. One is to just agree with the unidentified Rutgers peeps: My point was that none of fodpr naturalistic accounts on offer — specifically, versions of information-theoretic and teleological semantics — suffice to pick out fine-grained, determinate content of the sort we assume mental representation requires.

Was Psychosemantics a Failure?

For example, the candidate naturalistic relations hold not only between mental states and cows, but also between mental states and the various Quinean alternatives cow stages, undetached cow parts, etc. This is not an original point. I have heard this from people in Maryland and Cincinnati, as well.

And I also share your doubts that lack of complete success adds up to complete failure. I may be biased, but it strikes me that most of the recent advances have been within the domain of teleosemantics. This may explain why the attitude at Rutgers has been less hopeful than elsewhere, given that teleosemantics is anathema in that department. The only way to make progress that I know of involves making really strong, arguably non-naturalistic, assumptions psychosemamtics the kinds of properties psycnosemantics can enter into content-making relations.

For the record, I first heard this argument from my old mentor and Rutgers Ph. Gary Gates, back at Brown.

But it only takes Quine half-seriously. Overall, I think the work is quite good, given the empirically impoverished state in which they have been working. Information is necessary, not sufficient, for semantic content. It seems this psychosmeantics is partly solved by our visual system. Vision builds in certain assumptions and defeasible heuristics about the world and how it is carved up into objects to help us settle on godor single interpretation of visual stimuli.

Also note I do not see it as two undetached halves. Idea of such an indexing system is from Pylyshyn I think. This could help it allocate attentional resources if looking for a rabbit psychosemzntics trips. We know that brains care about individual objects. Consider simultanagnosia, the disorder in which subjects see literally one object at a time.

Jerry A. Fodor, Psychosemantics: The Problem of Meaning in the Philosophy of Mind – PhilPapers

It seems the visual system cares deeply about object-hood and the Gestalt psychologists saw this of course. If you want to see how useful it is to think of real nervous systems in informational terms, pick up a neuroscience journal and read an article by an experimentalist about sensory coding. Such work is not motivated by philosophers, but aims to find useful ways to capture how brains represent the world. What do we find?


The stuff is likely indispensable. Fodoe sufficient, but necessary. Gualtiero, I see things as less half full vs. There are many different issues that people raise about intentionality. One might think that there are some who insist that accounts of representation must do certain explanatory work, and are pessimistic, and others that think that more modest and worthwhile explanatory goals are within reach. For my part, I side prima facie with Eric.

Psychosemantics Quotes

Rather, I am inclined to give up the often fidor idea that the represents relation is like the lexical reference relation, or that psychosemwntics have identical concepts. I remember the discussion more in the way Frankie does. There is this core problem for the informational and teleosemantic approaches to naturalized content: And, as far as I can tell, there have not been any major moves since Maybe I was the one that suggested this was something of a consensus view.

Maybe that is something of an overstatement. Maybe it was instead just a widely held view. I think the large contingent of Berkeley PhDs might have had something to do with that answer. I have no idea. While informational states may be a necessary condition for representational states, as Eric Thompson in an earlier post claimed, there are important differences. Allowing that informational states, as they have been conceived by theories of psychosemantics, are necessary but not sufficient for representation is, however, to accept the failure of such theories.

One central feature of a representation that distinguishes it from information is that qua representation it represents a particular thing, feature, event, or state of affairs. This is evident when we consider our own, human, representational states. It seems to me that a modicum of realist metaphysics plus a teleosemantic approach can solve this problem. And we can say this because the most natural causal-explanatory account of the selection of this system mentions objects, not undetached object parts.

Same with grue, same with disjunctive properties, etc. Besides, it is surely not up to the program in naturalized semantics to solve the realism-antirealism debate. While informational psychosemantics may have foundered though I agree with Brendan that Usher and Eliasmith are worth looking atteleosemantics is happily chugging away, with new work by Millikan, Papineau, Neander, Matthen, Shea, and others — I encourage you psychosemantucs to take a look at some of this stuff, maybe it will make you feel better.

These related gavagai fodir came out of left field, from my perspective — thanks, Frances, and thanks Dan, for pointing out the Gates paper! These all seem more fine-grained than anything the visual system provides. If naturalized teleosemantics fails, what follows, though? One thing might be non-naturalism about mental content, as Adam notes.

Maybe a workable natural notion of content does not need to solve the disjunction problem. Nobody has ever said that informational states are sufficient. Everyone adds a great deal of additional apparatus; otherwise they allow in thinking thermostats and such.

Obviously brains absorb and use information to get about in the world. The Bates article is good enough, but my initial comment applies to it just fine, it seems. They tend to reject things whole cloth rather than use the obvious good ideas and supplement them. They end up with an anemic view because it is missing the good bit of what they rejected. Dretske has a great core idea, but because he was working in the same impoverished state, is also limited to his imagination to come up with possible solutions.

If someone swapped your perception of a rabbit for a perception of a bunch of undetached rabbit parts, would you be able to tell? So perhaps the analysis works really well for perception, but more is needed for concepts.

Of course, this is basically what Dretske already said in KFI digital v analog contents, conceptual complexity measures to differentiate coextensional contents, etc. See what Dan Ryder said above. On the hypothesis that there is an indexing system that tracks individual objects. As Dan suggested, we could actually pull an psychosenantics analysis of that.


Over time, we see that it only reliably carries the information that there is a single object in the world that it is interested in in tracking. This happens to conform psychosenantics what we see in simultanagnosia e. When fldor show movies of rabbit parts coming together, pulling apart, we see that two such nodes are activated when apart, one node when together, and this tracks the psychophysics, etc.

We can correlate these judgments with neuronal and other psychological variables, and build hypotheses about what is going on in there. Less analyzing, more hypothesizing. My hunch is that many pychosemantics here are sympathetic to this view, so I am being a bit brusque in my language.

I think both 1 and 3 are promising, but not sure if they are consistent. I believe they are. Or maybe another less freighted example will work better.

Eating red roundish things increases fitness since eating the red roundish things is nomologically correlated with being an apple, a fruit, and nutritious.

Maybe this example will work better, since there has been at least a plausible scientific case that trichromatic color vision evolved in primates in support of frugivory. Actually apples is probably the wrong fruit, as perhaps psychosemabtics other details, but you get the point.

Moving black ball is as much a whole object as is a fly, right? With some sadness and much caution, I suggest that things have not gone well for the Dretske-Fodor program. Despite this, I do think we have learned a lot from the development of this literature. Some good partial answers may have been given to important questions—but not the exact questions that Dretske and Fodor were trying to answer.

So I think it is time to start looking at different approaches to the network of questions surrounding belief and representation.

This rethinking will involve looking again at some of the ideas of the nay sayers of the s, like Dennett and Stich, but looking further afield as well. The stuff about following Stich and Dennett will, of course, be controversial. I am also sympathetic to the Quinean objections raised by several people. But I think there are other, related problems. This strikes me as being fidor wrong way to proceed.

Dennett is, no doubt, following Sellars on this point, for whom language-language and language-exit transitions were as important as language-entries in specifying the content of a mental state—even a perceptual fodog. The moral, I think, is that the determinate content of a state is, constituted by its relations not only to the environment though that may well be necessary, especially for perceptual states but also to other states and, in some all?

To the extent that teleosemantic approaches meet this holistic constraint, I think they have a better chance. I hope friends of teleosemantics will weigh in on that. Millikan is also focused on the output-side of things pushme-pullyou. He recently changed his mind on this in personal correspondence, when I pointed out motor representations in M1, and efferent copies in the saccade systems, are not sensory representations. Regardless, those are details to be argued about, all in a context that sees information as a crucial, ineliminable, idea.