Journal Article

Functional Concepts, Referentially Opaque Contexts, Causal Relations, and the Definition of Theoretical Terms

Michael Tooley
Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition
Vol. 105, No. 3 (Sep., 2001), pp. 251-279
Published by: Springer
Page Count: 29
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Functional Concepts, Referentially Opaque Contexts, Causal Relations, and the Definition of Theoretical Terms
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In his recent article, "Self-Consciousness", George Bealer has set out a novel and interesting argument against functionalism in the philosophy of mind. I shall attempt to show, however, that Bealer's argument cannot be sustained. In arguing for this conclusion, I shall be defending three main theses. The first is connected with the problem of defining theoretical predicates that occur in theories where the following two features are present: first, the theoretical predicate in question occurs within both extensional and non-extensional contexts; secondly, the theory in question asserts that the relevant theoretical states enter into causal relations. What I shall argue is that a Ramsey-style approach to the definition of such theoretical terms requires two distinct quantifiers: one which ranges over concepts, and the other which ranges over properties in the world. My second thesis is a corollary: since the theories on which Bealer is focusing have both of the features just mentioned, and since the method that he employs to define theoretical terms in his argument against functionalism does not involve both quantifiers that range over properties and quantifiers that range over concepts, that method is unsound. My final thesis is that when a sound method is used, Bealer's argument against functionalism no longer goes through. The structure of my discussion is as follows. I begin by setting out two arguments - the one, a condensed version of Bealer's argument, and the other, an argument that parallels Bealer's argument very closely. The parallel argument leads to a conclusion, however, that, rather than being merely somewhat surprising, seems very implausible indeed. For what the second argument establishes, if sound, is that there can be theoretical terms that apply to objects by virtue of their first-order physical properties, but whose meaning cannot be defined via a Ramsey-style approach. Having set out the two parallel arguments, I then go on to focus upon the second, to determine what is wrong with it. My diagnosis will be that the problem with the argument arises from the fact that it involves defining a theoretical term that occurs both inside and outside of opaque contexts, for the method employed fails to take into account the fact that the types of entities that are involved in the relevant truthmakers are different when a sentence occurs within an extensional context from those involved when a sentence occurs within a non-extensional context. I then go on to discuss how one should define a theoretical term that occurs within such theories, and I argue that in such a case one needs two quantifiers, ranging over different types of entities - on the one hand, over properties and relations, and the other, over concepts. I then show that, when such an approach is followed, the argument in question collapses. I then turn to Bealer's argument against functionalism, and I show, first, that precisely the same method of defining theoretical terms can be applied there, and, secondly, that, when this is done, it turns out that that argument is also unsound. Next, I consider two responses that Bealer might make to my argument, and I argue that those responses would not succeed. Finally, I conclude by asking exactly where the problem lies in the case of Bealer's argument. My answer will be that it is not simply the fact that one is dealing with a theoretical term that occurs in both extensional and non-extensional contexts. It is rather the combination of that feature together with the fact that the theory in question asserts that the relevant type of theoretical state enters into causal relations. For the first of these features means that the Ramsey sentence for the theory must involve quantification over concepts, while the presence of the second feature means that the Ramsey sentence must involve quantification over properties in the world, and so no attempt to offer a Ramsey-style account of the meaning of the relevant theoretical term can succeed unless one employs both quantification over concepts and quantification over properties. Bealer, however, in his argument against functionalism, uses a method of defining theoretical terms that does not involve both types of quantification, and it is precisely because of this that his argument does not in the end succeed.