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Minds without Meanings

Minds without Meanings: An Essay on the Content of Concepts

Jerry A. Fodor
Zenon W. Pylyshyn
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Minds without Meanings
    Book Description:

    In cognitive science, conceptual content is frequently understood as the "meaning" of a mental representation. This position raises largely empirical questions about what concepts are, what form they take in mental processes, and how they connect to the world they are about. InMinds without Meaning, Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn review some of the proposals put forward to answer these questions and find that none of them is remotely defensible. Fodor and Pylyshyn determine that all of these proposals share a commitment to a two-factor theory of conceptual content, which holds that the content of a concept consists of its sense together with its reference. Fodor and Pylyshyn argue instead that there is no conclusive case against the possibility of a theory of concepts that takes reference as their sole semantic property. Such a theory, if correct, would provide for the naturalistic account of content that cognitive science lacks -- and badly needs. Fodor and Pylyshyn offer a sketch of how this theory might be developed into an account of perceptual reference that is broadly compatible with empirical findings and with the view that the mental processes effecting perceptual reference are largely preconceptual, modular, and encapsulated.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32032-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acronyms
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Working Assumptions
    (pp. 1-18)

    Most of this book is a defense and elaboration of a galaxy of related theses that, as far as we can tell, no one but us believes. There are various ways to formulate these theses: that tokens of beliefs, desires, and the like are tokens of relations between minds and mental representations; that mental representations are “discursive” (which is to say, language-like); that reference is the only semantic property of mental or linguistic representations;¹ that there are no such things as word meanings or conceptual contents; that there are no such things as senses; and so on. This list is...

  5. 2 Concepts Misconstrued
    (pp. 19-64)

    Many of the working assumptions we endorsed in chapter 1 imply, directly or otherwise, constraints on theories of concepts and on theories of the mental representations that express concepts. For example, we’ve assumed that mental representations expressing concepts are the constituents of mental representations expressing the objects of propositional attitudes; we’ve assumed that concepts are productive, and that some of them (the “complex” concepts) have internal syntactic structure but others (the “primitive” concepts) do not; we’ve assumed the psychological reality and causal involvement of mental representations of concepts and their internal structures; we’ve assumed that typical cognitive processes are sensitive...

  6. 3 Contrarian Semantics
    (pp. 65-84)

    As we understand the jargon of Wall Street, a “contrarian” is someone whose practice is to buy when everybody else sells and to sell when everybody else buys. In effect, contrarians believe that what more or less everybody else believes is false more or less all of the time. This book is an essay in contrarian semantics. Chapter 2 reviewed a spectrum of theories about the content of concepts (the ‘intensions’ of concepts; the ‘meanings’ of concepts; the ‘senses’ of concepts; etc.), which, though they differ in all sorts of other ways, all agree that the content of a concept...

  7. 4 Reference within the Perceptual Circle: Experimental Evidence for Mechanisms of Perceptual Reference
    (pp. 85-132)

    If, as we suppose, reference is a causal relation between referents-in-the-world and tokens of the symbols that refer to them—and is hencenotto be explained in terms of intensions or their satisfaction conditions—then a theory of reference is required to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for the cause of a symbol’s being tokened to be its referent. And, if the theory is to meet reasonable naturalistic constraints, its characterizations of such conditions mustn’t presuppose unnaturalized semantic or intensional concepts. But there are plausible reasons to doubt that any such project can actually be carried through. It is,...

  8. 5 Reference beyond the Perceptual Circle
    (pp. 133-156)

    Why do we go on so about what does and doesn’t happen in the perceptual circle (PC)? Not, certainly, because we think, as paradigm empiricists did, that all one’s beliefs are, or reduce to, beliefs about one’s sensations and perceptions. Rather, it’s because we think that, if a theory of reference is to be of use to cognitive science, it must be naturalistic; and we think that if a theory of reference is to be naturalistic, it must posit a causal chain that runs from the things that thoughts are about to tokens of mental representations that refer to them;...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 157-174)
  10. References
    (pp. 175-186)
  11. Index
    (pp. 187-193)