Much ado about nothing? Why going non-semantic is not merely semantics



Publication Details

Hutto, D. D. & Myin, E. (2018). Much ado about nothing? Why going non-semantic is not merely semantics. Philosophical Explorations: an international journal for the philosophy of mind and action, 21 (2), 187-203.


This paper argues that deciding on whether the cognitive sciences need a Representational Theory of Mind matters. Far from being merely semantic or inconsequential, the answer we give to the RTM-question makes a difference to how we conceive of minds. How we answer determines which theoretical framework the sciences of mind ought to embrace. The structure of this paper is as follows. Section 1 outlines Rowlands's (2017) argument that the RTM-question is a bad question and that attempts to answer it, one way or another, have neither practical nor theoretical import. Rowlands concludes this because, on his analysis, there is no non-arbitrary fact of the matter about which properties something must possess in order to qualify as a mental representation. By way of reply, we admit that Rowlands's analysis succeeds in revealing why attempts to answer the RTM-question simpliciter are pointless. Nevertheless, we show that if specific formulations of the RTM-question are stipulated, then it is possible, conduct substantive RTM debates that do not collapse into merely verbal disagreements. Combined, Sections 2 and 3 demonstrate how, by employing specifying stipulations, we can get around Rowlands's arbitrariness challenge. Section 2 reveals why RTM, as canonically construed in terms of mental states exhibiting intensional (with-an-s) properties, has been deemed a valuable explanatory hypothesis in the cognitive sciences. Targeting the canonical notion of mental representations, Section 3 articulates a rival nonrepresentational hypothesis that, we propose, can do all the relevant explanatory work at much lower theoretical cost. Taken together, Sections 2 and 3 show what can be at stake in the RTM debate when it is framed by appeal to the canonical notion of mental representation and why engaging in it matters. Section 4 extends the argument for thinking that RTM debates matter. It provides reasons for thinking that, far from making no practical or theoretical difference to the sciences of the mind, deciding to abandon RTM would constitute a revolutionary conceptual shift in those sciences.

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