Representation reconsidered: Book review



Publication Details

Hutto, D. (2011). Representation reconsidered: Book review. Philosophical Psychology, 24 (1), 135-139.


Some books are just begging to be written. This is one such. It gives a long overdue critical look at the nearly universal tendency to invoke the notion of ‘‘representation’’ as a theoretical posit in certain branches of the cognitive sciences, e.g., psychology and neuroscience. As the preface and opening chapter make clear, Ramsey’s project is to ask, from the vantage point of philosophy of science, whether positing representations has the sort of explanatory value it is generally imagined to have. His principal focus is to determine if the explanatory posits that are in fact employed by these sciences meet the minimal criteria for doing bona fide representational work. As he puts it, the question is whether or not such proposals meet the ‘‘job description challenge.’’ Adequately meeting that challenge requires saying not only what determines the content of a state or structure but also, critically, saying how that state or structure serves or functions as a representation in a larger system. Ramsey’s assessment is that when the notion of representation is invoked in an important class of cases this challenge cannot be met. However, he claims (chapter 3) that there are, at least, two prominent uses of the notion in the classical framework of cognitive science that are exceptions to this rule. Nevertheless, even these uses—so he argues— are at odds in important ways with the standard (folk psychological) interpretation of what being a representation amounts to (chapter 2).

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