2006/01/16

Content

Robert Cummins' 1996 books has a great deal of interesting things to say about what representation could be, but having read through half the book one can only come out so far with the following questions. Assuming that representation consists in (a) a target (b) something the target is represented as, and that the content of the representation is not determined causally (sc. causal theory of reference), where does the content come from, and whence as well the target?

For what must be answered is why there is not a backdoor assumption of "aboutness" buit into the notion of reference. What is meant by this is, if one is trying to avoid all talk of intensional states (as Cummins claims he is), it is not clear how one can avoid prior importation of illicit intensionality (read as a so-far unspecified sort of aboutness) and not commit to a lawlike causal connection between world and "intender" (that which "does" representing) without assuming that content exists independently of the mind. That is, we are committing to a Kantian stance toward the empirical world in which things have their essences independent from what we think about them, though this need not raise any metaphysical issues about noumena. After all, to represent a |cow| entails that there are cows; but of course Cummins is a realist of a certain stripe.

The question that is most pressing, I think, is how to account for aquisition of various sorts of intenders. Cummins hints at this in speaking of cognitive systems without the resources to represent certain things, for instance a child who represents horses with |cow|s because she has no concept of horse. But then we have returned to an educational theory of language aquisition. Does Cummins wish to tell a use=meaning story about language but not about mental representations?

Or, if not, how can he get out of it without developing some sort of essentialism about concepts and their expressions? Well, we shall have to see, we readers of the book. The first move is to find out how structural features "intrinsic" to representations relate to the contents and targets of them.

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