Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dretske and Thompson Redux 1

So, it seems to me that both Dretske and Thompson agree that we should draw a distinction between things that are "mere meanings in the eye of the beholder" and things that are "meaningful for the subject".  (Supporting text below the fold.)  That's common ground, right?  Further, both D&T want to develop theories of original meaning.  Where they differ, however, is in the theories they offer of how one gets original meaning.  Dretske proposes what we might call a teleoinformational account, where Thompson proposes an auotpoeitic account.  Isn't this a neutral description of the state of play?

Without autonomy (operational closure) there is no original meaning; there is only the derivative meaning attributed to certain processes by an outside observer.  (Thompson and Stapleton, 2010, p. 28).  
Thompson, E., and Stapleton, M. (2010). Making sense of sense-making.  Topoi, 28, 23-30.
We need, then, some characterization of a system's natural functions.  More particularly, since we are concerned with the function a system of natural signs might have, we are looking for what a sign is supposed to meann where the "supposed to" is cashed out in terms of the function of that sign (or sign system) in the organism's own cognitive economy.  We want to know how the dog represents the contents of the luggage--what (if anything) the smell of the box meansf to it.
Dretske, F. (1986).  Misrepresentation.  Reprinted in Alvin Goldman (ed.), Reading in cognitive science.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  (1993).

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