Friday, September 3, 2010

The Big 80's

During the 1980s, many philosophers of mind, and even the occasional cognitive scientist, were very exercised about something called "the problem of intentionality." The problem was something like this. There are certain things in the world that appear to possess, through their operation and functioning, a special kind of property: intentionality. This is the property of being about something, of having content about that thing, of carrying information about that thing. The problem of intentionality was threefold: to explain what intentionality was; to delineate which things had intentionality (and so which things didn't); and to provide an account of just why they had not only intentionality, but the particular intentionality they had-their content. The third of these chores was the core one, the task of specifying in virtue of what certain things in the world were about the particular things they were about. (Wilson, 2010, p.167).
I'm glad that Wilson recounts this bit of history of the profession.  In fact, I like the entire set up of the paper.  Adams and I were both interested in this literature, even to the point of contributing (if you can call it that) to it.  So, in our 2001 paper, "The Bounds of Cognition," we just assumed that everyone knew what we we talking about when we said that cognition requires intrinsic content.  Very roughly, it's the content one is theorizing about in Wilson's third chore.

Some have complained that nothing can have content intrinsically, but I think Adams and I said enough to have avoided that confusion.  Moreover, "intrinsic content" was a bit of jargon from that literature.  We have since given up using the term.  Yet, even the term to which we have moved, namely, "non-derived content" has not been without criticism.  See, for example, Fisher's review of The Bounds of Cognition in the Journal of Mind and Behavior.

Wilson, R. "Meaning making and the mind of the externalist".  In Menary, R. (Ed.) The Extended Mind.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  (pp. 167-188).

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