Conceptual Role Semantics

In Edward Craig (ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 242-256 (1998)
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According to Conceptual Role Semantics, the meaning of a representation is the role of that representation in the cognitive life of the agent, e.g. in perception, thought and decision-making. It is an extension of the well known "use" theory of meaning, according to which the meaning of a word is its use in communication and more generally, in social interaction. CRS supplements external use by including the role of a symbol inside a computer or a brain. The uses appealed to are not just actual, but also counterfactual: not only what effects a thought does have, but what effects it would have had if stimuli or other states had differed. The view has arisen separately in philosophy and in cognitive science. The source of the view is Wittgenstein and Sellars, but the source in contemporary philosophy is a series of papers by Harman and Field. Other proponents in philosophy have included Block, Horwich, Loar, McGinn and Peacocke. In cognitive science, they include Woods and Miller and Johnson-Laird.

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Ned Block
New York University


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