Structural representations do not meet the job description challenge

Synthese 199 (3-4):5479-5508 (2021)
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Structural representations are increasingly popular in philosophy of cognitive science. A key virtue they seemingly boast is that of meeting Ramsey's job description challenge. For this reason, structural representations appear tailored to play a clear representational role within cognitive architectures. Here, however, I claim that structural representations do not meet the job description challenge. This is because even our most demanding account of their functional profile is satisfied by at least some receptors, which paradigmatically fail the job description challenge. Hence, the functional profile typically associated with structural representations does not identify representational posits. After a brief introduction, I present, in the second section of the paper, the job description challenge. I clarify why receptors fail to meet it and highlight why, as a result, they should not be considered representations. In the third section I introduce what I take to be the most demanding account of structural representations at our disposal, namely Gładziejewski's account. Provided the necessary background, I turn from exposition to criticism. In the first half of the fourth section, I equate the functional profile of structural representations and receptors. To do so, I show that some receptors boast, as a matter of fact, all the functional features associated with structural representations. Since receptors function merely as causal mediators, I conclude structural representations are mere causal mediators too. In the second half of the fourth section I make this conclusion intuitive with a toy example. I then conclude the paper, anticipating some objections my argument invites.

Author's Profile

Marco Facchin
University of Antwerp


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