Conceptual atomism and the computational theory of mind: a defense of content-internalism and semantic externalism

John Benjamins & Co (2007)
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Contemporary philosophy and theoretical psychology are dominated by an acceptance of content-externalism: the view that the contents of one's mental states are constitutively, as opposed to causally, dependent on facts about the external world. In the present work, it is shown that content-externalism involves a failure to distinguish between semantics and pre-semantics---between, on the one hand, the literal meanings of expressions and, on the other hand, the information that one must exploit in order to ascertain their literal meanings. It is further shown that, given the falsity of content-externalism, the falsity of the Computational Theory of Mind (CTM) follows. It is also shown that CTM involves a misunderstanding of terms such as "computation," "syntax," "algorithm," and "formal truth." Novel analyses of the concepts expressed by these terms are put forth. These analyses yield clear, intuition-friendly, and extensionally correct answers to the questions "what are propositions?, "what is it for a proposition to be true?", and "what are the logical and psychological differences between conceptual (propositional) and non-conceptual (non-propositional) content?" Naively taking literal meaning to be in lockstep with cognitive content, Burge, Salmon, Falvey, and other semantic externalists have wrongly taken Kripke's correct semantic views to justify drastic and otherwise contraindicated revisions of commonsense. (Salmon: What is non-existent exists; at a given time, one can rationally accept a proposition and its negation. Burge: Somebody who is having a thought may be psychologically indistinguishable from somebody who is thinking nothing. Falvey: somebody who rightly believes himself to be thinking about water is psychologically indistinguishable from somebody who wrongly thinks himself to be doing so and who, indeed, isn't thinking about anything.) Given a few truisms concerning the differences between thought-borne and sentence-borne information, the data is easily modeled without conceding any legitimacy to any one of these rationality-dismantling atrocities. (It thus turns out, ironically, that no one has done more to undermine Kripke's correct semantic points than Kripke's own followers!)

Author's Profile

John-Michael Kuczynski
University of California, Santa Barbara (PhD)


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