Reference in remembering: towards a simulationist account

Synthese 203 (3):1-32 (2024)
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Recent theories of remembering and of reference (or singular thought) have de-emphasised the role causation was thought to play in mid- to late-twentieth century theorising. According to postcausal theories of remembering, such as simulationism, instances of the psychofunctional kind _remembering_ are not, in principle, dependent on appropriate causal chains running from some event(s) remembered to the occurrence of remembering. Instead they depend only on the reliability, or proper functioning, of the cognitive system responsible for their production. According to broadly reliabilist accounts of _singular thought_, such thought is not, in principle, dependent on causal chains running from the object(s) of thought to the occurrence of thinking. Despite this common trend, accounts of the two phenomena have been pursued separately. In this paper, we argue that the two lines of research can profitably converge to address a neglected question: what enables occurrences of remembering to _refer_ to particular events, and what determines _which_ event a given occurrence of remembering refers to? We motivate and present a reliabilist account of reference-fixing for postcausal theories of remembering, focusing in particular on simulationism. We then show that this account draws attention to the possibility of _referential mnemic confabulation:_ cases where the reliability requirement for reference is met despite the improper functioning of the episodic construction system. We suggest that this makes sense of some underdiscussed phenomena described in the empirical literature on confabulation and argue that our reliabilist account of mnemic reference-fixing accommodates these more naturally than could causal theories of remembering.

Author's Profile

James Openshaw
Centre for Philosophy of Memory, Université Grenoble Alpes


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