Intrinsically Semantic Content and the Intentionality of Propositional Attitudes

Dissertation, University of Washington (2004)
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ABSTRACT A propositional attitude (PA) is a belief, desire, fear, etc., that x is the case. This dissertation addresses the question of the semantic content of a specific kind of PA-instance: an instance of a belief of the form all Fs are Gs. The belief that all bachelors are sports fans has this form, while the belief that Spain is a country in Eastern Europe do not. Unlike a state of viewing the color of an orange, a belief-instance is semantically contentful because it has reference, a meaning, logical implications, or a truth-value. While the intrinsic semantics view holds that either concepts or abstract objects are the source of content for PAs, the extrinsic semantics view holds that symbols of a mental language provide this content. I argue that a successful theory of intentionality must explain: (1) the truth-preserving causal powers of PAs, (2) the failure of the deductive principle Substitutivity to preserve truth over sentences that ascribe PAs, and (3) the truth-evaluability of PAs. As an internalist version of the extrinsic semantics view, I first evaluate Fodor’s Computational Theory of Mind, which says the semantic ingredients of mental states are symbols governed by rules of a mental syntax. I argue that in order to meet (1), CTM would have to associate the causal patterns of each thought-type with the inferential relations of some proposition – in an arbitrary or question-begging way. I also evaluate Fodor’s causal theory, as an externalist version of the extrinsic semantics view. This view is that lawlike causal relations between mental symbols and objects determine the reference, and thus the truth-value, of a thought. I argue that Brian Loar’s circularity objection refutes the ability of this theory to meet (3); and I endorse the intrinsic semantics perspective. I evaluate Frege’s theory of abstract, mind-external, and intrinsically semantic objects (senses), as an attempt to meet condition (2). I conclude that mind-external universals are the source of the intrinsically semantic features of concepts. Finally, I put forth a theory called ‘Bare Property Intentionality’, which describes the features of intrinsically representative and semantic concepts that connect them to these universals.

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Sudan Turner
University of Washington


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