Ahistorical intentional content

Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 25 (2):241 - 259 (1994)
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Abstract

One of the main problems of current theory of intentionality concerns the possibility of ahistorical intentional content, that is, content in the absence of any developmental history of the respective item. Biosemanticists like Millikan (1984) argue that content is essentially historical, while computationalists like Cummins (1989) hold that a system's current ahistorical state alone determines content. In the present paper, this problem is discussed in terms of some popular 'cosmic accident' thought experiments, and the conceptual framework of these experiments is enriched by some new versions like accidental 'duplicates' without any preexisting original. As a result of these evaluations, it is argued that for an item to bear intentional content it is necessary to have a 'function' in the forward-looking sense introduced by Bigelow & Pargetter (1987). Since historicity is not necessary for functionality, ahistorical states can be intentional as long as they have functions. This result does not support computationalism, since functionality cannot be determined in terms of current ashistorical state alone, but only with reference to the present and future environmental context of the cognitive system that harbours these states

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