Mental Structures

Noûs (2020)

Abstract

An ongoing philosophical discussion concerns how various types of mental states fall within broad representational genera—for example, whether perceptual states are “iconic” or “sentential,” “analog” or “digital,” and so on. Here, I examine the grounds for making much more specific claims about how mental states are structured from constituent parts. For example, the state I am in when I perceive the shape of a mountain ridge may have as constituent parts my representations of the shapes of each peak and saddle of the ridge. More specific structural claims of this sort are a guide to how mental states fall within broader representational kinds. Moreover, these claims have significant implications of their own about semantic, functional, and epistemic features of our mental lives. But what are the conditions on a mental state's having one type of constituent structure rather than another? Drawing on explanatory strategies in vision science, I argue that, other things being equal, the constituent structure of a mental state determines what I call its distributional properties—namely, how mental states of that type can, cannot, or must co‐occur with other mental states in a given system. Distributional properties depend critically on and are informative about the underlying structures of mental states, they abstract in important ways from aspects of how mental states are processed, and they can yield significant insights into the variegation of psychological capacities.

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