The Hard Problem of Content is Neither

Review of Philosophy and Psychology:1-22 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

For the past 40 years, philosophers have generally assumed that a key to understanding mental representation is to develop a naturalistic theory of representational content. This has led to an outlook where the importance of content has been heavily inflated, while the significance of the representational vehicles has been somewhat downplayed. However, the success of this enterprise has been thwarted by a number of mysterious and allegedly non-naturalizable, irreducible dimensions of representational content. The challenge of addressing these difficulties has come to be known as the “hard problem of content” (Hutto & Myin, 2012), and many think it makes an account of representation in the brain impossible. In this essay, I argue that much of this is misguided and based upon the wrong set of priorities. If we focus on the functionality of representational vehicles (as recommended by teleosemanticists) and remind ourselves of the quirks associated with many functional entities, we can see that the allegedly mysterious and intractable aspects of content are really just mundane features associated with many everyday functional kinds. We can also see they have little to do with content and more to do with representation function. Moreover, we can begin to see that our explanatory priorities are backwards: instead of expecting a theory of content to be the key to understanding how a brain state can function as a representation, we should instead expect a theory of neural representation function to serve as the key to understanding how content occurs naturally.

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References found in this work

Minds, brains, and programs.John Searle - 1980 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (3):417-57.
The Language of Thought.J. A. Fodor - 1978 - Critica 10 (28):140-143.
Brainstorms.Daniel Dennett - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 47 (2):326-327.

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