Mythological content: A problem for Milikan's teleosemantics

Philosophical Psychology 16 (4):535-538 (2003)


I pose the following dilemma for Millikan's teleological theory of mental content. There is only one way that her theory can avoid Gauker's [(1995) Review of Millikan's White queen psychology and other essays for Alice, Philosophical Psychology, 8, 305-309] charge that it relies on an unexplained notion of mapping or isomorphism between mental state and world. Mental content must be explained in terms of the mapping relation that is required for mental state producing and consuming mechanisms to perform their biologically proper functions, i.e. producing mental states that are consumed in systematically adaptive practical inferences. However, this proposal leads to unacceptably counterintuitive ascriptions of content to mythological beliefs and related desires: such beliefs and desires must "map onto" environmental states that make them adaptive, not onto the mythological states of affairs that (would) make them true or fulfilled. I conclude by discussing the merits and drawbacks of a potential solution to this problem: the view that the contents of mythological beliefs and desires are determined by the non-mythological concepts out of which they are constructed, rather than by the environmental states that make them adaptive. The affinities of this proposal with Pascal Boyer's recent theory of mythological concepts [(2001) Religion explained, New York: Basic Books] are also discussed

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