Mind, meaning and mechanism: the role of representation in explanations of cognition

Lee, Jonny (2019) Mind, meaning and mechanism: the role of representation in explanations of cognition. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Representation remains ubiquitous in scientific explanations of cognition. At the same
time, philosophers continue to question what, if anything, representation contributes to
cognitive science. Whilst some practically define cognition in terms of operations
performed over representations, others take the very concept of subpersonal
representation to be incoherent. Despite the longstanding debate, this thesis argues that
we now possess the resources needed to provide a satisfactory account of cognitive
representation, taking the challenges raised by eliminativists as an opportunity to refine
our understanding of its explanatory role.

I defend a ‘mechanistic approach’ that presents representational explanations as a kind of
mechanistic explanation. This approach has three main parts which pull together several
promising threads in the literature to form an original account. The first part is a
mechanistic interpretation of explanations in cognitive science. This interpretation
provides insight into the sort of explanans cognitive science offers, and the sort of
theoretical entity a cognitive representation might be. The second part is acceptance of
the increasingly popular notion of ‘structural’, ‘simulation’ or ‘surrogate representation’
(‘S-representation’). This notion provides an empirically plausible and well-defined set
of functional criteria for a genuinely representational mechanism, drawing an
illuminating analogy between the functional role of a possible cognitive mechanism and
a type of ordinary representation. The third part is a ‘mechanistic account of content’.
This provides a naturalistically respectable foundation for representation’s paradigmatic
semantic properties at the subpersonal level. Overall, the mechanistic approach ensures
that representation ascriptions play a robust role anchored in our dominant explanatory
framework. From this perspective, the future of cognitive representation looks bright.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Philosophy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BD Speculative Philosophy > BD300 Ontology Including being, the soul, life, death > BD418 Mind
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0311 Consciousness. Cognition
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2019 10:45
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:48
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/86315

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