, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 483-496

How Frogs See the World: Putting Millikan’s Teleosemantics to the Test

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Abstract

How do frogs represent their prey? This question has been the focus of many debates among proponents of naturalistic theories of content, especially among proponents of teleosemantics. This is because alternative versions of the teleosemantic approach have different implications for the content of frog representations, and it is still controversial which of these content ascriptions (if any) is the most adequate. Theorists often appeal to intuitions here, but this is a dubious strategy. In this paper, I suggest an alternative, empirical test for theories of content. I propose that we should examine whether a theory generates content ascriptions that fit with our best scientific explanations of animal behavior. I then focus on the most prominent version of teleosemantics, Ruth Millikan’s consumer-oriented approach, and argue that it fails the empirical test in the frog case, since it yields a content ascription that (i) does not include properties that should be included (namely, being small, dark and moving) and (ii) includes a property that should not be included (namely, being frog food). This is an important result in itself, but it also demonstrates by way of example how progress can be made in the complex debate about theories of content.