Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 493–507

Learning and selection

Article

Abstract

Are learning processes selection processes? This paper takes a slightly modified version of the account of selection presented in Hull et al. (Behav Brain Sci 24:511–527, 2001) and asks whether it applies to learning processes. The answer is that although some learning processes are selectional, many are not. This has consequences for teleological theories of mental content. According to these theories, mental states have content in virtue of having proper functions, and they have proper functions in virtue of being the products of selection processes. For some mental states, it is plausible that the relevant selection process is natural selection, but there are many for which it is not plausible. One response to this (due to David Papineau) is to suggest that the learning processes by which we acquire non-innate mental states are selection processes and can therefore confer proper functions on mental states. This paper considers two ways in which this response could be elaborated, and argues that neither of them succeed: the teleosemanticist cannot rely on the claim that learning processes are selection processes in order to justify the attribution of proper functions to beliefs.

Keywords

Selection process Teleosemantics Theory of content 

References

  1. Bornstein M (1985) Infant into adult: unity to diversity in the development of visual categorization. In: Mehler J, Fox R (eds) Neonate cognition: beyond the blooming, buzzing confusion. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hilldale, NJ, pp 115–138Google Scholar
  2. Chomsky N (1959) Review of B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior. Language 35:26–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Darden L, Cain J (1989) Selection type theories. Philos Sci 56:106–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Godfrey-Smith P (1996) Meaning, models and selection: a review of Philosophical Naturalism. Philos Phenomenol Res 61:673–678CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Godfrey-Smith P (2001) The role of information and replication in selection processes. Behav Brain Sci 24:538Google Scholar
  6. Hayne H (1996) Categorization in infancy. In: Rovee-Collier C, Lipsitt L (eds) Advances in infancy research, vol 10. Ablex Publishing Corporation, New Jersey, pp 79–120Google Scholar
  7. Hrdy S (1999) Mother nature: a history of mothers, infants and natural selection. Pantheon House, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Hull, David L, Langman, Rodney E, Glenn Sigrid S (2001) A general account of selection: biology, immunology and behavior. Behav Brain Sci 24:511–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Millikan R (1984) Language, thought and other biological categories. MIT Press, Cambridge, MassGoogle Scholar
  10. Neander K (1991a) Functions as selected effects: the conceptual analyst’s defense. Philos Sci 58:168–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Papineau D (1987) Reality and representation. Basil Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  12. Papineau D (1993) Philosophical naturalism. Basil Blackwell, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  13. Piatelli-Palmerini M (1989) Evolution, selection and cognition: from “learning” to parameter setting in biology and in the study of language. Cognition 31:1–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Soames Scott (1989) Semantics and semantic competence. Philos Perspect 3:575–596CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Spelke E (1985) Perception of unity, persistence, and identity: thoughts on infant’s conceptions of objects. In: Mehler J, Fox R (eds) Neonate cognition: beyond the blooming, buzzing confusion. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hilldale, NJ, pp 89–114Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy and Religious StudiesUniversity of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations