, Volume 195, Issue 12, pp 5403–5429 | Cite as

Mindless accuracy: on the ubiquity of content in nature

  • Alex MorganEmail author
S.I.: Neuroscience and Its Philosophy


It is widely held in contemporary philosophy of mind that states with underived representational content are ipso facto psychological states. This view—the Content View—underlies a number of interesting philosophical projects, such as the attempt to pick out a psychological level of explanation, to demarcate genuinely psychological from non-psychological states, and to limn the class of states with phenomenal character. The most detailed and influential theories of underived representation in philosophy are the tracking theories developed by Fodor, Dretske, Millikan and others. Tracking theorists initially hoped to ‘naturalize’ underived representation by showing that although it is distinctively psychological it is not irreducibly so, yet they ended up developing theories of representation that by their own lights don’t pick out a distinctively psychological phenomenon at all. Burge (Origins of objectivity, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010) sets out to develop a theory of underived representation that does pick out a distinctively psychological phenomenon. His theory promises to vindicate the Content View and the various philosophical projects that depend on it. In this paper I argue that Burge’s theory dementalizes representation for the same reason tracking theories do: These theories hold that representations are states with underived accuracy conditions, yet such states are found in all sorts of mindless systems, like plants.


Accuracy conditions Circadian clocks Intentionality Mental representation Objectivity Perceptual constancy 



Many of the ideas in this paper percolated under the auspices of the Philosophy of Neuroscience Group at the University of Tübingen. I would like to thank the members of that group, and especially the group leader Hong Yu Wong, for helpful discussion. I have presented this material at Rice University, the University of Graz, and the University of São Paulo, and I am grateful to audiences there for helpful feedback. I am especially grateful to Michael Barkasi, Tyler Burge, Gualtiero Piccinini, Charles Siewert, and two anonymous referees for comments and/or discussion that led to substantial improvements in the text.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyRice UniversityHoustonUSA

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