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Why mental content is not like water: reconsidering the reductive claims of teleosemantics

  • Peter Schulte


According to standard teleosemantics, intentional states are selectional states. This claim is put forward not as a conceptual analysis, but as a ‘theoretical reduction’—an a posteriori hypothesis analogous to ‘water = H2O’. Critics have tried to show that this meta-theoretical conception of teleosemantics leads to unacceptable consequences. In this paper, I argue that there is indeed a fundamental problem with the water/H2O analogy, as it is usually construed, and that teleosemanticists should therefore reject it. Fortunately, there exists a viable alternative to the water/H2O model which avoids the fundamental problem, while explaining the a posteriori character of teleosemantics equally well.


Mental content Teleosemantics Naturalistic theories of content Reduction Reductive explanation 



This paper has greatly benefited from the constructive criticisms of five anonymous referees for this journal. For helpful feedback on (much) earlier versions of this paper, I would also like to thank Ansgar Beckermann, Frank Hofmann, Joachim Horvath, Fabian Hundertmark, Brian Leahy, Manolo Martínez, Bence Nanay, Christian Nimtz, David Papineau, Eva Schmidt and other participants of the ‘Minds without Magic’ workshop 2013 and the DGPhil conference 2014. This research was supported by the project ‘Advancing Teleosemantics’ (SCHU 2860/2-1, NI 1320/2-1), funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany

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