Biology & Philosophy

, 34:36 | Cite as

Teleosemantics, selection and novel contents

  • Justin GarsonEmail author
  • David Papineau


Mainstream teleosemantics is the view that mental representation should be understood in terms of biological functions, which, in turn, should be understood in terms of selection processes. One of the traditional criticisms of teleosemantics is the problem of novel contents: how can teleosemantics explain our ability to represent properties that are evolutionarily novel? In response, some have argued that by generalizing the notion of a selection process to include phenomena such as operant conditioning, and the neural selection that underlies it, we can resolve this problem. Here, we do four things: we develop this suggestion in a rigorous way through a simple example, we draw on recent neurobiological research to support its empirical plausibility, we defend the move from a host of objections in the literature, and we sketch how the picture can be extended to help us think about more complex “conceptual” representations and not just perceptual ones.


Teleosemantics Biological functions Selected effects theory Novel representations Neural selection 



We’re grateful to two anonymous reviewers for valuable feedback on an earlier draft of this paper.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyHunter College of the City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyThe Graduate Center, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Department of PhilosophyKing’s College LondonStrand, LondonUK

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