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Must cognition be representational?

Abstract

In various contexts and for various reasons, writers often define cognitive processes and architectures as those involving representational states and structures. Similarly, cognitive theories are also often delineated as those that invoke representations. In this paper, I present several reasons for rejecting this way of demarcating the cognitive. Some of the reasons against defining cognition in representational terms are that doing so needlessly restricts our theorizing, it undermines the empirical status of the representational theory of mind, and it encourages wildly deflationary and explanatorily vacuous conceptions of representation. After criticizing this outlook, I sketch alternative ways we might try to capture what is distinctive about cognition and cognitive theorizing.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For a dissenting voice, see Searle (1992).

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Acknowledgments

Versions of this paper were presented at the “What is Cognition Conference?”, Center for Mind, Brain and Cognitive Evolution, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany, June, 27–29, 2013; the “Reach of Radical Embodied Cognition Conference” University of Antwerp, Belgium, June 17–19, 2013; and the University of Milan, Italy, June 21, 2013. I am very grateful for helpful feedback from all of these audiences. I am also grateful to Ken Aizawa, Cameron Buckner, Ellen Fridland and two anonymous referees for extremely helpful suggestions and recommendations.

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Correspondence to William Ramsey.

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Ramsey, W. Must cognition be representational?. Synthese 194, 4197–4214 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-014-0644-6

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Keywords

  • Cognition
  • Demarcation criteria
  • Marr’s levels
  • Representationalism
  • Representation demarcation thesis
  • Folk psychology