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The Metaphysics of Mental Representation

DE-BLACQUIERE-CLARKSON, RICHARD (2011) The Metaphysics of Mental Representation. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The representational theory of mind (RTM) explains the phenomenon of intentionality in terms of the existence and nature of mental representations. Despite the typical characterisation of mental representations in terms of their semantics, RTM is best understood as a metaphysical – more specifically formal ontological – theory whose primary defining feature is stipulating the existence of a class of mental particulars called representations. In this regard it is false, since mental representations do not exist.

My argument is primarily methodological. Using an extended analysis of mereology and its variants as paradigmatic examples of a formal ontological theory, I argue for a 'synthetic’ approach to ontology which seeks to form a sound descriptive characterisation of the relevant phenomena from empirical data, to which philosophical analysis is applied to produce a rigorous theory. The value and necessity of this method is proved by example in our discussion of mereology which is shown to be defensible given certain assumptions, in particular perdurantism, but still inadequate as an account of parthood without considerable supplementation. We also see that there are viable alternatives which adopt a more synthetic approach and do not require the same assumptions.

Having effectively demonstrated the value of a synthetic approach in ontology I critically examine the methodology employed by RTM and find it severely lacking. In the guise of ‘commonsense psychology’ RTM cavalierly imposes a theoretical framework without regard to empirical data, and this results in a severe distortion of the phenomenon of intentionality it purports to explain. RTM is methodologically unsound, and so its commitment to the existence of mental representations is utterly undermined. Furthermore the most attractive aspect of RTM – its semantics – can be separated from any commitment to mental representations existing. Even RTM’s strongest advocates lack motivation to believe that mental representations exist.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Metaphysics; Philosophy; Mind; Representation; Mereology
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Philosophy, Department of
Thesis Date:2011
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:02 Jun 2011 16:02

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