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Michigan Philosophy News
Michigan Philosophy News Page 1
Fall 2008
for friends, alumni, alumnae of the Department of Philosophy,
The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
• Letter from the Chair
• Eric Lormand: “Function: Under Con-
struction”
• Spotlight on Recent Graduates
• Members of the Faculty
• Contributions to the Department
Dear Friends of Michigan Philosophy,
Greetings from Ann Arbor! I am pleased, once again, to be able to bring you up to date on the Philosophy
Department’s recent accomplishments and activities. While there have been changes in personnel, and
while the Department faces major challenges, our basic mission remains the same — providing our students
with the best possible overall education in philosophy — and we are carrying out this charge with great ef-
fectiveness and enthusiasm. Generations of faculty, students, and staff have laid a strong foundation upon
which we continue to build. Michigan remains one of the premier centers of philosophical thought in the
world, with at most four or five peers, and our students continue to excel in a wide variety of intellectual
and non-academic pursuits. We are also fortunate to have large base of alumni and alumnae who support
the Department in many ways. This fall, for example, a generous donation from Marshall M. Weinberg
funded a major conference “The Future of Cognitive Science” that brought six major figures in philosophy,
psychology, biology, cognitive science and physics to campus for two days of talks. The conference was
terrifically informative, and I am sure it will provide a fertile ground for interdisciplinary discussions for a
long time to come. (Beginning in January, you will be able to view filmed versions of the conference pres-
entations on the Departmental website: http://www.lsa.umich.edu/philosophy/.)
Faculty News. Michigan’s philosophy faculty engaged in a wide variety of scholarly activities this year.
As always, our members received many awards and honors. Elizabeth Anderson has been elected Fellow
of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Election to the Academy, one of the Nation’s oldest and
most prestigious honorary societies, is an extraordinarily high honor. Liz joins Allan Gibbard, Larry Sklar,
Ed Curley, Ken Walton and Peter Railton as Academy Fellows. Ed Curley received a major fellowship
from the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton for a project on religious toleration. Ed was also hon-
ored as LSA’s Distinguished Senior Faculty Lecturer for 2008. Boris Kment was awarded a fellowship
from the National Endowment for the Humanities (2008-09), and received the Emerging Scholars Prize
from the Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan. Larry Sklar completed his term as Presi-
dent of the Philosophy of Science Association, and delivered the Presidential Address, “I’d Love to Be a
Naturalist - If Only I Knew What Naturalism Was” this November. Thony Gillies received a prestigious
NSF grant “Context and Accommodation in the Semantics of Modal Constructions.” Thony used some of
Michigan Philosophy News Page 2
the money to run a highly successful interdisciplinary Arbor. For a tribute to Art and an account of his many
speaker series last winter. contributions to the University, the Department and the
discipline of philosophy see p. 16.
The Department welcomes three new faculty members
this year, all with interests in the philosophy of science.
Undergraduate News. Our reputation for outstanding
Professor Gordon Belot, who has held positions at NYU,
teaching attracts students to our major, and so our under-
Princeton, and Pittsburgh, works on a wide variety of top-
graduate program continues to grow. The 2007-08 aca-
ics in philosophy, with special focus on the metaphysical
demic year showed an increased enrollment of one hun-
issues that arise in space-time theory. Professor Laura
dred forty-one concentrators and eighty-three minors. We
Ruetsche, who has held positions at Middlebury and
awarded sixty-six B.A. degrees in April 2008 and expect
Pittsburgh, focuses on issues having to do with the inter-
to award about the same number in April 2009.
pretation of quantum mechanics. Laura is also a leading
figure in the study of gender and science. Assistant Pro- This year’s William K. Frankena Prize for excellence in
fessor David Baker, a Michigan B.A. who received his the undergraduate concentration (funded by a generous
Ph.D. from Princeton this year, works on metaphysical contribution from Marshall M. Weinberg) was awarded to
and epistemological issues that arise in quantum theory. Amanda J. Hicks. Amanda will be attending law school
David also has substantial research interests in the phi- in the fall of 2009. The Haller prize, which is awarded for
losophy of religion and moral philosophy. When added exceptional papers written in an upper-level philosophy
our substantial existing strength in the area, these three course, was given to Chris Detjen for his essay “Rawls in
make Michigan perhaps the best place in the world to the Age of Floods: Ensuring Climate Justice Through
study the philosophy of science. Time and Space.”
Though these additions soften the blow, we must bid bit- Last year saw the highest number of senior honor theses
tersweet farewells to three valued member of the faculty. ever completed: nine! Liz Anderson supervised three:
After more than twenty years of service, Steve Darwall Kayla Nile Arslanian’s, “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing:
has retired from the University, and has accepted a posi- Invoking a Principle of Sincerity to Protect the Public
tion at Yale. Steve was one of our most dedicated under- Political Domain from Disguised Private Reasons;” Matt
graduate teachers and most active graduate advisors. He Owens’ “The Problem of Testimony in Asylum Hear-
also served with uncommon distinction in a variety of ings;” and Eric Li’s “Self and the Social Terrain: Racial
important administrative roles, including Department Identity via an Asian American Perspective.” Thomas M.
Chair, Director of the LSA Honors Program, and Chair of Hartsig wrote, “Unique Factorization and Dedekind’s
the LSA Library Committee. We wish Steve all the best Theory of Ideals: A Mathematical Perspective…With a
in his new position. Ian Proops, an Associate Professor Slight Philosophical Bent,” under the guidance of Jamie
who specializes in the history of analytic philosophy, will Tappenden. Adam Siroky wrote “Piecing Together the
be taking up a position at the University of Texas (Austin) Fictionality Puzzle” under Allan Gibbard. Chandra Sri-
beginning in January. I am certain our students will miss pada and I advised Jonah Zaretsky in his writing of “A
Ian’s well-received introductions to philosophy, and his Cognitive Theory of Schizophrenic Delusions.” Todd
popular courses on Kant and on Frege, Russell and Witt- Hollon’s “One Understands [a Proposition] if one Under-
genstein. Finally, Assistant Professor Andy Egan will be stands its Constituents Parts,” was supervised by Boris
leaving to take up a tenured position at Rutgers beginning Kment. Christina Spallina, advised by Ed Curley, wrote
in September. Andy, who works in many central areas of “Examination of Church and State Relations.” Ed also
philosophy, was an especially active graduate advisor. advised Joshua Blanchard’s “Soft Rationalism in the
We are unfortunate to lose him. Epistemology of Religion.”
Finally, on a sad note, I must announce that Arthur The Department now sponsors three undergraduate phi-
Burks, one of the giants of Michigan philosophy (and losophy discussion clubs: the Philosophy Club; the So-
computer science) passed away on May 14, 2008 in Ann cratic Club, and the Student Secular Alliance. It is great to
Michigan Philosophy News Page 3
see so much philosophical discussion taking place outside Our students have also been making their marks in the
classroom settings. The undergraduate student journal, thearena of scholarly publication. Dustin Locke’s “A Partial
Meteorite, continues to thrive and is being published bothDefense of Ramseyan Humility” will appear in D. Brad-
in print and online. Check the department’s web site for don-Mitchell and R. Nola (eds.) Conceptual Analysis and
more information on the clubs and Meteorite: Philosophical Naturalism. Josh Brown and Tim Sundell,
http://www.lsa.umich.edu/philosophy. with Peter Ludlow, wrote “Philosophy of Linguistics” for
S. Sarkar and M. Fagan (eds.) Routledge Encyclopedia of
Graduate News. Our graduate students continue to win the Philosophy of Science. Alexandra Plakias, with
prestigious awards and develop their professional reputa- John M. Doris (Ph.D ‘96) wrote two papers — “How to
tions. Vanessa Carbonell, Dustin Locke, Howard Nye Argue about Disagreement: Evaluative Diversity and
and Tim Sundell all won Rackham Predoctoral Fellow- Moral Realism”and “How to Find Disagreement: Philoso-
ships for 2008-09. This is a highly competitive prize and phical Diversity and Moral Realism”— that have ap-
the Department has never had so many recipients in one peared in W. Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.) Moral Psychology.
year! Vanessa also received a Rackham Graduate School Steve Campbell’s “Hare on Possible People” appeared in
Outstanding GSI Award, a great and rare honor that goes in the Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 24, 2007.
only to the most effective graduate student instructors. This year’s Charles Stevenson Prize for Outstanding Can-
Dustin also won a Rackham Research Grant to fund time didacy Dossier went to Amanda Roth for her excellent
at the Australian National University and the University papers titled “But You Don’t Respect Me...” and “Dewey,
of Sydney. David Dick was awarded the coveted Char- Feminist Epistemology, and Objectivity: An Internal Re-
lotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship for alist Interpretation.” The John Dewey Prize for out-
the academic year 2008-09. David also received the standing performance as a Graduate Student Instructor
Hough Fellowship in Ethics for Winter 2008. Steve went to Tim Sundell. Both prizes are funded by a gener-
Campbell, Jonathan Shaheen, and Dave Wiens all re- ous gift from Marshall M. Weinberg (B.A. ‘50). The
cieved Weinberg Summer Fellowships. Jonathan also won Cornwell Fellowship for Outstanding Intellectual Curios-
a coveted Fulbright Fellowship to study logic in Amster- ity and Scholarly Promise was awarded to Ian Flora.
dam for the next two years. First year student, Nat Cole-
man won a Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant. The Department saw four of its students complete disser-
Alexa Forrester was awarded the Patricia Susan tations during 2007-08: Josh Brown, Jim Staihar, Erica
Feldman Award for Excellence in Philosophy. Eduardo Lucast Stonestreet and Gabriel Zamosc-Regueros. For
Garcia-Ramirez was awarded a prestigious fellowship further information on these students see “Spotlight on
by the Mexican Government. The first Marshall M. Recent Graduates” (p. 17).
Weinberg Summer Dissertation Fellowship went to Erica
Lucast Stonestreet. Erica also won the University’s Events. As usual, we had a busy schedule of events this
Susan Lipschutz Award. past year. Peter Railton delivered his inaugural lecture
as the John Stephenson Perrin Professor of Philosophy.
Our students gave many professional presentations this His “As the Eye to a Star...: toward a Theory of Desire
year. David Wiens presented “Taking the Higher-Order and of all-things-considered-rationality in Desire” was
Road: An Institutional Critique of Statism” to the Asso- received by a large and appreciative audience. Carl Hoe-
ciation for Legal and Social Philosophy and the Princeton fer, from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona was the
Graduate Conference in Political Theory. Ian Flora read Department’s Weinberg Distinguished Visiting Professor
“Aristotle on the Real Difference between Belief and for 2007-08. Carl taught a seminar on the philosophy of
Imagination” at the Marquette Summer Seminar in An- probability and philosophy of science. He also delivered
cient and Medieval Philosophy. Dustin Locke presented the Marshall M. Weinberg Lecture. His provocative talk,
“Ramsification and Knowledge-which” to the University “Chance, Time and Newcomb Problems” generated a
of Texas Graduate Student Conference and the Society great deal of productive philosophical discussion.
for Exact Philosophy. Amanda Roth gave, “But You
Don’t Respect Me: Second Personal Respect and Gen- Professor Stephen Yablo of MIT was our Nelson Phi-
dered Perception” to the Society for Analytical Feminism. losopher-in-Residence for the fall of 2007. He delivered
three fascinating lectures on aspects of metaphysics,
philosophy of mind, and language entitled: “Truth and
Aboutness,” “A Problem about Permission and Possibil-
ity,” and “Extrapolation.” In October, the Department
sponsored a two-day conference that focused on meta-
physics and philosophy of mind in early modern philoso-
phy. Tad Schmaltz of Duke, Alison Simmons of Ha-
vard, and Dan Kaufman of Colorado presented papers to
large, receptive audience. The twenty-ninth Spring Collo-
quium, which is run by our graduate students, was entitled
“Philosophical Methods.” Alexandra Plakias organized
the event, which featured the speakers Frank Jackson
(Princeton and La Trobe), Jesse Prinz (North Carolina),
and John Doris (Washington University). Graduate stu-
dents commentators were Tim Sundell, Alex Plakias,
David Plunkett and Neil Mehta.
This year’s Tanner Lecture on Human Values was deliv- COMMENCEMENT ON THE DIAG
ered by Brian Skyrms, Distinguished Professor of Logic SPRING 2008
and Philosophy of Science and Economics, at University
of California Irvine. His lecture “Evolution and the Hu-
man Contract” sought to explain how moral norms of be-
havior might have arisen in an evolutionary environment
in which all individuals are seeking to maximize their
own well-being. The ensuing Tanner Symposium featured
comments from the philosopher Michael Smith
(Princeton), the political scientist Elinor Ostrom
(Indiana) and economist Peyton Young (Oxford and The
Brookings Institution).
The Department also hosted talks by Pierre Destrée
(Louvain), David Estlund (Brown), Richard Kraut
(Northwestern), Marc Lange (North Carolina), Marga-
ret Little, (Georgetown), Genoveva Martí (ICREA &
Universitat de Barcelona), Trenton Merricks (Virginia)
and Katja Vogt (Columbia).
BURTON TOWER
I hope you have a chance to read Eric Lormand’s lucid
and captivating article “Function: Under Construction”
which follows this letter. The essay investigates some of
the more difficult and perplexing issues in the philosophy
of mind. It previews work that will appear in a new book
Eric is completing, entitled Staring Down the Mind’s Eye.
I wish you the best for the coming year!
Sincerely,
James M. Joyce,
Chair
ANGELL HALL IN WINTER
Michigan Philosophy News Page 5
electromagnetism or whatever underlies them. But just as
FUNCTION UNDER CONSTRUCTION virtually everything exerts fundamental forces like gravitation
Eric Lormand and electromagnetism, so if experience is fundamental we
Consciousness seems to depend on mental representation or might expect virtually everything to have experiences—even
meaning, on what it is for a mental state to be “about” some cells and rocks and raindrops and atoms. This is called
topic. What something is “about” seems to depend on its “panpsychism” or, more precisely, “panexperientialism”. To
teleological “functions”—what it is “supposed to” do or what be fair we cannot conveniently dismiss panpsychism using
it is somehow “defective” if it does not do. Understanding bedrock assumptions about which entities lack experiences.
such teleological functions is Job One of this essay. My goal To zoom in on states that are uncontroversially conscious
is to describe a general “constructive” theory of functions experiences, we have to zoom in on creatures that are uncon-
which I think improves and unifies the dominant heretofore troversially conscious experiencers. This calls for postponing
competing theories. Before getting to Job One, however, I discussion of the following cases:
will first raise the stakes by discussing consciousness and its 1a: Nonbiological beings such as laptops, robots, deities,
connections to morals and meaning. and ghosts—(potential) robots seem nonconscious be-
cause they aren’t alive, but (potential) spirits seem con-
JOB TWO scious despite not being alive.
How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of 1b: Nonhuman biological beings such as plants, animals,
consciousness comes about as a result of irritating and extraterrestrial life—some animals seem to have
nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the ap- experiences (bugs? shrimp? lizards? pigeons? bats?), but
pearance of Djin when Aladdin rubbed his lamp. perhaps a degree of self-consciousness is required for
full-fledged experience, and perhaps only language us-
That was the pessimistic assessment at the dawn of scientific
ers qualify. At the other extreme, vegetarians tend to fall
psychology, from the otherwise famously optimistic biologist
silent when roast-beast eaters ask how they know plants
Thomas Huxley, known as “Darwin’s Bulldog”. Despite the
do not feel pain.
many subsequent scientific advances in understanding the
mechanisms of perception, thought, and communication, and 1c: Humans far from adulthood, such as fetuses, infants,
despite the many subsequent philosophical advances in under- and small children—some of the dispute about abortion
standing the nature of mental representation and meaning, turns on whether fetuses suffer, an intuitively open ques-
conscious experience is still The Rub. tion. It would be a symptom of pathology intuitively to
deny experience in the face of a normal newborn or a
Contemporary Doubting Thomases converge on a general toddler, but to deny this based on the theoretical need to
characterization of the mystery. Thomas Nagel writes that explain self-consciousness or “childhood amnesia” is
“consciousness is what makes the mind/body problem really merely a symptom of philosophy.
intractable”, identifying its most troublesome feature thus:
1d: Adult human beings under extreme medical duress,
An organism has conscious mental states if and such as comas, brain trauma, or anesthetic drugs—we
only if there is something it is like to be that organ- entertain tales of near-death experiences from the nearly
ism—something it is like for the organism. We brain-dead, and we worry (with indirect evidence that
may call this the subjective character of experience this has often happened) that anesthetics merely para-
Joe Levine similarly insists that “what is at issue is the ability lyze us and make us forget the excruciating experiences.
to explain qualitative character itself; why it is like what it is 1e: Medically healthy human beings whose minds have
like to see red or feel pain”. It would be good to give clear undergone extremely limited developmental paths, such
examples of conscious states beyond seeing red and feeling as people extremely mentally impaired or people raised
pain, to contrast these with clear cases of nonconscious states. by wolves—there are live theories according to which
Unfortunately, there are precisely zero noncontroversial can- consciousness is a sophisticated cultural achievement
didates for nonconscious states, and a surprisingly long list of rather than a primitive biological achievement.
controversial candidates for conscious states. 1f: Apparently nonactual beings culled from philosophical
Here is the quickest and most sweeping way to see that thought experiments, such as alleged zombies, group
there are no untendentious examples of nonconscious states. minds, and homunculi or sentient subsystems within
Since it is so difficult to explain experience as a combination minds. As usual, theorists disagree squarely about the
of nonexperiential things, some influential philosophers have proper assessment of such thought experiments, about
been driven, by respectable argument, to the view that experi- what it is intuitive to say about imagined cases, and
ence is a fundamental feature of the world, like gravitation or about whether the cases play tricks on intuitions.
Michigan Philosophy News Page 6
That leaves, as noncontroversial experiencers, only Human, 2e: States that are deeply hidden from introspection, such as
Old-enough, Minimally-healthy, Incarnate Experiencers, or Freud’s repressed unconscious, “blindsight” states that
“Homies”, for short. I am a Homie and I write as if you are enable blind people to guess correctly about visual stim-
too. If you doubt there are Homies besides yourself, treat the uli, retinal states and other “drafts” in the early stages of
plural forms of “Homie” and “experiencer” as typos, and read vision, Heidegger’s alleged primordial ways of being in
“we” and “us” as applying specifically to Your Highness. the world, and Chomsky’s alleged grammatical know-
What sorts of Homie states are uncontroversial examples how. Someone who maintains that these are experien-
of experiences? Here I count six categories of nonstarters. tial can easily explain away contrary intuitions by the
fact that the states are not introspectible.
These states too theoretically charged for us to begin with.
2f: Introspectible states that are not clearly introspected,
2a: Intuitively nonmental states, including both “outer” such as the fuzzy boundaries at the edges of our visual
states such as one’s location and hair color, and fields, the faint pressures around our bodies a moment
“internal” states that contribute to behavior, such as the before we attend to them, and fleeting, subliminal per-
conditions of one’s digestive system, one’s atomic parti- ceptions—maybe they contribute to experience; maybe
cles, and one’s brain chemicals. they don’t; maybe they (or states in any of the other
2b: Aspects of our minds that are merely dispositional, such categories) are vague borderline cases that are not quite
as forgetfulness, cleverness, and skills—since disposi- experiences and not quite nonexperiences.
tions need not even be exercised to be real, it is odd to
imagine them constantly participating in our swarms of Fortunately, there are uncontroversial positive examples of
conscious experiences. I think it is best to search first for
conscious experiences, but perhaps they participate in a
way that is hard to separate out (forming part of a con- principles and theories that work for these clear cases. In
dealing with the unclear cases (someday), I think it best to
stant background of experience, say), or perhaps the
subsystems underlying these dispositions within our rely on the resulting theories rather than our shaky intuitions.
minds have these states as their own experiences, sepa- I group the short remaining list of clear conscious experi-
rate from “ours” (see category 1f above). ences into four overlapping categories, with the proviso that
2c: Sensory-deprivation states such as those during sleep these states are only clearly conscious when they are clearly
(including dreams, sleepwalking and sleeptalking), hyp- introspected by Homies:
nosis, or deep meditation—perhaps dreams do not hap- 3a: Perceptions (and misperceptions) caused by sense or-
pen consciously during sleep, but instead dream scripts gans, such as normal tastings or seeings of environ-
are nonexperientially smuggled into memory, so that mental objects, and degraded appearances of afterim-
upon waking we misremember ourselves as having had ages or ringing-in-the-ears. (Mis)perceptions differ from
conscious dream experiences during sleep. beliefs in being tightly bound to stimuli and behavior
2d: Individual states that persist through sleep, even if they (such as guiding visuomotor skills), and being limited in
also manifest themselves during wakefulness, such as reasoning and in subject matter.
beliefs, desires, and other “propositional attitudes.” If an 3b: Bodily sensations, such as diffuse sensations of warmth
attitude is nonexperiential during sleep, plausibly it is or muscular fatigue, and more pointlike pains, tickles, or
also nonexperiential during waking, perhaps merely itches.
being accompanied during wakefulness by separable
3c: Perception-like imaginings, such as voluntary envision-
experiences (e.g, visual imagery) that do not persist dur- ing or “replaying” of one’s own actions or perceptions,
ing sleep. So, wakeful attitudes inherit controversial and involuntary nonlucid hallucinations—but excluding
status from their sleepytime forms.*
dreams, due to their occurrence during sleep.
3d: Elements of “streams” or “trains” of thought, such as
———————————————————————— verbal talking to oneself, or reading with the mind’s eye,
* I include emotions such as fear and hope in the category and nonverbal thinking in pictures or making predictions
of attitudes that persist during sleep, and moods such as by running through a (scale) model in one’s head. Such
depression and happiness in the category of dispositions thoughts differ from beliefs—for example, although a
(that activate or suppress various emotions and states). So single belief may persist while one is sound asleep, no
emotions and moods are controversial. Certain emotions single thought does.
and moods, and perhaps other states, might be hybrids of
What does consciousness require? The first sign that there
dispositions, attitudes and experiential “feelings”, but in
may be some dependence of consciousness on meaning is that
that case I assume it is the “feeling” components that we
all these clearest cases of conscious experience are clearly
need to focus on first, and not the hybrid states.
Michigan Philosophy News Page 7
representations. (It is less plausible that meaning depends on fulfilled desires fail to meet. A belief that it is raining ought
consciousness, because not all clear mental representations to go away when the rain does. These are not statistical
are clearly conscious.) Perceptions and misperceptions typi- norms (as if trillions of falsehoods were better than one), and
cally indicate allegedly objective features of external objects. aren’t moral norms (as if commandment XI were “thou shalt
For example, a visual sensation might represent a certain not miss thy guesses”). It would be difficult to explain them
spectral-reflectance feature or a shape feature at a certain as practical norms about means to one’s ends, since any de-
place, or might categorize an object on the basis of many sire for an end is itself a success or failure in the sense to be
such features. Experiences of pressure, warmth, or limb posi- explained. So it is tempting to try explaining the relevant
tion involve bodily (mis)perceptions of pressure, warmth, or norms in some fourth sense, as functions. Functions also are
limb position, while in pain experiences we (mis)represent not statistical patterns, and aren’t moral principles. And it
parts of our bodies as throbbing, burning, stabbed, pounded, would be difficult to explain functions as practical means to
pinched, pulled, etc., and in each tickle or itch experience one desired ends, since any desire for an end seems itself to have
represents parts of one’s body as being rubbed or prickled teleological functions in the sense to be explained.
with very specific intensities, directions, speeds, and contact-
On the other hand, some mental representations misrepre-
point sizes. Imaginings plausibly involve the same represen-
sent without any failure or malfunction. Consider—and re-
tational mechanisms involved in the later stages of perception
member for later—the philosopher’s Swampman, a particle-
and bodily sensation. Streams of thought seem to be consti-
for-particle match for a Homie, suddenly and accidentally
tuted by imaginings of words or of speech acts, typically
formed when lightning struck the muck. It would be a mal-
auditory or visual ones, as well as imaginings representing
function to believe in Swampman, since there’s no such be-
nonverbal items. It seems difficult to imagine a conscious
ing, but it isn’t a failure to have an idea of Swampman, or a
state that represents nothing at all. And it seems difficult to
defect to imagine that swamp lightning formed your physical
vary what an experience is like without varying the experi- twin. Nevertheless such representations have their own se-
ence’s subject matter, or how it represents its subject matter. mantically-relevant teleological functions: under various cir-
So it is tempting to view representational features of experi- cumstances ideas are supposed to help form beliefs and de-
ence as prerequisites for conscious features of experience. sires with related meanings, and under various circumstances
A second sign that there is some dependence of conscious- imaginings are supposed to help test or practice the formation
ness on meaning is that in all the clearest cases, conscious of beliefs and desires with related meanings. So it remains
experiences are themselves represented by their bearers. A plausible that for a creature to have mental representations it
conscious experience not only makes its subject matter seem must be capable of having teleological functions.
to exist (with certain features), but also itself seems to exist A second sign that meaning depends on functions is that
(with certain features)—seeing blurrily or clearly, hurting both share many eerie features regarding how they enter into
severely or mildly, forming images in one’s head or body, apparent explanations. (It’s less plausible that function de-
etc. As Nagel emphasizes, there is not only something it is pends on meaning, because not all things with functions have
like to see red or feel pain—a feature of the seeing or the meaning.) Since this moves us squarely into discussing func-
pain—but something it is like for the organism. Since the tions, I describe it in the next section.
state itself is obviously in the creature’s possession, “for”
would be redundant unless it means “in the creature’s view”,
so the requirement is plausibly that there is something the
JOB ONE
state is like as represented by the creature. Theorists differ
about whether a creature introspects the state by thinking To emphasize what seems eerie about teleological expla-
about it, or more primitively by inwardly perceiving it, or by nations (and meaning-explanations), I will contrast them with
having the state somehow be in part about itself. Theorists a pair of general but familiar explanatory relations:
also differ on whether consciousness requires ongoing intro- 4a: Explanation by Constitution—For example, Angell Hall
spection or mere ease of introspectibility. But in any case for has as spatial “parts” like giant stone Legolike blocks,
a creature to have clearly conscious experiences it must be has as temporal “slices” various Angell-Halls-on-a-
capable of mental representation. Graduation-Day, and has as “aspects,” e.g., being grey
and quarantining philosophers. All these are kinds of
Meaning and function constituents.
Now, what does mental representation require? The first 4b: Explanation by Causation—For example, laying the
sign that there is some dependence of meaning on teleologi- Legos increased the pressure on the pillars, and blocked
cal function is the nature of misrepresentation, of a misfit the upward mobility of the quarantined.
between what is meant and what is there. True beliefs, accu-
rate perceptions, and fulfilled desires seem to meet some
norms of success that false beliefs, misperceptions, and un-
Michigan Philosophy News Page 8
and cite desires and intentions as explaining “why” we
do what we do, without our knowing or much caring
whether these lead to or fit with deeper explanations of
“how”. And we routinely cite functions as explaining
why objects do what they do, with little knowledge or
care about whether these explanations lead to or fit with
explanations of how they do what they do.
Function and history
So what does teleological function require? It is obscure
how we can talk about functions in a scientifically respectable
way. If one thinks of the universe as so many randomly or
lawfully crashing particles, it is hard to resist the idea that the
universe just is the way it is, and there are no “shoulds” or


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