What is Cognitive Science

Descartes on Sensory Representation and Misrepresentation

Raffaella DeRosa

Thursday, November 03, 2005, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Rutger's University-Newark, Dept. of Philosophy

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Descartes had a sophisticated theory of the mind and mental representation. Notoriously he claimed that sensations systematically misrepresent extra-mental reality and he expressed his view by calling sensations "materially false ideas." Unfortunately, Descartes never gave an explicit explanation of how misrepresentation occurs. Various attempts have been made to illuminate this Cartesian problem by appeal  to current internalist, causal and teleofunctional accounts of conceptual content. For example, it has been claimed for Descartes that the biological function of sensations explains both why sensations represent what they do (i.e., their referential content) and why they represent their objects the way they do (i.e., their presentational content). Although this teleofunctional account of Cartesian sensations has the advantage of dissolving his problem of misrepresentation (because sensations turn out to be "materially true"), I argue it is false and besides unattributable to Descartes for textual reasons.


Raffaella DeRosa

"What is Cognitive Science?"

This lunchtime talks series is designed to introduce the University community to issues in Cognitive Science. Cognitive Science is one the the few fields where modern developments in computer science and artificial intelligence promise to shed light on classical problems in psychology and the philosophy of the mind. Ancient questions of how we see the world, understand language, and reason, and questions such as 'how a material system can know about the outside world', are being explored with the powerful new conceptual prosthetics of computer modeling.

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