Representational Content and the Objects of Thought

Rimell, Nicholas, Philosophy - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Merricks, Trenton, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

Since Frege, it has been common to think of beliefs and related mental states as having the representational contents they have in virtue of their being attitudes towards propositions. Taken straightforwardly, this view is an ontological one: there are these entities, propositions, to which beliefs and related mental states are attitudes; and it is in virtue of a certain mental state’s being an attitude toward a certain proposition that it represents what it does. In this work, I present a refined version of this ontological claim, and I argue that it entails a view of mental representation consisting, roughly, of the following three theses. First, thoughts cannot be alike in representational content while differing in truth value, from which it follows that, in general, representational mental content is wide. Second, our egocentric beliefs are attitudes toward private propositions. Third, for a thinker to think about something just is for her to stand in the (or a) thinking about relation to it, from which it follows – I argue – that we cannot think about nonexistents. I provide an initial – albeit, incomplete – defense of this overall view of mental representation. In doing so, I claim that, whenever we think we are thinking about nonexistents, we are really thinking about non-coexemplified properties. I consider an argument for necessitism that threatens to undermine my motivation for this position, and I argue that we should not be persuaded by this argument.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
mental representation, propositions, existence, necessity and possibility
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