Lecture 9

Dr. Ron Mallon                                                            Philosophy of Cognitive Science


1.  We have discussed the idea that one project of cognitive science is understanding the relationship between different levels of explanation.  In particular, the representational theory of mind offers an explanation of the relationship between folk psychology (or the ordinary psychological attributions we make to each other), and the structure of the brain.  On this ‘language of thought’ hypothesis, there is a very close isomorphism between the structure of our true mental state attributions and the causal structure of the mind.


2.  Dennett offers another view of the relationship that we might call instrumentalist.  (Though Dennett himself at times seems to prefer to call himself a realist.)  Dennett’s view is that folk psychology is instrumentally extremely valuable, but that it need not reveal much about the underlying structure of thought.


3.  Dennett distinguishes between three ‘stances’ we could adopt towards a complex system in the attempt to predict its behavior.  The physical stance involves appealing the physical structure of a system.  But for any system of sufficient complexity, actual explanation and prediction via the physical stance will be hopeless.  Some systems exhibit design, and so we can adopt the design stance towards such a system.  If you want to know how a car works, you try to figure out what the parts of the car are for, and what the car itself is for.  But again, this approach may not work with a system that is too complex, in particular a system that manipulates complex bits of information.  For this final class of systems we may need to adopt what Dennett calls the intentional stance.  We treat the system as if it has belief-lie and desire-like states, and this allows us to explain and predict its behavior relatively straightforwardly.