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Grounding Mental Content

Young, Christine (2012) Grounding Mental Content. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Christine Young, PhD

University of Pittsburgh, 2012

Beliefs and desires’ functions as bases for action are essential for their contents. A belief can only be a basis for a particular action if it is about the object targeted by that action. Whether a belief can legitimately play that role for an action depends on its intentional relation with the world. However, one can have beliefs about objects which do not exist. The intentionality of empty beliefs cannot be construed as a relation between these beliefs and external objects. Yet without this belief-object connection, they can still function legitimately as bases for action. How is this possible?
What we need is an adequate account of how a belief’s intentionality is grounded. But perhaps grounding does not have to take the form of an intentional relation between a token belief and its referent. It can be more indirect and complex, so that beliefs’ functions as bases for action are not jeopardized by non-existence of their referents. One thing seems undeniable. One can only have beliefs about particular objects, if one interacts with the world. The question is: how are beliefs grounded in such interactions? This is the central question for my dissertation.
This essay has four chapters. In the first chapter, I consider the idea that all empty thoughts can be grounded in object-dependent thoughts in subject-world interactions. The arguments I will consider are Gareth Evans's in Varieties of Reference. I will argue that these arguments do not succeed. In the second section, I will consider a materialist proposal: thoughts are grounded in virtue of causal properties of subject-world interactions. For this section, I will examine Dretske's functionalism in Explaining Behavior. I will argue that intentionality cannot arise from causal structures. In the third chapter, I will present my own positive view. The main ideas are: 1) intentionality of token beliefs or desires is grounded in the subject's representational capacities, 2) these capacities are grounded in how their development actualize the subject's intentional potential. The final chapter presents application of my positive views to contemporary debates.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Young, Christinechy7@pitt.eduCHY7
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairGupta, Anilagupta@pitt.eduAGUPTA
Committee MemberMcDowell, JMCDOWEL
Committee MemberThompson,
Committee MemberMachamer, Peterpkmach@pitt.eduPKMACH
Date: 9 October 2012
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 28 August 2011
Approval Date: 9 October 2012
Submission Date: 26 August 2012
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 164
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: intentionality, mental content, rationality, behavior, perception
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2012 13:47
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:02


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