Millikan's Isomorphism Requirement

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Millikan’s theory of content purports to rely heavily on the existence of isomorphisms between a system of representations and the things in the world which they represent — “the mapping requirement for being intentional signs” (Millikan 2004, p. 106). This paper asks whether those isomorphisms are doing any substantive explanatory work. Millikan’s isomorphism requirement is deployed for two main purposes. First, she claims that the existence of an isomorphism is the basic representing relation, with teleology playing a subsidiary role — to account for misrepresentation (the possibility of error). Second, Millikan relies on an isomorphism requirement in order to guarantee that a system of representations displays a kind of productivity. This seemingly strong reliance on isomorphism has prompted the objection that isomorphism is too liberal to be the basic representing relation: there are isomorphisms between any system of putative representations and any set, of the same cardinality, of items putatively represented. This paper argues that all the work in fixing content is in fact done by the teleology. Deploying Millikan’s teleology-based conditions to ascribe contents will ensure that there is an isomorphism between representations and the things they represent, but the isomorphism ‘requirement’ is playing no substantive explanatory role in Millikan’s account of content determination. So an objection to her theory based on the liberality of isomorphism is misplaced. The second role for isomorphism is to account for productivity. If some kind of productivity is indeed necessary for representation, then functional isomorphism will again be too liberal a constraint to account for that feature. The paper suggests an alternative way of specifying the relation between a system of representations and that which they represent which is capable of playing an explanatory role in accounting for Millikan’s type of productivity. In short, the liberality of isomorphism is no objection to Millikan’s teleosemantics, since the isomorphism ‘requirement’ need play no independent substantive role in Millikan’s account of representation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMillikan and Her Critics
EditorsDan Ryder, Justine Kingsbury, Kenneth Williford
Place of PublicationOxford / Malden MA
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781118328118
ISBN (Print)9780470656846
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Publication series

NamePhilosophers and Their Critics


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