Putnam's Ant: On the reduction of meaning and intentionality

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Pinni B building lecture hall 3111, address: Kanslerinrinne 1


Research seminar of philosophy

Tim Crane (Central European University): Putnam's Ant: On the reduction of meaning and intentionality

In chapter one of his book Reason, Truth and History, Hilary Putnam argued that the only alternative to treating reference and intentionality as causal relations is to hold a 'magical' theory of reference (where this is supposed to be a bad thing). He argues this by employing a famous thought experiment about an ant accidentally making a pattern in the sand which looks like a picture of Winston Churchill.

Putnam argues that nothing intrinsic to this pattern makes it a picture, and nor do any of its relational properties (e.g. resemblance to Churchill). He then claims that "what goes for physical pictures also goes for mental images, and for mental representations in general" - we need to appeal to causal relations in order to explain reference or intentionality; anything else is an appeal to 'magic'. In this talk I examine and criticise Putnam's argument.

Additional information

Jani Hakkarainen, 040 190 4125