The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Seminar #33: Mind as Practical Rationality

Posted in Seminars by Tom Froese on February 18, 2008

On Wednesday, 20th Feb. 2008, 16:30 – 18:00, Room PEV1 2A01

Mike Beaton, from COGS, Sussex will be talking about:

Mind as Practical Rationality

Recently I’ve been exploring that idea that mind is best described as a locus of practical rationality. That is to say, I describe mind in terms of a creature’s behaviours (and counterfactual behaviours: behaviours it would have engaged in, if tested). The behaviours in question are rational, so I describe the position as conceptualism. This label means that I think the mind is essentially conceptual. This often confuses people. They think I’m talking about kinds of behaviour an animal could engage in only if it possessed words or, at the very least, only if it possessed some ability for offline, disengaged rationality. Thus, people mistakenly assume that conceptualism is on the side of intellectualist, cognitivist, symbol-processing representationalists.

The opposing position is non-conceptualism. Non-conceptualists think that some simpler, non-conceptual abilities are also mental. And people equally assume that non-conceptualists are more naturally on the side of embedded, embodied, anti-representationalist, dynamical systems theorists.

I believe that this is exactly backwards. I believe non-conceptualism is irreducibly wedded to the representational theory of mind. And I believe conceptualism provides an independent characterisation of mind, involving no internal representations, which can be shown to be explicable (decomposable) into an appropriate set of simpler, embodied abilities, of the kind which evolutionary roboticists currently study.

I attempt to spell out some of this. I will try to explain what I could possibly mean by ‘concepts’, separate from any notion of language, and separate from any notion of disengaged, step-by-step thinking. I will try to show that the characterisation of the mental I offer is still ‘demanding’ – that it is not just the label of my position that is different from non-conceptualism.

Then I will try to explain why the view of mind I propose is anti-intellectualist, anti-representationalist, and why it throws into doubt the non-conceptualist claim that behaviours simpler than the ones I’m talking about are correctly characterised as mental. I am not trying to say that these various, simpler behaviours are not necessary, for the mental. I am just trying to say that they, themselves, are not mental – rather they should form part of our explanation of the presence of mind in the world, once mind is correctly characterised.

All welcome!


2 Responses

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  1. Colin Reveley said, on February 19, 2008 at 12:04 am

    this sounds really fascinating – wish I could be there. Should you have a paper or even ppt I’d be really grateful to read it


  2. Mike Beaton said, on February 20, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    OK, I’ve changed my mind. Just about one thing in the above. (So far?!)

    I do still think that I have provided a non-representational characterisation of the mental.

    And I still don’t understand the characterisation of the mental which non-conceptualists are using, which leads them to think that some non-conceptual (in the sense described in the talk) sensitivities to the world might still be mental sensitivities.

    But I no longer think that non-conceptualism is “irreducibly wedded to the representational theory of mind”. I take that back. I didn’t have any slides saying it in the talk – and I no longer want to say it.

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