Minds and Machines

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 309–329 | Cite as

Pictures, Plants, and Propositions

  • Alex MorganEmail author


Philosophers have traditionally held that propositions mark the domain of rational thought and inference. Many philosophers have held that only conceptually sophisticated creatures like us could have propositional attitudes. But in recent decades, philosophers have adopted increasingly liberal views of propositional attitudes that encompass the mental states of various non-human animals. These views now sit alongside more traditional views within the philosophical mainstream. In this paper I argue that liberalized views of propositional attitudes are so liberal that they encompass states of all sorts of apparently mindless systems like circadian clocks in plants. I begin by arguing that on the most well-developed and widely endorsed theories of underived representation in philosophy, circadian clocks qualify as representations. I then argue that standard reasons for thinking that perceptual states and pictures have propositional content carry over to circadian clocks. Finally, I argue that circadian representations in plants play the kind of functional role that is widely taken to be partly constitutive of belief-like attitudes. So according to mainstream theories of representation, propositions, and attitudes, plants have propositional attitudes. Yet on other more traditional views, this conclusion would seem absurd. So, contrary to appearances, there is no shared, stable understanding of what propositional attitudes are in contemporary philosophy.


Circadian clocks Intentionality Perceptual content Plant intelligence Propositional attitudes Representation 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyRice UniversityHoustonUSA

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