Philosophical Studies

, Volume 137, Issue 2, pp 205–241 | Cite as

Computation without Representation



The received view is that computational states are individuated at least in part by their semantic properties. I offer an alternative, according to which computational states are individuated by their functional properties. Functional properties are specified by a mechanistic explanation without appealing to any semantic properties. The primary purpose of this paper is to formulate the alternative view of computational individuation, point out that it supports a robust notion of computational explanation, and defend it on the grounds of how computational states are individuated within computability theory and computer science. A secondary purpose is to show that existing arguments for the semantic view are defective.


Computational State Mechanistic Explanation Semantic Property Semantic View Syntactic Property 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bechtel W. and Richardson R.C. (1993). Discovering Complexity: Decomposition and Localization as Scientific Research Strategies. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar
  2. Bontly T. (1998). Individualism and the Nature of Syntactic States. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 49: 557–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Burge T. (1986). Individualism and Psychology. Philosophical Review 95: 3–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Butler K. (1996). Content, Computation and Individuation in Vision Theory. Analysis 56: 146–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chalmers D.J. (1996). Does a Rock Implement Every Finite-State Automaton?. Synthese 108: 310–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Copeland B.J. (1996). What is Computation?. Synthese 108: 224–359Google Scholar
  7. Crane T. (1990). The Language of Thought: No Syntax Without Semantics. Mind and Language 5(3): 187–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Craver, C. (forthcoming): ‘Explaining the Brain, Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  9. Cummins R. (1983). The Nature of Psychological Explanation. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  10. Davidson, D. (1970): ‘Mental Events. Experience and Theory in L. Foster and J.W. Swanson’, Amherst, MA, University of Massachusetts Press. Reprinted in Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1980Google Scholar
  11. Dean, W. (2002): What Algorithms Could Not Be. In Proceedings of the Computing and Philosophy Conference, Pittsburgh, PAGoogle Scholar
  12. Dennett D.C. (1987). The Intentional Stance. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  13. Dietrich E. (1989). Semantics and the Computational Paradigm in Cognitive Psychology. Synthese 79: 119–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Egan F. (1992). Individualism, Computation and Perceptual Content. Mind 101(403): 443–459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Egan F. (1995). Computation and Content. Philosophical Review 104: 181–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Egan F. (1999). In Defence of Narrow Mindedness. Mind and Language 14(2): 177–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Egan F. (2003). ‘Naturalistic Inquiry: Where Does Mental Representation Fit in?’. In: Antony, L.M. and Hornstein, N. (eds) Chowsky and His Critics, pp 89–104. Blackwell, MaldenGoogle Scholar
  18. Fodor J.A. (1968). The Appeal to Tacit Knowledge in Psychological Explanation. Journal of Philosophy 65: 627–640CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fodor J.A. (1975). The Language of Thought. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  20. Fodor J.A. (1978). ‘Tom Swift and His Procedural Grandmother’. Cognition 6: 229–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fodor J.A. (1980). ‘Methodological Solipsism Considered as a Research Strategy in Cognitive Psychology’. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3(1): 63–109Google Scholar
  22. Fodor J.A. (1981): ‘The Mind–Body Problem’, Scientific American 244 (January 1981). Reprinted in Heil, J. (ed.) (2004a). Philosophy of Mind: A Guide and Anthology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 168–182Google Scholar
  23. Fodor J.A. (1987). Psychosemantics. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  24. Fodor J.A. (1998). Concepts. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  25. Frank R. (1994). Instruments, Nerve Action and the All-or-None Principle. Osiris 9: 208–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Glennan S. (2002). Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation. Philosophy of Science 69: 5342–5353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Glymour C. (1991). Freud’s Androids. In: Neu, J. (eds) The Cambridge Companion to Freud, pp. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  28. Harman G. (1988). ‘Wide Functionalism’. In: Schiffer, S. and Steele, S. (eds) Cognition and Representation, pp 11–20. Westview, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  29. Horst S.W. (1996). Symbols, Computation and Intentionality: A Critique of the Computational Theory of Mind. University of California Press, Berkeley, CAGoogle Scholar
  30. Horst S. (1999). Symbols and Computation. Minds and Machines 9(3): 347–381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jacquette D. (1991). ‘The Myth of Pure Syntax’. In: Albertazzi, L. and Poli, R. (eds) Topics in Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence, pp 1–14. Istituto Mitteleuropeo di Cultura, BozenGoogle Scholar
  32. Kitcher P. (1985). Narrow Taxonomy and Wide Functionalism. Philosophy of Science 52(1): 78–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Machamer P.K., Darden L. and Craver C. (2000). Thinking About Mechanisms. Philosophy of Science 67: 1–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Machtey M. and Young P. (1978). An Introduction to the General Theory of Algorithms. North Holland, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  35. Markov A.A. (1960 [1951]). The Theory of Algorithms. American Mathematical Society Translations, Series 2 15: 1–14Google Scholar
  36. Marr D. (1982). Vision. Freeman, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  37. McCulloch W.S. and Pitts W.H. (1943). A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity. Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics 7: 115–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Newell A. (1980). Physical Symbol Systems. Cognitive Science 4: 135–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Peacocke C. (1994a). Content, Computation and Externalism. Mind and Language 9: 303–335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Peacocke C. (1994b). ‘Content’. In: Guttenplan, S. (eds) A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind, pp 219–225. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  41. Peacocke C. (1999). Computation as Involving Content: A Response to Egan. Mind and Language 14(2): 195–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Piccinini G. (2004a). Functionalism, Computationalism and Mental Contents. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 34(3): 375–410Google Scholar
  43. Piccinini G. (2004b). The First Computational Theory of Mind and Brain: A Close Look at McCulloch and Pitts’s ‘Logical Calculus of Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity’. Synthese 141(2): 175–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Piccinini, G. (forthcoming): ‘Computational Modeling vs. Computational Explanation: Is Everything a Turing Machine, and Does It Matter to the Philosophy of Mind?’ Australasian Journal of Philosophy Google Scholar
  45. Putnam H. (1967). Psychological Predicates. Art, Philosophy and Religion. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PAGoogle Scholar
  46. Putnam, H. (1975): ‘The Meaning of “Meaning”’, in K. Gunderson (ed.), Language, Mind and Knowledge, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Reprinted in Putnam, H. (1975): Mind, Language and Reality: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2. (pp. 215–271) Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  47. Pylyshyn Z.W. (1984). Computation and Cognition. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  48. Scheutz M. (1999). When Physical Systems Realize Functions. Minds and Machines 9: 161–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Searle J.R. (1980). Minds, Brains and Programs. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3: 417–457CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Searle J.R. (1992). The Rediscovery of the Mind. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  51. Segal G. (1989). Seeing What is Not There. Philosophical Review 98: 189–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Segal G. (1991). Defence of a Reasonable Individualism. Mind 100: 485–493CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Shagrir O. (1997). Two Dogmas of Computationalism. Minds and Machines 7(3): 321–344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Shagrir O. (1999). What is Computer Science About?. The Monist 82(1): 131–149Google Scholar
  55. Shagrir O. (2001). Content, Computation and Externalism. Mind 110(438): 369–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Shapiro L.A. (1994). Behavior, ISO Functionalism and Psychology. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 25(2): 191–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Shapiro L. (1997). A Clearer Vision. Philosophy of Science 64: 131–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Smith B.C. (1996). On the Origin of Objects. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  59. Stich S. (1983). From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  60. Wells A.J. (1998). Turing’s Analysis of Computation and Theories of Cognitive Architecture. Cognitive Science 22(3): 269–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wilson R.A. (1994). Wide Computationalism. Mind 103: 351–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wilson R.A. (2004). Boundaries of the Mind: The Individual in the Fragile Sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Missouri – St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

Personalised recommendations