What Are Contentful Mental States? Dretske’s Theory of Mental Content Viewed in the Light of Robot Learning and Planning Algorithms

Paul Cohen, University of Massachusetts, and Mary Litch, University of Alabama

One concern of philosophy of mind is how sensorimotor agents such as human infants can develop contentful mental states. This paper discusses Fred Dretske’s theory of mental content in the context of results from our work with mobile robots. We argue that Dretske’s theory, while attractive in many ways, relies on a distinction between kinds of representations that cannot be practically maintained when the subject of one’s study is robotic agents. In addition, Dretske fails to distinguish classes of representations that carry different kinds of mental content. We conclude with directions for a theory of mental content that maintains the strengths of Dretske’s theory.

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