Representation and Desire: A Philosophical Error with Consequences for Theory-of-Mind Research
Eric Schwitzgebel

Philosophical Psychology, 12 (1999), 157-180.


This paper distinguishes two conceptions of representation at work in the philosophical literature. On the first, "contentive" conception (found, for example, in Searle and Fodor), something is a representation, roughly, if it has "propositional content." On the second, "indicative" conception (found, for example, in Dretske), representations must not only have content but also have the function of indicating something about the world. Desire is representational on the first view but not on the second. This paper argues that philosophers and psychologists have sometimes conflated these two conceptions, and it examines the consequences of this conflation for the developmental literature on the child's understanding of mind. Specifically, recent research by Gopnik and Perner on the child's understanding of desire is motivated by an argument that equivocates between the two conceptions of representation. Finally, the paper suggests that an examination of when the child understands the possibility of misrepresentation in art would be helpful in charting the child's understanding of indicative representation.

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Representation and Desire: A Philosophical Error with Consequences for Theory of Mind Research

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