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The Mental States of Persons and their Brains

  • Tim Crane (a1)


Cognitive neuroscientists frequently talk about the brain representing the world. Some philosophers claim that this is a confusion. This paper argues that there is no confusion, and outlines one thing that ‘the brain represents the world’ might mean, using the notion of a model derived from the philosophy of science. This description is then extended to make apply to propositional attitude attributions. A number of problems about propositional attitude attributions can be solved or dissolved by treating propositional attitudes as models.


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1 Frith, Chris, Making Up the Mind (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell 2007), 128.

2 See Bennett, M.R. and Hacker, P.M.S., Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).

3 Ibid., 72.

4 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953), §281.

5 M.K. Bennett and P.M.S. Hacker, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, 3.

6 Stephen Mulhall, Stanton lectures 2014, University of Cambridge (unpublished).

7 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §67.

8 Dennett, Content and Consciousness (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1969) 95.

9 Ibid., 95.

10 Dennett, Daniel C., ‘Philosophy as Naive Anthropology: Comment on Bennett and Hacker’ in Neuroscience and Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 87–9.

11 Fodor, Jerry A., The Language of Thought (Hassocks: Harvester 1975). For a critical overview, see Schneider, Susan, The Language of Thought (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press 2011).

12 Fodor, Jerry A., LOT2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

14 Suppes, Patrick, ‘A Comparison of the Meaning and Uses of Models in Mathematics and the Empirical SciencesSynthese 12 (1960), 287301 ; Van Fraassen, Bas, The Scientific Image (Oxford Oxford University Press, 1980).

15 See e.g., Giere, Ronald N., ‘Using Models to Represent Reality’ in Model-Based Reasoning in Scientific Discovery, (ed.) Magnani, L., Nersessian, N. J., and Thagard, P. (New York: Kluwer/Plenum, 1999), 4157.

16 See Stephen Downes, ‘The Importance of Models in Theorizing: a Deflationary Semantic View’ in Hull D, Forbes M, Okruhlik K (eds) PSA 1992, vol. 1. Philosophy of Science Association, East Lansing (1992), 142–153; and Thomson-Jones, MartinModels and the Semantic ViewPhilosophy of Science 73 (2006), 524535.

17 Godfrey-Smith, PeterThe Strategy of Model-Based ScienceBiology and Philosophy 21 (2006), 725740 ; 733.

18 See Downes, ‘The Importance of Models in Theorizing: a Deflationary Semantic View’, 145–6.

19 Who is a Modeler?British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 58 (2007), 207233 ; 208.

20 See Giere, ‘Using Models to Represent Reality’.

21 See Crane, Tim, The Mechanical Mind (London: Routledge, 2003) chapter 4, for an exposition of this argument.

22 For this distinction, see Searle, John R., Intentionality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

23 For defences of the latter thesis, see John Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, and Galen Strawson, Mental Reality.

24 See Davidson, Donald, ‘Mental Events’ in Essays on Actions and Events (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982). In chapter 4 of The Objects of Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2013) I offer a critique of propositionalism which is independent of the present paper.

25 Fodor, Jerry A., ‘Propositional AttitudesThe Monist 61 (1978) 501–23.

26 Field, Hartry, ‘Mental RepresentationErkenntnis 13 (1978) 961 , 10.

27 Cummins, Robert, Meaning and Mental Representation (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989), 144.

28 For a recent contribution to this debate see King, Jeffrey C., The Nature and Structure of Content (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

29 Rumfitt, Ian, ‘Truth and MeaningProceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 88 (2014), footnote 6.

30 Malcolm, Norman, ‘Thoughtless BrutesProceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 46 (1973), 520 ; cf. Davidson, Donald, ‘Thought and Talk’ in Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984).

31 See in particular, ‘Beyond Belief’.

32 Thanks to Ali Boyle, Dan Brigham, Katalin Farkas, Anthony O'Hear and Michael Weisberg for discussion, to members of the audience at the Royal Institute of Philosophy for helpful comments at the RIP meeting in February 2014, and to Stephen Mulhall for permitting me to quote from his unpublished work. An earlier version of this talk was given at the University of London's Institute of Philosophy in June 2012, at a workshop on Dennett's personal/sub-personal distinction; thanks to Dan Dennett for his comments on that occasion.

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The Mental States of Persons and their Brains

  • Tim Crane (a1)


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