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  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: October 2010

Mental Representation and Mental Presentation


To the memory of Alan White

The idea of mental representation occupies a rather prominent place in much contemporary discussion, both in philosophy and cognitive science, and not as a particularly controversial idea either. My reflections here, however, are intended to douse much of that discussion with some cold water. I should emphasize at the outset that I have no problems at all with the very idea of mental representation. What I find quite unsatisfactory is the philosophical or doctrinal underpinning of much current theorising about it. Anyway, I shall suggest that talk of mental representation needs at least to be supplemented with, if not actually replaced by, a distinct notion of mental presentation, which cannot be reduced to it. But I start with the notion of an impression.

1. An IMPRESSION is either *the act of impressing a mark* on something, or it is *the mark impressed*. So there are two impressions involved when I use a seal on a piece of wax: my act of using the seal (the impression-act), and the pattern that sets in the wax (the impression-object). Equally, though, an impression is *an effect produced (esp. on the mind or feelings)*. Thus I make such an impression-object on the minds of people at the cocktail party by going to it dressed as a yellow walrus. Harmlessly I shall also speak here of another impression, my impression-act of producing the effect at the party. And I'll say that the party-going case involves examples of folk-psychological impressions.