Action-readiness in concepts, viewed through Teleosemantics and Predictive Processing

Project: HDR ProjectPhD

Project Details


The question of this research proposal concerns how some form of ‘action-readiness’ may constitute an intrinsic ingredient of concepts per se—a ‘covert’ yet individualising aspect of them. Exploring this question should help in understanding cognition, as the proposal involves comparing facets of two, arguably parallel yet complementary views. Each is based on first-principles of biology, and addresses how inference operates in perception. The views are Ruth Millikan’s theory of concepts (or unicepts), and the Predictive Processing Model (PPM), which posits two kinds of inference on which all cognition relies. Millikan’s work emerges wholly from philosophy, whereas PPM is more empirically derived. However, their overlapping contents plausibly sustain an informative synergy. Millikan stresses the role of concepts in abstract inference, but refrains from studying their interrelationships of context—a discussion that prospectively points to action-readiness. Moreover, her theory presents a typology of concepts that might credibly be enriched by shifting its focus to action-readiness, especially in the light of PPM’s inference kinds. Meanwhile, PPM’s literature firmly emphasises action-readiness within context-dependency, but excludes speculation about the relevant details of conceptual abstraction. Furthermore, via different approaches, Millikan and PPM each suggest that many concepts are ‘atomically’ acquired, and that mental media of sensory cognition supervene on modelling of sensorimotor activity. Comparing their approaches might give rise to unifying insights about the interplay of concepts, perceptions, memory, predictions, contextual priorities, and wants; and actions to resolve wants. Examining the outcome for potential integration with PPM will provide a useful check in terms of neuroscientific consistency. Accordingly, the research question is whether, through analysing and developing pertinent interfaces among the Millikan and PPM views, a persuasive case can be made that cognitive inference entails mental structures intrinsically bearing aspects of action-readiness that individualise concepts per se.
Effective start/end date20/08/19 → …