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State space semantics and conceptual similarity: reply to Churchland

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Jerry Fodor and Ernest Lepore \[(1992) Holism: a shopper’s guide, Oxford: Blackwell; (1996) in R. McCauley (Ed.) The Churchlands and their critics , Cambridge: Blackwell] have launched a powerful attack against Paul Churchland’s connectionist theory of semantics—also known as state space semantics. In one part of their attack, Fodor and Lepore argue that the architectural and functional idiosyncrasies of connectionist networks preclude us from articulating a notion of conceptual similarity applicable to state space semantics. Aarre Laakso and Gary Cottrell \[(1998) in M. A. Gernsbacher & S. Derry (Eds) Proceedings of the 20th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Mahway, NJ: Erlbaum; Philosophical Psychology ] 13, 47–76 have recently run a number of simulations on simple feedforward networks and applied a mathematical technique for measuring conceptual similarity in the representational spaces of those networks. Laakso and Cottrell contend that their results decisively refute Fodor and Lepore’s criticisms. Paul Churchland \[(1998) Journal of Philosophy, 95, 5–32 ] goes further. He uses Laakso and Cottrell’s neurosimulations to argue that connectionism does furnish us with all we need to construct a robust theory of semantics and a robust theory of translation. In this paper I shall argue that whereas Laakso and Cottrell’s neurocomputational results may provide us with a rebuttal of Fodor and Lepore’s argument, Churchland’s conclusion is far too optimistic. In particular, I shall try to show that connectionist modelling does not provide any objective criterion for achieving a one-to-one accurate translational mapping across networks.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2000-03-01

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