The Naturalisation of Intentionality and Rationality Using Systems: A Functional Explanation of Mind, Agency and Intentionality in Human Linguistic Communities

Cameron, William Alfred (1998) The Naturalisation of Intentionality and Rationality Using Systems: A Functional Explanation of Mind, Agency and Intentionality in Human Linguistic Communities. MLitt(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis recognises two axioms of materialism. Firstly, that the human or other agent is within and is comprised of the same stuff as, a universe made up of material things, each of which is, in principle, explicable in materialist terms. Secondly, that the theorist is himself an agent, explicable within the theory of agency that he propounds. The author contends that any attempt to explain complex conscious human agency 'from the top down' faces either a potential regress of explaining the aetiology of human agency in terms of some agency of design or the view, canvassed by Colin McGinn, (1989), that the human mind is 'cognitively closed' to the concepts that would explain how human consciousness can arise from the material substance of the brain. The author has avoided this dilemma by postulating an austere characterisation of agency, from which the rich and manifold nature of human agency and intentionality has developed by the accidents of evolution. He holds that this austere agency may be explained by natural accidents of chemical combination that have led, by the accidents of evolution, to the phenomena of reproductive life, functionally characterised in this explanation by agency and autopoiesis. This austere characterisation of agency is an example of a functional system. Agency is a capacity of an entity within the physical system of an agent in the world. This capacity is enabled by functions that the author has named; 'perception', 'representation', 'cognitive process' and 'action'. Through the processes of perception, physical states of the world physically cause changes in representational states of agency; within cognitive processes, representational states combine to cause actions of agency that change states of the world, that includes the agent, in ways that maintain or tend towards those goal states of the agent in the world, that are postulated in a theory of agency. It is argued that this concept of agency is functionally isomorphic with the technological concept of regulation. Two theorems from regulation are particularly relevant. Firstly, Ashby's theorem that for successful regulation the variety of possible states in the regulator must at least match the variety of states regulated against. Secondly, the very idea of regulation stems from the epistemic contingency for the agent, of events regulated against. Life, as we know it on earth, is reproduced by reproductive behaviour that follows and reproduces the programmes encoded in DNA. The autopoietic maintenance of the structure of the living organism against the contingencies of an unpredictable world is enabled by the mechanisms of agency. The structure of the thesis and the ontological commitments of the author are set out in a first introductory chapter. In the second chapter the author summarises the history and currant range of application of the system concept and describes the philosophical implications of his notion of a physical system. The notions of physical cause, accident, function, supervenience, representation and alternative realisation that are assumed within the thesis are also described in this chapter. The third chapter is devoted to the development of the concept of agency as a capacity, characterized by goals and intentionality and enabled by the functions listed above. Examples of agency in the world are described in the fourth chapter. These range from the simple reflex agency of a governor, unicellular organism or part of a plant to the complex integrated agency of production control systems, advanced vertebrates, including us, and social groupings such as a colony of social insects or some aspects of a human corporation. Also, within this chapter, the author considers the impact of language on human social agency, the implications of social agency for the attribution of personhood and through semantic ascent, the social practices of attribution of meaning, truth and mind, and the prepositional attitudes. He concludes that, since agency necessarily involves an agent in its world and human language is about the world as it is for the human agent; language, agency and the world are explanatorily inseparable. In the fifth and sixth chapters the author applies his theory of human agency to the computational theory of mind and the apparent tension between determinism, free will and personal responsibility. The author concludes: Firstly, that the brain as an organ of representation, is not a computer since computation is an act of agency, although parts of the brain may have a combinatorial function within such acts. Secondly, if freedom is defined as an absence of physical constraint then a free agent is physically responsible for its acts. Within the social practice of attribution of personhood to the continuous ongoing agent within the community, each person is held responsible for his actions, including those that change the future agency of himself and others, for better or for worse, according to the valuation of the community. In a final chapter the author summarises some of the philosophical implications of his thesis. The notions of variety in regulation and of autopoiesis as a necessary criterion of life are used in the thesis and are explained in each of two appendices.

Item Type: Thesis (MLitt(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Adviser: Jim Edwards
Keywords: Philosophy, Linguistics
Date of Award: 1998
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1998-75867
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2019 09:15
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2019 09:15

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