Some books are just begging to be written. This is one such. It gives a long overdue
critical look at the nearly universal tendency to invoke the notion of ‘‘representation’’
as a theoretical posit in certain branches of the cognitive sciences, e.g., psychology
and neuroscience. As the preface and opening chapter make clear, Ramsey’s project
is to ask, from the vantage point of philosophy of science, whether positing
representations has the sort of explanatory value it is generally imagined to have.
His principal focus is to determine if the explanatory posits that are in fact employed
by these sciences meet the minimal criteria for doing bona fide representational work.
As he puts it, the question is whether or not such proposals meet the ‘‘job description
challenge.’’ Adequately meeting that challenge requires saying not only what
determines the content of a state or structure but also, critically, saying how that state
or structure serves or functions as a representation in a larger system. Ramsey’s
assessment is that when the notion of representation is invoked in an important class
of cases this challenge cannot be met. However, he claims (chapter 3) that there are,
at least, two prominent uses of the notion in the classical framework of cognitive
science that are exceptions to this rule. Nevertheless, even these uses—so he argues—
are at odds in important ways with the standard (folk psychological) interpretation
of what being a representation amounts to (chapter 2).