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Programme of Events 2019-20

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Philosophy Department Colloquium: Richard Moore: 'The Communicative Foundations of Propositional Attitude Psychology'

Location: By Zoom

Speaker: Richard Moore

The Communicative Foundations of Propositional Attitude Psychology


According to a widely held dogma, a developed propositional attitude psychology is a prerequisite of attributing communicative intent, and so a developmental prerequisite of natural language acquisition. This view is difficult to reconcile with developmental evidence, which shows not only that children do not develop propositional attitudes until they are four years old (e.g. Rakoczy 2017), but also that this development is parasitic upon natural language acquisition (de Villiers & de Villers 2000; Lohmann & Tomasello 2003; Low 2010), and that it recruits brain regions that do not exist in infancy (Grosse-Wiesmann et al. 2017). Against the received view, and building on my work on minimally Gricean communication (Moore 2017a), I sketch a developmental trajectory to show how propositional attitude psychology could be both invented and learned through communicative interaction. I finish by considering the conditions in which cultural tools for mental state representation might first have been developed in human history; and the extent to which our early human ancestors might have lacked propositional attitudes. The goal of the paper will not be to show that strong nativism about human mindreading must be false, but that there is no reason to take it for granted in considering the origins of the modern human mind.

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