Content: wide and narrow

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-W040-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

A central problem in philosophy is to explain, in a way consistent with their causal efficacy, how mental states can represent states of affairs in the world. Consider, for example, that wanting water and thinking there is some in the tap can lead one to turn on the tap. The contents of these mental states pertain to things in the world (water and the tap), and yet it would seem that their causal efficacy should depend solely on their internal characteristics, not on their external relations. That is, a person could be in just those states and those states could play just the same psychological roles, even if there were no water or tap for them to refer to. However, certain arguments, based on some imaginative thought experiments, have persuaded many philosophers that thought contents do depend on external factors, both physical and social. A tempting solution to this dilemma has been to suppose that there are two kinds of content, wide and narrow. Wide content comprises the referential relations that mental states bear to things and their properties. Narrow content comprises the determinants of psychological role. Philosophers have debated whether both notions of content are viable and, if so, how they are connected.

    Citing this article:
    Bach, Kent. Content: wide and narrow, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-W040-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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