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Content: wide and narrow

DOI: 10.4324/0123456789-W040-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

Debates about wide and narrow content concern the representational contents of psychological states such as beliefs and desires. In the mid-twentieth century, it became common among philosophers to think of the primary kind of content of psychological states as being the things in the world that the states refer to, or as being relations to those things. This kind of referential or extensional content is essentially relational, requiring the subject to stand in some relation to an existing thing outside their skin. Hence the moniker “wide content.” This was a radical departure from historically more common views according to which the primary content of psychological states does not depend on the subject standing in some relation to an existing thing outside their skin. That is, traditionally it has been more common to think of psychological content as being “narrow” rather than wide. Narrow content is content that is not wide.

The question of whether verbal or psychological content is sometimes or always wide, narrow, or both is hotly debated among philosophers. As noted above, the middle of the twentieth century saw the ascension of wide theories of content, but by the turn of the millennium there was a resurgence of the narrow theory, particularly among those who hoped to explain the phenomena of consciousness in terms of psychological content. For there is a strong tendency to think that what a subject’s conscious experiences are like for her does not depend on distal facts about the world she inhabits.

Citing this article:
Segal, Gabriel. Content: wide and narrow, 2017, doi:10.4324/0123456789-W040-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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