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Vázquez Troitiño, V.

Department of Theoretical Philosophy

A critical evaluation of Millikan's Pushmi-Pullyu animals

Millikan's project attempts to explain the increase of cognitive powers in terms of a subtle process of differentiation of the pushmi and the pullyu side of Pushmi – Pullyu Representations (PPRs). The notion of Pushmi – Pullyu Representation (PPR) is an invention of Millikan. The distinctive feature of the PPR is that it simultaneously describes (pushmi) a situation (e.g. the exact location of a food source) and directs (pullyu) what to do (e.g. command an animal to move towards a source of food). For instance, the call of a hen is a PPR because it aims at indicating to the chicks when and where there is food and directs them towards it.

At the beginning, the pushmi and the pullyu side of the PPR are not separated, but some animals, as they mature, are capable of separating both sides, thus creating only pushmis and only pullyus representations. Millikan thinks that systems that cannot differentiate the pusmhi and the pullyu side of the PPR exhibit the lowest degree of cognition, whereas, systems that can fully separate the pushmi and the pullyu sides are capable of the highest degree of cognition. One of Millikan's strongest claims, though usually unperceived, is that any system that employs Pushmi – Pullyu Representations (no matter the degree of separation of its sides) is a cognitive system.

In the thesis I defend that 1) Millikan overattributes PPR (and that, as a consequence of this, she also overattributes cognition); 2) the pure Pushmi- Pullyu animal (a kind of animal that employs PPRs) does not deserve to be treated as a cognitive system; 3) Millikan's explanation of the increase of cognitive powers as a consequence of the aforementioned process presents some difficulties.

Last modified:10 September 2015 12.03 p.m.