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teracts with water in the ways that most of us do: He drinks it, washes
with it, and sees it falling from the sky as rain. Oscar, who has no special
chemical knowledge about the nature of water, will associate a range of
descriptions with his term “water”: It is a liquid that one can drink, that
is used to wash, and that falls from the sky as rain. On a descriptive view
of reference, these descriptions, what the logician Gottlob Frege called
the sense and Rudolph Carnap the intension of the term, determine the
reference of Oscar™s term “water.” That is, the reference or extension
of Oscar™s term “water” is ¬xed by the set of descriptions he attaches to
the term as part of his grasp of its sense. And since those descriptions,
so grasped, are “in the head,” natural language reference on this view is
individualistic.4
Individualism and Externalism in Cognitive Sciences
84

To continue Putnam™s argument, now imagine a molecule-for-mole-
cule doppelg¨ nger of Oscar, Oscar*, who lives on a planet just like Earth
a
in all respects but one: The substance that people drink, wash with, and
see falling from the sky is not water (that is, H2 O), but a substance with
a different chemical structure, XYZ. Call this planet “Twin Earth.” This
substance, XYZ, is called “water” on Twin Earth, and Oscar*, as a dop-
pelg¨ nger or twin of Oscar, has the same beliefs about it as Oscar has about
a
water on Earth. (Recall that Oscar, and thus Oscar* as his twin, have no
special knowledge of the chemical structure of water.) Oscar* believes
that it falls from the sky as rain, is drinkable, can be used for bathing,
is found in rivers and streams “ all the things that Oscar believes of wa-
ter. Oscar and Oscar* associate just the same descriptions with the term
“water”: their term has the same meaning, sense, or intension, where
these are conceived individualistically. On a descriptive theory of refer-
ence, since meaning determines reference, their terms “water” should
have the same reference.
But there are several reasons to resist the claim that Oscar and Oscar*
have a term, “water” with a common reference. First, recall that Twin
Earth is introduced as being just like Earth, except that it has another
substance, XYZ, in place of water, that is, H2 O. If this is right, then it
is hard to see how Oscar* could come to refer to water, since there is
no water on his planet. Twin Earth has what we might call “twin-water”
or “twater” on it, not water, and it is twater that Oscar* interacts with,
not water. Second, Oscar and Oscar* stand in the same relation to their
respective environments, which suggests a certain parity in their cases.
Given that Oscar™s term “water” refers to or is about water, then Oscar*™s
term “water” refers to or is about twater. Putting these two points together:
If Oscar uses “water” to refer to water because that is the stuff that is in his
local environment, then Oscar should use “water” to refer to twater, for
just the same reason. That implies that Oscar and Oscar* have natural
language terms that differ in their reference. And this is so despite the fact
that their terms agree in their in-the-head meaning. By hypothesis, Oscar
and Oscar* are doppelg¨ ngers, and so are identical in all their intrinsic
a
properties, and so are identical with respect to what™s “in the head.” Thus,
Putnam argues, the reference of the natural language terms that Oscar
uses is not metaphysically determined by what is in Oscar™s head.
Putnam™s target was a tradition of thinking about language that treated
the meanings of natural language terms and language more generally in
ways that supposed that the world beyond the individual language user did
not exist. With a focus on natural kind terms, and the broader, naturalistic
Individualism: Philosophical Foundations 85

alternative that Putnam saw himself as offering, Putnam™s views here be-
came associated with scienti¬c and metaphysical realism, whereby the
referents of those terms, natural kinds, had underlying essences that
were discovered a posteriori through scienti¬c methodology. Thus, part
of the interest that Putnam™s views have generated, and some of the con-
troversies they have engendered, turn on these broader features of his
views.5
Since Putnam™s chief point is one about natural language terms and the
relationship of their semantics to what™s inside the head, one needs at least
to extend his reasoning from language to thought to arrive at a position
that denies individualism about the mind itself. Indeed, there are various
points at which Putnam himself seems to presuppose individualism about
the mind in making his case against descriptive theories of reference. For
example, Putnam says, in reference to a doppelg¨ nger of his whose word
a
“elm” refers not to elms but to beech trees that “[i]t is absurd to think
his psychological state is one bit different from mine: yet he ˜means™ beech
when he says ˜elm™ and I ˜mean™ elm when I say elm. Cut the pie any way you
like, ˜meanings™ just ain™t in the head.” It is precisely the view that Putnam
labels as absurd here, however, that is expressed by anti-individualists
about the mind.6
The term “individualism” itself, and the development of a series of
thought experiments that made a case against individualism and which in
many ways paralleled Putnam™s Twin Earth thought experiment, were in-
troduced by Tyler Burge in “Individualism and the Mental.” Burge identi-
¬ed individualism as an overall conception of the mind prevalent in mod-
ern philosophical thinking at least since Descartes in the mid-seventeenth
century, and argued that our common sense psychological framework for
explaining behavior, our folk psychology, was not individualistic. Impor-
tantly, Burge was explicit in making a case against individualism that did
not turn on perhaps controversial claims about the semantics of natural
kind terms. He developed his case against individualism using agents with
thoughts about arthritis, sofas, and contracts, and so his argument did
not presuppose any type of scienti¬c essentialism about natural kinds.
Like Putnam™s argument, however, Burge™s argument does presuppose
some views about natural language understanding.7
The most central of these is that we can and do have incomplete un-
derstanding of many of the things that we have thoughts about and for
which we have natural language terms. Given that, it is possible for an
individual to have thoughts that turn on this incomplete understanding,
such as the thought that one has arthritis in one™s thigh muscle. Arthritis
Individualism and Externalism in Cognitive Sciences
86

is a disease only of the joints, or as we might put it, “arthritis” in our speech
community applies only to a disease of the joints. Consider an individual,
Bert, with the thought that he would express by saying “I have arthritis in
my thigh.” In the actual world, this is a thought about arthritis; it is just
that Bert has an incomplete or partially mistaken view of the nature of
arthritis, and so expresses a false belief with this sentence. But now imag-
ine Bert as living in a different speech community, one in which the term
“arthritis” does apply to a disease both of the joints and of other parts of
the body, including the thigh. In that speech community, Bert™s thought
would not involve the sort of incomplete understanding that it involves
in the actual world; in fact, his thought in such a world would be true.
Given the differences in the two speech communities, it seems that an
individual with thoughts about what he calls “arthritis” will have different
thoughts in the two communities. In the actual world, Bert has thoughts
about arthritis. In the counterfactual world he has thoughts about some
other disease, what we might refer to as “tharthritis” to distinguish it from
the disease that we have in the actual world.
In principle, we could suppose that Bert himself is identical across the
two contexts, that is, that he is identical in all intrinsic respects. Yet we at-
tribute thoughts with different contents to Bert, and seem to do so solely
because of features of the language community in which he is located.
Thus, the content of one™s thoughts, and so how we taxonomize those
thoughts as intentional states, is not metaphysically determined by the
intrinsic properties of the individual. And again taking a difference in
the content of two thoughts to imply a difference between the thoughts
themselves, this implies in turn that thoughts themselves are not individ-
uated individualistically.
One contrast sometimes drawn between the externalist views of
Putnam and Burge is to characterize Putnam™s view as a form of physical
externalism and Burge™s view as a form of social externalism. According
to Putnam, it is the character of the physical world “ the nature of wa-
ter itself “ that, in part, metaphysically determines the content of one™s
mind, while according to Burge it is the character of the social world “
the nature of one™s linguistic community “ that does so. While this differ-
ence may serve as a useful reminder of one way in which these two views
differ, we should also keep in mind a social aspect to Putnam™s view of
natural language that I have not yet mentioned: his division of linguistic
labor. What allows individuals to use natural kind terms to refer to objects
in the world despite those individuals not necessarily having identifying
descriptions, according to Putnam, is their ability to borrow reference
Individualism: Philosophical Foundations 87

from others, experts, who are able to reliably pick out those referents
through their knowledge. Important to both Burge™s and Putnam™s views
is the idea that language users and psychological beings depend and rely
on one another in ways that are re¬‚ected in our everyday, common sense
ways of thinking about language and thought. Thus, there is a social as-
pect to the nature of meaning and thought on both views, and this is in
part what justi¬es the appropriateness of the label anti-individualism for
each of them.8
I close this section with a parenthetical observation that raises one issue
for further thought. The contrast between the individual and the social is
built into the debate between individualists and externalists. This contrast
takes different forms in the cognitive, biological, and social sciences, but it
remains central to in¬‚uential views in all three. We might wonder just why,
whether there is a theoretically illuminating account of the distinction
itself, and why it has such ubiquitous appeal in the fragile sciences.


4 the social aspect to having a mind
In retrospect, Putnam™s conclusions about natural language meaning
should have been no real surprise since there is obviously a social dimen-
sion to language. While the fact that language is used in a social context,
and that one of its chief functions is to communicate between individu-
als or groups of individuals, have rarely been completely ignored in the
philosophy of language and cognitive science, a range of dominant views
about language have, however, downplayed these aspects of language and
treated them derivatively.
For example, Paul Grice had proposed that we understand what a
speaker means by an utterance in terms of a complex set of intentions
that that speaker has, and that we then understand what a sentence means
in terms of this notion of speaker meaning. Part of the complexity to a
speaker™s intention was that it was an intention to effect a change in the
mental states of one or more hearers. Thus, there clearly is a communica-
tive aspect to Grice™s proposal. But like descriptivism about reference, this
is an account of meaning given primarily in terms of what happens in the
head of a given speaker, with shared, interpersonal meaning “ what Grice
called sentence meaning “ analyzed in terms of individual speaker mean-
ing. Thus, as Burge pointed out in “Individualism and the Mental,” the
Gricean program in semantics is individualistic. The same general point
holds of a range of other in¬‚uential views of natural language: for exam-
ple, David Lewis™s account of convention, Noam Chomsky™s conception of
Individualism and Externalism in Cognitive Sciences
88

linguistics, and early attempts to develop natural language understanding
programs in arti¬cial intelligence.9
Although I have emphasized the similarities between the externalist
arguments of Putnam and Burge, the corresponding moral that can be
drawn from Burge™s argument “ that there is a social dimension to having
a mind “ remains striking, even in retrospect. This is so not only because
one might think that mental states do not primarily serve a communica-
tive function, but also because the very enterprise of understanding the
complexities of the mind directs us inside the head. I want to point to
two distinct features of minds and how they have been thought about to
illustrate this.
First, the cognitive sciences have developed an elaborate conception
of cognition as a form of computation. In what has become known as
“classical” cognitive science, the focus here has been on the speci¬c algo-
rithms governing state-to-state transitions between internal, mental sym-
bols. On this conception, any social aspect to cognition would need to
be secondary or derivative in some way, since computation itself is funda-
mentally asocial. This asociality assumption would also seem to be shared
by connectionist variations on the computational theme, whereby cogni-
tion is at bottom the adjustment of connection weights between idealized,
neurally inspired nodes. Likewise, the development of computational
techniques within cognitive neuroscience, from single-cell computation
to computation in relatively large-scale units, such as columns and mod-
ules, has not provided any reason to give up this assumption. As a kind
of computation, cognition is not social at all.
Second, we are conscious of many of our mental states. There is some-
thing it is like to have them, a phenomenology to our mental lives that is
“had,” that is experienced, from a particular perspective, that of the ¬rst
person. If we focus not on the intentionality of mental states but on their
phenomenology, there seems less room for an externalist “ let alone a
social “ dimension to mentality. There is simply an asymmetry between
how I know about my own mental life and how I ¬nd out about those of
others, one that makes it dif¬cult to see how externalism could be true
of that part of mentality of which we are conscious. We are intimate with
some of our own mental states, and have a knowledge of them whose
directness and noninferential nature seem hard to reconcile with the
idea that such states are metaphysically determined by factors beyond
the head, including social factors. Indeed, our ¬rst-person knowledge
of the mind has been thought to be incompatible with externalism in
general.10
Individualism: Philosophical Foundations 89

Other aspects of our conception of minds, however, are more con-
ducive to the claim that the mind is itself social in nature. The ¬rst of
these is the idea that cognition is situated or embedded in a particular so-
cial environment. The social embeddedness of thought is apparent both
in Putnam™s appeal to the division of linguistic labor and Burge™s reliance
on incomplete understanding, and some work in the cognitive sciences
has adopted this sort of view of cognition from a more general and devel-
oped interest in embedded cognition. Work on embedded or situation
cognition has often focused on how individuals become tightly coupled to
their physical (rather than their social) environments, concentrating on
the role of the physical environment in enhancing or even constituting
individual performance. But other people and the artifacts, institutions,
practices, and interactions they both create and inherit are the most sig-
ni¬cant feature of any individual™s environment for her mental life, a
point being slowly taken up within some areas of the cognitive sciences.11
A second way in which sociality has been thought to permeate the
psychological is via the idea that the mental is normative. The source
of this normativity is the social world: from interpersonal relationships,
to institutional roles, conventions, and institutions themselves. Ordinary
folk psychological ascriptions carry with them normative and not just
descriptive implications, those concerning justi¬cation, rationality, and
appropriateness of what those states are about. This normative dimen-
sion to the mental has been recognized in the idea that mental states
provide reasons for acting, and it forms the backbone of interpretation-
ist views of folk psychology, such as those of Donald Davidson and Daniel
Dennett. These discussions predate, and have been largely orthogonal
to, the individualism-externalism debate.12
Others have made a more direct connection between these two issues,
normativity and externalism. Burge himself has argued for externalism
via an appeal to the normativity of perception and the general idea of in-
tellectual norms. And normative requirements have been taken by some
to provide the basis for distinguishing between simple intentionality and
truly thoughtful intentionality of the type that human beings possess.
Philip Pettit, for example, has argued that rule following is one thing
that distinguishes true thinkers from merely intentional creatures, and
that rule following requires what Pettit calls an ethocentric conception of
thought, one which views thought as involving activity in an interpersonal,
social world.13
It is in what we might call the “Pittsburgh school” of thought, rooted in

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