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Question Session 01

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The Questions

This session covers three questions:

  • [Abiopa] Do habitual processes not still occur with the desire/intention of bringing about the same outcome as in the past? (Two answers are offered: no; and sort of.)
  • [Tiago] How should we understand the term 'representation'? (More on this below.)
  • [Jan] Will there be a reading list for this module? (I take you through the various ways of construction one, whether you need the bare minimum to pass or can dedicate some hours to research for the course each week.)

Identifying a Form of Representation (Tiago’s Question)

On a widely accepted view, representations involve subjects having attitudes toward contents. Possible attitudes include believing, wanting, intending and knowing. The content is what distinguishes one belief from all others, or one desire from all others. The content is also what determines whether a belief is true or false, and whether a desire is satisfied or unsatisfied.

There are three main tasks in specifying a form of representation. The first task is to identify its subject (a person, perhaps; but not necessarily).

The second task is to characterise some attitudes. This typically involves specifying their distinctive functional and normative roles.[1]

The third task is to find a scheme for specifying the contents of mental states. This typically involves one or another kind of proposition, although some have suggested other abstract entities including map-like representations.[2]

There may be reasons to postulate further aspects of representations; later in the course we will encounter an argument for the view that representations can differ in format as well as in content.

Interpreting the Dual-Process Theory of Instrumental Action

In formulating the dual-process theory of instrumental action, Dickinson (2016, p. 177) mentions representations but does not explicitly identify subject, attitude or scheme for specifying content. How should we do this?

One possibility would be to identify the representations with beliefs and desires (as hinted at in the table in Instrumental Actions: Goal-Directed and Habitual). In this case we incur commitments related to features associated with beliefs and desires, such as the inferential integration of belief. If the representations involved in goal-directed processes lack these features, the identification of them with beliefs and desires would fail (and I think Klossek, Yu, & Dickinson (2011)’s findings, discussed in Goal-Directed and Habitual: Some Evidence, could provide grounds to suspect this).

A different possibility would be to take Dickinson’s characterisation of goal-directed processes as providing an implicit functional role, and then use this to characterise the attitude.

Ask a Question

Your question will normally be answered in the question session of the next lecture.

More information about asking questions.


dual-process theory of instrumental action : instrumental action ‘is controlled by two dissociable processes: a goal-directed and an habitual process’ (Dickinson, 2016, p. 177).
inferential integration : For states to be inferentially integrated means that: (a) they can come to be nonaccidentally related in ways that are approximately rational thanks to processes of inference and practical reasoning; and (b) in the absence of obstacles such as time pressure, distraction, motivations to be irrational, self-deception or exhaustion, approximately rational harmony will characteristically be maintained among those states that are currently active.
instrumental action : An action is instrumental if it happens in order to bring about an outcome, as when you press a lever in order to obtain food. (In this case, obtaining food is the outcome, lever pressing is the action, and the action is instrumental because it occurs in order to bring it about that you obtain food.)
You may variations on this definition of instrumental in the literature. Dickinson (2016, p. 177) characterises instrumental actions differently: in place of the teleological ‘in order to bring about an outcome’, he stipulates that an instrumental action is one that is ‘controlled by the contingency between’ the action and an outcome. And de Wit & Dickinson (2009, p. 464) stipulate that ‘instrumental actions are learned’.


Braddon-Mitchell, D., & Jackson, F. (1996). Philosophy of mind and cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.
Bratman, M. E. (1987). Intentions, plans, and practical reasoning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
de Wit, S., & Dickinson, A. (2009). Associative theories of goal-directed behaviour: A case for animalhuman translational models. Psychological Research PRPF, 73(4), 463–476.
Dickinson, A. (2016). Instrumental conditioning revisited: Updating dual-process theory. In J. B. Trobalon & V. D. Chamizo (Eds.), Associative learning and cognition (Vol. 51, pp. 177–195). Edicions Universitat Barcelona.
Egan, F. (2014). How to think about mental content. Philosophical Studies, 170(1), 115–135.
Klossek, U. M. H., Yu, S., & Dickinson, A. (2011). Choice and goal-directed behavior in preschool children. Learning & Behavior, 39(4), 350–357.
Velleman, D. (2000). The possibility of practical reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  1. For examples, see Bratman (1987) on intention or Velleman (2000, p. chapter 11) on belief. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. See Braddon-Mitchell & Jackson (1996, p. 163): `what is inside our heads should be thought of as more like maps than sentences.’ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎