Goal Ascription for the A-rational

Sam Clarke (University of Oxford)

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Abstract: This paper advances three claims concerning the cognitive processes that underpin human goal ascriptions. First, I propose that many of our leading theories of goal ascription hold, or seem committed to holding, that the goals of others’ actions can only be identified through a process of approximately rational, abductive reasoning (§1). Second, I argue that there is reason to question this commitment. Some goals appear to be identified by fast, inaccessible and informationally encapsulated cognitive processes. This suggests that they are identified by input systems—akin to those involved in speech and sensory perception—rather than the central systems that rational abduction paradigmatically involves (§2). Third, I suggest that there are independent reasons to take this latter proposal seriously and no obvious reasons to reject it (§3). This presents a challenge to the existing views of goal ascription discussed in §1 and raises a number of important questions for future research.

Keywords: goal ascription, modularity, abduction, teleological stance, theory of mind

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