By James Russell
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Extra resources for Explaining Mental Life: Some Philosophical Issues in Psychology
84 Students of the growth of meaning now generally accept the view that before the child ever produces anything recognisable as a word he means- principally by manual and vocal gesture. Now there are a host of what are generally described as 'functionalist' philosophies of language which promise the conceptual tools for the analysis of such sub-linguistic meanings. They all assume an intimate association between non-verbal intentions and linguistic meanings: 'The traditions of ... Mead and Dewey, of Wittgenstein and Grice' Davidson has called it.
We assume instead that either we were mistaken about the degree to which that agent was in a rational state of mind prior to the action, or that the agent changed his mind between our correct reading of his mental state and his performance of the act. Why do we proceed like this? Because, says Pettit, 'the assumption of rationality is so deeply embedded in our habits of thought about action'. 46 Indeed the assumption of rationality is. But what Pettit's argument does is to indicate a crucial feature of our mental orientation towards the status of rationality- that rationality is 'no respecter of persons'.
Reversibility in this context means the acquisition of the ability to 'decentre' or prise thought free of the uni-dimensional property and focus on the other uni-dimensional property of width decrease and on the possibility of reversing the process. On Piaget's account the child's problem resides in his basic cognitive operations, or lack of them, not in his ability to 42 Explaining Mental Life understand crucial linguistic terms such as 'amount'; or rather that such linguistic understanding presupposes cognitive operations of the kind Piaget was describing.