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Mental models and meaning: an analysis into the validity of Philip Johnson-Laird’s adoption of Peircean iconism

Fowler, Mark Thomas (2015) Mental models and meaning: an analysis into the validity of Philip Johnson-Laird’s adoption of Peircean iconism. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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The recent trend within cognitive science toward the adoption of a de re account of semantic content has been accepted by some theorists without due consideration, an oversight that has generated a number of logical inconsistencies in the literature. This thesis endeavours to shed light on this omission, and the effects thereof, by scrutinising the account of one such theorist: The psychologist Philip Johnson-Laird. Herein, Johnson-Laird’s introduction of a Peircean iconism is subjected to a thorough analysis and, in this way, an important example of the problematic tensions created by a failure to address the substantial nature of a theory, before its wholesale integration into a philosophy, is revealed. The philosophic method of analysis and synthesis is applied to the arguments and hypotheses of Philip Johnson-Laird, thereby demonstrating the base assumptions that constitute his account of cognition and the relationships between these assumptions. Investigation of the results of this method identifies logical inconsistency present in the hypothesis and, following Popper and Quine, logical inconsistency is taken as a disproof of a theory. The study concludes that, although Johnson-Laird’s updated philosophy was able to dissolve historical arguments against his theory, his use of Peircean iconism is inconsistent in its own right and produces serious tensions with aspects of his extant philosophy. As such, it is concluded that Johnson-Laird’s externalist semantics fails and it is recommended that his account of semantics be reconsidered.

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