The Explanatory Role of the Notion of Representation

Abstract: This paper investigates the explanatory role, in scientific theories, of the notion of representation and other kindred notions, such as the notions of information and coding. I develop a simple account of the use of the notion of a representation, or more specifically the notion of an inner map, in a class of explanations of animals' navigational capacities. I then show that the account, though simple, is more widely applicable than it seems, and I pose the question whether the same simple account could make sense of the use of representational notions in other kinds of scientific explanation, such as the explanations of neuroscience, genetics, developmental biology, cognitive psychology, and so on. I extend the account of the explanation of capacities to the explanation of behavior, and conclude by discussing representations of goals.


The frillfin goby

See a PDF version of "The Explanatory Role of the Notion of Representation".