The Swampman puzzle and diachronic holism

Yujian ZHENG

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Is history essential to mind? If the answer is yes, then in what way do historical relations or contexts impose constitutive conditions on the current mental entities, or their normative status as intentional or contentful? Apart from the causal or etiological dimension, can history have some other important dimension(s) that may be relevant to mind? I will try a novel approach to these questions by revisiting the thought experiment of Donald Davidson's Swampman.

I will propose a distinct form of holism regarding historical entities within a broad naturalistic framework.

I call the thesis to be introduced “diachronic holism.” I will argue that the Swampman puzzle is resolvable by diachronic holism in a unique way, that is, against a certain characteristic orientation in teleosemantics, but without downplaying the overall role of evolution.3 My approach to the central challenge that the Swampman puzzle raises for teleosemantics was largely motivated by Dretske, but in contrast to his, and apparently also Davidson's, conclusion that Swampman is a zombie, I will argue that Swampman has a genuine mind.

In spite of the fact that diachronic holism is the central doctrine on which I rely to meet the challenge of Swampman, or certain possible future artificial duplicates of natural creatures, it is beyond the scope of this paper to give a full justification of this doctrine. My task here is to offer some adequate motivation and articulation of those essential aspects of the doctrine that warrant a focus shift, as far as historical entities are concerned, from upstream events to downstream uses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-193
Number of pages23
JournalThe Philosophical Forum
Issue number2
Early online date27 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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