This project seeks to provide a new philosophical conception of goal-directedness that can serve as a foundation for integrating discoveries from different fields and stimulating scientific questions about its evolution, taxonomic distribution, and pathological manifestations. In particular, they will develop an account that addresses what is it for a creature to represent some aspect of its environment, how it relates to decision making, and how goal-directedness can fail. A key output of this work will be to reinvigorate discussions of goal-directedness that have avoided questions of mental representation and encourage researchers to more explicitly define and operationalize the concept, while attending to the fruitful intersection of biological work on goal-directedness and the cognitive science of representations and decision making.
Justin Garson is Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author of Madness: A Philosophical Exploration (Oxford, 2022), What Biological Functions Are and Why They Matter (Cambridge, 2019), A Critical Overview of Biological Functions (Springer, 2016), and The Biological Mind: A Philosophical Introduction (Routledge, 2015; second edition 2022). His main interest is thinking about teleology in the life sciences and developing its implications for debates in the philosophy of mind, medicine, and psychiatry. His aim for the John Templeton Foundation Science of Purpose Initiative is to explain goal-directedness in living creatures in terms of their capacity to make and use inner representations. In this way, he seeks to place the study of goal-directedness within the context of naturalistic, evolutionary accounts of representation.