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John Kulvicki, "Distinguishing representational kinds by parts"

Pictures are an important instance of a broader kind of representation, one that includes maps, graphs, and diagrams. The distinction between linguistic and imagistic, propositional and non-propositional representation comes down to how they have syntactic parts. Linguistic representations are such that all of their syntactic parts are separable. Imagistic or non-propositional representations are such that none of their syntactic parts are separable. The challenge is explaining what separability is, and then arguing, against what seems to be compelling evidence, that the rather extreme allnone claims hold for each kind of representation. Separability is a new notion, though, like any idea, it has ancestors.

When language-minded philosophers have turned their attention to pictures and other non-linguistic representations, they looked for separable syntactic parts. That’s what we find in language, after all, and separable parts are very important for understanding how languages can do what they do. In fact, it even seems as though pictures and maps 3 have separable parts, and some very interesting philosophy came out of attempts to understand them in this way. Despite all of that, trying to understand pictures with a syntactic model derived from language was a mistake, as I’ll try to convince you, and we do better by acknowledging a deeper distinction between these kinds.