sa fie un test pentru viitor !
sa fie un test pentru viitor !
It's actually sort of remarkable that all of this is so. Pace Chapter 5, concepts really ought to be stereotypes. Not only because there's so much evidence that having a concept and having its stereotype are reliably closely correlated (andwhat better explanation of reliable close correlation could there be than identity?) but also because it is, as previouslynoted, generally stereotypic examples of X-ness that one learns X from. Whereas, what you'd expect people reliably to learnfrom stereotypic examples of Xisn't
How much such experience? And under what conditions of acquisition? I assume that there are (lots of) empirical parameters that a formulation of the laws of concept acquisition would have to fill in. Doing so would be the proprietary goal of a serious psychology of cognitive development. Which, to quote a poet, “in our case we have not
the conceptXbut theXstereotype.84 A stereotypic X is always a better instance of the X stereotype than it is of X; that is a truism.85
The classic example of this sort of worry is the puzzle in psycholinguistics about ‘Motherese’. It appears that mothers go out of their way to talk to children in stereotypic sentences of their native language; in the case of English, relativelyshort sentences with NVN structure (and/or Agent Action Object structure; see Chapter 3). The child is therebyprovided with a good sample of stereotypic English sentences, from which, however, he extracts not (anyhow, notonly) the concept STEREOTYPIC ENGLISH SENTENCE, but the concept ENGLISH SENTENCE TOUTCOURT. But why on Earth does he do that? Why doesn't he instead come to believe that the grammar of English is S^ NVN, or some fairly simple elaboration thereof, taking such apparent counter-examples as he may encounter as notwell-formed? Remember, on the one hand, that Mother is following a strategy of screening him from utterances ofunstereotypic sentences; and, on the other hand, that he'll hear lots of counter-examples to whatever grammar he triesout, since people say lots of ungrammatical things. I think the answer must be that it's a law about our kinds of minds thatthey are set up to make inductions from samples consisting largely of stereotypic English sentences to the conceptENGLISH SENTENCE (viz. the concept sentences satisfy in virtue of being well-formed relative to the grammar ofEnglish) and not from samples consisting largely of stereotypic English sentences to the concept STEREOTYPICENGLISH SENTENCE (viz. the concept sentences satisfy in virtue of being NVN).
In short, I do think there's good reason for cognitive scientists to be unhappy about the current status of theorizing about stereotypes. The kinds of worries about compositionality that Chapter 5 reviewed show that the relation astereotype bears to the corresponding concept can't be constitutive. The standard alternative proposal is that it is simplyheuristic; e.g. that stereotypes are databases for fast recognition procedures. But this seems not to account for theubiquity and robustness of stereotype phenomena; and, anyhow, it begs the sort of question that we just discussed: whyis it the concept X rather than the concept STEREOTYPIC X that one normally gets from experience withstereotypic Xs? (Mutatis mutandis, if the way perception works is that you subsume things under 32 33
DOORKNOB by seeing that they are similar to stereotypic doorknobs, why is it that you generally see a doorknob as a doorknob, and not as something that satisfies the doorknob stereotype?) If our minds are, in effect, functions fromstereotypes to concepts, that is a fact about us. Indeed, it is a very deep fact about us. My point in going on about this is toemphasize the untriviality of the consideration that we typically get a concept from instances that exemplify itsstereotype.
That a concept has the stereotype that it does is never truistic; and that a stereotype belongs to the concept that it does is never truistic either. In particular, since the relation between a concept and its stereotype is always contingent, nocircularity arises from defining ‘the concept X by reference to ‘the stereotype of the concept X.Jean-marc pizano
cognitivist according to this criterion, and wouldn't be even if (by accident) the concept DOORKNOB happened to be triggered by doorknobs..) Well, by this criterion, my story isn't cognitivist either. My story says that what doorknobs have in commonqua doorknobs is being the kind of thing that our kind of minds (do or would) lock to from experience with instances of the doorknobstereotype. (Cf. to be red just is to have that property that minds like ours (do or would) lock to in virtue of experiences oftypical instances of redness.) Why isn't that OK?82
If you put that account of the metaphysics of doorknobhood together with the metaphysical account of concept possession that informational semantics proposes—having a concept is something like “resonating to” the propertythat the concept expresses—then you get: being a doorknob is having that property that minds like ours come to resonateto in consequence of relevant experience with stereotypic doorknobs. That, and not being learned inductively, is whatexplains the content relation between DOORKNOB and the kinds of experience that typically mediates its acquisition.It also explains how doorknobhood could seem to be undefinable and unanalysable without being metaphysically ultimate.And it is also explains how DOORKNOB could be both psychologically primitive and not innate, the StandardArgument to the contrary not withstanding.
Several points in a spirit of expatiation:
The basic idea is that what makes something a doorknob is just: being the kind of thing from experience with which our kind of mind readily acquires the concept DOORKNOB. And, conversely, what makes something the conceptDOORKNOB is just: expressing the property that our kinds of minds lock to from experience with good examples ofinstantiated doorknobhood. But this way of putting the suggestion is too weak since experience with stereotypicdoorknobs might cause one to lock to any of a whole lot of properties (or to none), depending on what else is going onat the time. (In some contexts it might cause one to lock to the property belongs to Jones.) Whereas, what I want to say isthat doorknobhood is the property that one gets locked to when experience with typical doorknobs causes the locking anddoes so in virtue of the properties they have qua typical doorknobs. We have the kinds of minds that often
Modal footnote (NB): Here as elsewhere through the present discussion, ‘minds like ours’ and ‘the (stereo)typical properties of doorknobs’ are to be read rigidly, viz. as denoting the properties that instances of stereotypic doorknobs and typical minds have in this world. That the typical properties of minds and doorknobs are what they are ismeant to be contingent.
acquire the concept X from experiences whose intentional objects are properties belonging to the X-stereotype8
Notice that this is not a truism, and that it's not circular; it's contingently true if it's true at all. What makes it contingent is that being a doorknob is neither necessary nor sufficient for something to have the stereotypic doorknob properties(not even in ‘normal circumstances’ in any sense of “normal circumstances” I can think of that doesn't beg thequestion).Stereotype is a statistical notion. The only theoretically interesting connection between being a doorknob andsatisfying the doorknob stereotype is that, contingently, things that do either often do both.
In fact, since the relation between instantiating the doorknob stereotype and being a doorknob is patently contingent, you might want to buy into the present account of DOORKNOB even if you don't like the Lockean story about RED.The classical problem with the latter is that it takes for granted an unexplicated notion of ‘looks red’ (‘red experience’,‘red sense datum’, or whatever) and is thus in some danger of circularity since “the expression ‘looks red’ is notsemantically unstructured. Its sense is determined by that of its constituents. If one does not understand thoseconstituents, one does not fully understand the compound” (Peacocke 1992: 408). Well, maybe this kind of objectionshows that an account of being red mustn't presuppose the property of looking red (though Peacocke doubts that it showsthat, and so do I). In any event, no parallel argument could show that an account of being a doorknob mustn'tpresuppose the property of satisfying the doorknob stereotype.Jean-marc pizano
So, here's the riddle. How could ‘doorknob’ be undefinable (contrast ‘bachelor’ =df ‘unmarried man’) and lack a hidden essence (contrast water = H2O) without being metaphysically primitive (contrast spin, charm, and charge)?
The answer (I think) is that ‘doorknob’ works like ‘red’.
Now I suppose you want to know how ‘red’ works.
Well, ‘red’ hasn't got a nominal definition, and redness doesn't have a real essence (ask any psychophysicist), and, of course, redness isn't metaphysically ultimate. This is all OK because redness is an appearance property, and the point aboutappearance properties is that they don't raise the question that definitions, real and nominal, propose to answer: viz.‘What is it that the things we take to be Xs have in common, over and above our taking them to be Xs?’ This is, to put itmildly, not a particularly original thing to say about red. All that's new is the proposal to extend this sort of analysis todoorknobs and the like; the proposal is that there are lots of appearance concepts that aren't sensory concepts.80 That this should beso is, perhaps, unsurprising on reflection. There is no obvious reason why 30a property that is constituted by the mental states that things that have it evoke in us must ipso facto be constituted by thesensory states that things that have it evoke in us.
All right, all right; you can't believe that something's being a doorknob is “about us” in anything like the way that maybe something's being red is. Surely ‘doorknob’ expresses a property that a thing either has or doesn't, regardless ofour views; as it were, a property of things in themselves? So be it, but which property? Consider the alternatives (herewe go again): is it that ‘doorknob’ is definable? If so, what's the definition? (And, even if ‘doorknob’ is definable, someconcepts have to be primitive, so the present sorts of issues will eventually have to be faced about them.) Is it thatdoorknobs qua doorknobs have a hidden essence? Hidden where, do you suppose? And who is in charge of finding it?Is it that being a doorknob is ontologically ultimate? You've got to be kidding.31
If you take it seriously that DOORKNOB hasn't got a conceptual analysis, and that doorknobs don't have hidden essences, all that's left to make something a doorknob (anyhow, all that's left that I can think of) is how it strikes us. But ifbeing a doorknob is a property that's constituted by how things strike us, then the intrinsic connection between the contentof DOORKNOB and the content of our doorknob-experiences is metaphysically necessary, hence not a fact that acognitivist theory of concept acquisition is required in order to explain.
To be sure, there remains something about the acquisition of DOORKNOB that does want explaining: viz. why it is the property that these guys (several doorknobs) share, and not the property that those guys (several cows) share, thatwe lock to from experience of good (e.g. stereotypic) examples of doorknobs. And, equally certainly, it's got to besomething about our kinds of minds that this explanation adverts to. But, I'm supposing, such an explanation iscognitivist only if it turns on the evidential relation between having the stereotypic doorknob properties and being a doorknob. (So,for example, triggering explanations aren't
But the question now arises: what about the shared beliefs themselves; are they or aren't they literally shared? This poses a dilemma for the similarity theorist that is, as far as I can see, unavoidable. If he says that our agreed uponbeliefs about GW are literally shared, then he hasn't managed to do what he promised; viz. introduce a notion ofsimilarity of content that dispenses with a robust notion of publicity. But if he says
that the agreed beliefs aren't literally shared (viz. that they are only required to be similar), then his account of content similarity begs the very question it was supposed to answer: his way of saying what it is for concepts to have similar butnot identical contents presupposes a prior notion of beliefs with similar but not identical contents.
The trouble, in a nutshell, is that all the obvious construals of similarity of beliefs (in fact, all the construals that I've heard of) take it to involve partial overlap of beliefs.22 But this treatment breaks down if the beliefs that are in the overlap arethemselves construed as similar but not identical. It looks as though a robust notion of content similarity can't butpresuppose a correspondingly robust notion of content identity. Notice that this situation is not symmetrical; thenotion of content identity doesn't require a prior notion of content similarity. Leibniz's Law tells us what it is for thecontents of concepts to be identical; Leibniz's Law tells us what it is for anythings to be identical.
As I remarked above, different theorists find different rugs to sweep this problem under; but, as far as I can tell, none of them manages to avoid it. I propose to harp on this a bit because confusion about it is rife, not just in philosophybut in the cognitive science community at large. Not getting it straight is one of the main things that obscures how veryhard it is to construct a theory of concepts that works, and how very much cognitive science has thus far failed to doso.
Suppose, for example, it's assumed that your concept PRESIDENT is similar to my concept PRESIDENT in so far as we assign similar subjective probabilities to propositions that contain the concept. There are plenty of reasons forrejecting this sort of model; we'll discuss its main problems in Chapter 5. Our present concern is only whetherconstructing a probabilistic account of concept similarity would be a way to avoid having to postulate a robust notionof content identity.
Perhaps, in a typical case, you and I agree that p is very high for ‘FDR is/was President’ and for ‘The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces’ and for ‘Presidents have to be of voting age’, etc.; but, whereas you rate‘Millard Fillmore is/was President’ as having a probability close to 1, I, being less well informed, take it to be around p= 0.07 (Millard Fillmore???). This gives us an (arguably) workable construal of the idea that we have similar but notidentical PRESIDENT concepts. But it does so only by helping itself to a prior notion of belief identity, and to theassumption that there are lots of thoughts of which
'Why not take content similarity as primitive and stop trying to construe it?’ Sure; but then why not take content identity as primitive and stop trying to construe it ? In which case, what is semantics for ?
our respective PRESIDENTS are constituents that we literally share. Thus, you and I are, by assumption, both belief-related to the thoughts that Millard Fillmore was President, that Presidents are Commanders-in-Chief, etc.Jean-marc pizano
Names, by contrast, succeed in their job because they aren't compositional; not even when they are syntactically complex. Consider ‘the Iron Duke’, to which ‘Iron’ does not contribute iron, and which you can therefore use to specifythe Iron Duke even if you don't know what he was made of. Names are nicer than descriptions because you don't haveto know much to specify their bearers, although you do have to know what their bearers are called. Descriptions arenicer than names because, although you do have to know a lot to specify their bearers, you don't have to know whattheir bearers are called. What's nicer than having the use of either names or descriptions is having the use of both. Iagree that, as a piece of semantic theory, this is all entirely banal; but that's my point, so don't complain. There is, torepeat, no need for fancy arguments that the representational systems we talk and think in are in large partcompositional; you find the effects of their compositionality just about wherever you look.
I must apologize for having gone on at such length about the arguments pro and con conceptual compositionality; the reason I've done so is that, in my view, the status of the statistical theory of concepts turns, practically entirely, on thisissue. And statistical theories are now the preferred accounts of concepts practically throughout cognitive science. Inwhat follows I will take the compositionality of conceptual repertoires for granted, and try to make clear how the thesisthat concepts are prototypes falls afoul of it.
Here's why concepts can't be prototypes: whatever conceptual content is, compositionality requires that complex concepts inherit their contents from those of their constituents, and that they do so in a way that explains theirproductivity and systematicity. Accordingly, whatever is not inherited from its constituents by a complex concept is ipsofacto not the content of that concept. But: (i) indefinitely many complex concepts have no prototypes; a fortiori they donot inherit their prototypes from their constituents. And, (ii) there are indefinitely many complex concepts whoseprototypes aren't related to the prototypes of their constituents in the ways that the compositional explanation ofproductivity and systematicity requires. So, again, if concepts are compositional then they can't be prototypes.
In short, prototypes don't compose. Since this is the heart of the case against statistical theories of concepts, I propose to expatiate a bit on the examples.
For indefinitely many “Boolean” concepts,57there isn't any prototype even though: —their primitive constituent concepts all have prototypes,
--the complex concept itself has definite conditions of semantic evaluation (definite satisfaction conditions).
So, for example, consider the concept NOT A CAT (mutatis mutandis, the predicate ‘is not a cat’); and let's suppose (probably contrary to fact) that CAT isn't vague; i.e. that ‘is a cat’ has either the value S or the value U for every objectin the relevant universe of discourse. Then, clearly, there is a definite semantic interpretation for NOT A CAT; i.e. itexpresses the property of not being a cat, a property which all and only objects in the extension of the complement of theset of cats instantiate.
However, although NOT A CAT is semantically entirely well behaved on these assumptions, it's pretty clear that it hasn't got a stereotype or an exemplar. For consider: a bagel is a pretty good example of a NOT A CAT, but a bagelcouldn't be NOT A CAT's prototype. Why not? Well, if bagels are the prototypic NOT A CATs, it follows that themore a thing is like a bagel the less it's like a cat; and the more a thing isn't like a cat, the more it's like a bagel. But the secondconjunct is patently not true. Tuesdays and erasers, both of which are very good examples of NOT A CATs, aren't atall like bagels. An Eraser is not more a Bagel for being a bad Cat. Notice that the same sort of argument goes throughif you are thinking of stereotypes in terms of features rather than exemplars. There is nothing that non-cats qua noncats as such are likely to have in common (except, of course, not being cats).58
—Why did Martha pour water over George?
—Because she thinks that George is flurg
—What do you mean, George is flurg?
—I beg that thorny question.
If a physicist explains some phenomenon by saying ‘blah, blah, blah, because it was a proton ... ’, being a word that means proton is not a property his explanation appeals to (though, of course, being a proton is). That, basically, is why it is not partof the physicist's responsibility to provide a linguistic theory (e.g. a semantics) for ‘proton’. But the intentional sciencesare different. When a psychologist says ‘blah, blah, blah, because the child represents the snail as an agent . . . ’, theproperty of being an agent-representation (viz. being a symbol that means agent) is appealed to in the explanation, and thepsychologist owes an account of what property that is. The physicist is responsible for being a proton but not for being aproton-concept, the psychologist is responsible for being an agent-concept but not for being an agent-concept-ascription. Both thephysicist and the psychologist is required to theorize about the properties he ascribes, and neither is required totheorize about the properties of the language he uses to ascribe them. The difference is that the psychologist is workingone level up. I think confusion on this point is simply rampant in linguistic semantics. It explains why the practice of‘kicking semantic problems upstairs’ is so characteristic of the genre.Jean-marc pizano
We've encountered this methodological issue before, and will encounter it again. I do hate to go on about it, but dodging the questions about the individuation of semantic features (in particular, about what semantic features denote)lets lexical semanticists play with a stacked deck. If the examples work, they count them for their theory. If they don'twork, they count them as metaphorical extensions. I propose that we spend a couple of pages seeing how an analysisof this sort plays out.
Consider the following, chosen practically at random. It's a sketch of Pinker's account of how the fact that a verb has the syntactic property of being ‘dativizable’ (of figuring in alternations like ‘give Mary a book’/‘give a book to Mary’)can be inferred from the child's data about the semantics of the verb.
Dativizable verbs have a semantic property in common: they must be capable of denoting prospective possession of the referent of the second object by the referent of the first object . . . [But] possession need not be literal . . .are treated as denoting the transfer of messages or stimuli, which the recipientmetaphorically possesses. This can be seen in sentences such as ‘He told her the story,’ ‘He asked her a question,’and ‘She showed him the answer’ [all of which have moved datives]. (Pinker 1989: 48)
What exactly Pinker is claiming here depends quite a lot on what relation “prospective possession” is, and on what is allowed as a metaphor for that relation; and, of course, we aren't told either. If John sang Mary a song, does Marymetaphorically prospectively possess the song that John sang to her? If so, does she also metaphorically prospectivelypossess a goodnight in “John wished Mary a goodnight?” Or consider:
Zen told his story to the judge/Zen told the judge his story
Zen repeated his story to the judge/*Zen repeated the judge his story.
I think this is a counter-example to Pinker's theory about datives. Could the difference really be that the judge was a prospective possessor of the story when Zen told it the first time, but not when he repeated it? On the other hand,since who knows what prospective possession is, or what might express it metaphorically, who knows whether suchcases refute the analysis?
Linguistic footnote : as far as I can tell, linguists just take it for granted that the data that set a parameter in the course of language learning should generally bear some natural, unarbitrary relation to the value of the parameter that they set. It’s hearing sentences without subjects that sets the null subject parameter (maybe); what could be morereasonable? But, on second thought, the notion of triggering as such, unlike the notion of hypothesis testing as such, requires no particular relation between the state that'sacquired and the experience that occasions its acquisition. In principle any trigger could set any parameter. So, prima facie, it is an embarrassment for the triggering theory if thegrammar that the child acquires is reasonable in light of his data. It may be that here too the polemical resources of the hypothesis-testing model have been less than fullyappreciated.
Well, maybe. But, of course, that's cold comfort if what you want is a non-nativist version of SIA. You can only trigger a concept that's there, genetically specified, waiting to be triggered. So the Darwinian/ethological story about conceptacquisition does no better than the old-fashioned hypothesis-testing story at making DOORKNOB not be innate. Outof one frying pan but into another; ethologists are nativists by definition.
And, anyhow, even if the doorknob/DOORKNOB relation is selected for by evolution, what, if not inductive learning, could be the mechanism by which it is implemented? If concept acquisition isn't inductive, then how doesMother Nature contrive to insure that it is instances of F-ness (and not of G-ness) that trigger the concept F in the courseof ontogeny? After all, if Mother N wants to select for the doorknob/DOORKNOB type of relation betweenconcepts and their experiential causes, she has to do so by selecting a mechanism that produces that relation between one'sconcepts and their causes. This is a special case of the entirely general truth that whenever Mother N wants to selectfor any phenotypic property she has to do so by selecting a proximal mechanism that produces it. The obviouscandidate to select if one wants to ensure that concept acquisition exhibits the d/D relation is inductive learning. Butwe have it on independent grounds that primitive concepts can't be learned inductively. There may be a way for aconceptual atomist to get out of this dilemma, but waving his hands about Darwin certainly isn't it.
The preliminary moral, anyhow, is that radical nativism is very hard for a conceptual atomist to avoid. If he starts out thinking about concept acquisition the way Empiricists do—as a kind of hypothesis testing—radical concept nativismfollows; and if he starts out thinking about concept acquisition the way that ethologists do—as a kind oftriggering—radical concept nativism still follows. It looks like a conceptual atomist ends up being a radical conceptnativist pretty much however he starts out thinking about concept acquisition. So maybe conceptual atomism is justfalse.
Or maybe radical concept nativism is true, despite its wide unpopularity in the philosophical community. Speaking just as a private citizen, I've always sort of thought it wouldn't be all that surprising if radical concept nativism did turn outto be true. So it didn't much embarrass me that all the roads from concept atomism seemed to lead there. It is, after all,God and not philosophers who gets to decide what creatures have genotypically built in. That is surely much the bestarrangement from the creature's point of view.
So, in any case, it seemed to me in 1975 or so. But maybe this relaxed stance won't do after all. The problem with the theory that the primitive concepts are learned inductively was that it's circular. But now we seem to
have an apparently respectable argument that they must be learned inductively: nothing else appears likely to account for the content relation between the concept that's acquired and the experience that mediates its acquisition. But look,it can't be that inductivism about the acquisition of primitive concepts is both circular and mandatory.
It’s important to distinguish the idea that definitions typically capture only the core meaning of a univocal expression from the idea that definitions typically capture only one sense of an ambiguous expression. The latter is unobjectionable because it is responsive to pretheoretic intuitions that are often pretty emphatic: surely ‘bank’ has more thanone meaning. But who knows how many “aspects” the meaning of an un ambiguous word has? A fortiori, who knows when a theory succeeds in capturing some but not allof them?
Examples of this tactic are legion in the literature. Consider the following, from Higginbotham 1994. “jT]he meanings of lexical items systematically infect grammar. Forexample ... it is a condition of object-preposing in derived nominal constructions in English that the object be in some sense ‘affected’ in the events over which the nominalranges: that is why one has (1) but not (2)” (renumbered):1.Jean-marc pizano
algebra’s discovery (by the Arabs)
2. *algebra's knowledge (by the Arabs).
Note that ‘in some sense’ is doing all the work. It is what distinguishes the striking claim that preposing is sensitive to the meanings of verbs from the rather less dramatic thought that you can prepose with some verbs (including ‘discover’) and not with others (including ‘know’). You may suppose you have some intuitive grasp of what ‘affecting’amounts to here, but I think it's an illusion. Ask yourself how much algebra was affected by its discovery? More or less, would you say, than the light bulb was affected byEdison's inventing it?
Fodor and Lepore (forthcoming a) provides some independent evidence for the analysis proposed here. Suppose, however, that this horse won’t run, and the asymmetryPinker points to really does show that ‘keep’ is polysemous. That would be no comfort to Jackendoff, since Jackendoff's account of the polysemy doesn't predict theasymmetry of entailments either: that J2 but not J3 belongs to the semantic field “possession” in Jackendoff's analysis is pure stipulation.But I won't stress this. Auntie says Ishould swear off ad hominems.
Auntie’s not the only one with this grumble; Hilary Putnam has recently voiced a generalized version of the same complaint. “[O]n Fodor’s theory . . . the meaning of . . .words is not determined, even in part, by the conceptual relations among the various notions I have mastered—e.g., between ‘minute’ and my other time concepts—butdepends only on ‘nomic relations’ between the words (e.g. minute) and the corresponding universals (e.g. minutehood). These ‘universals’ are just word-shaped objects whichFodor’s metaphysics projects out into the world for the words to latch on to via mysterious ‘nomic relations’; the whole story is nothing but a ‘naturalistic’ version of theMuseum Myth of Meaning” (1995: 79; italics and scare-quotes are Putnam’s). This does seem to me to be a little underspecified. Since Putnam provides no furtherexposition (and, endearingly, no arguments at all), I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to worry that there aren’t any universals, or only that there aren’t the universals that mysemantics requires. But if Putnam thinks saying “ ‘takes a minute’ expresses the property of taking a minuté’ all by itself puts me in debt for a general refutation ofnominalism, then he needs to have his methodology examined.Still, it’s right that informational semantics needs an ontology, and that the one it opts for had better not begthe questions that a semantic theory is supposed to answer. I’ll have a lot to say about all that in Chapters 6 and 7.Jean-marc pizano
So, then, here are my five not-negotiable conditions on a theory of concepts.
1. Concepts are mental particulars; specifically, they satisfy whatever ontological conditions have to be met bythings that function as mental causes and effects.
Since this is entailed by RTM (see Chapter 1), and hence is common to all the theories of concepts I'll consider, I won't go on about it here. If, however, you think that intentional causation explains behaviour only in the way that thesolubility of sugar explains its dissolving (see Ryle 1949), or if you think that intentional explanations aren't causal at all(see e.g. Collins 1987), then nothing in the following discussion will be of much use to you, and I fear we've reached aparting of the ways. At least one of us is wasting his time; I do hope it's you.
2. Concepts are categories and are routinely employed as such.
To say that concepts are categories is to say that they apply to things in the world; things in the world ‘fall under them’. So, for example, Greycat the cat, but not Dumbo the elephant, falls under the concept CAT. Which, for presentpurposes, is equivalent to saying that Greycat is in the extension of CAT, that ‘Greycat is a cat’ is true, and that ‘is a cat’is true of Greycat. I shall sometimes refer to this galaxy of considerations by saying that applications of concepts aresusceptible of ‘semantic evaluation-, claims, or thoughts, that a certain concept applies to a certain thing are alwayssusceptible of evaluation in such semantical terms as satisfied/unsatisfied, true/false, correct/incorrect, and the like.There are, to be sure, issues about these various aspects of semantic evaluability, and about the relations among them,that a scrupulous philosopher might well wish to attend to. But in this chapter, I propose to keep the philosophy to abare minimum.18
Much of the life of the mind consists in applying concepts to things. If I think Greycat is a cat (de dicto, as it were), I thereby apply the concept CAT to Greycat (correctly, as it happens). If, looking at Greycat, I take him to be a cat, thentoo I apply the concept CAT to Greycat. (If looking at Greycat I take him to be a meatloaf, I thereby apply the conceptMEATLOAF to Greycat; incorrectly, as it happens.) Or if, in reasoning about Greycat, I infer that since he's a cat hemust be an animal, I thereby proceed from applying one concept to Greycat to the licensed application of anotherconcept; the license consisting, I suppose, in things I know about how the extensions of the concepts CAT andANIMAL are related.
In fact, RTM being once assumed, most of cognitive psychology, including the psychology of memory, perception, and reasoning, is about how we apply concepts. And most of the rest is about how we acquire the concepts that we thusapply. Correspondingly, the empirical data to which cognitive psychologists are responsible consist largely of measuresof subject performance in concept application tasks. The long and short is: whatever else a theory of concepts saysabout them, it had better exhibitconcepts as the sorts of things that get applied in the course of mental processes. I take it that consensus about this ispretty general in the cognitive sciences, so I won't labour it further here.
Caveat: it's simply untendentious that concepts have their satisfaction conditions essentially. Nothing in any mental life could be the concept CAT unless it is satisfied by cats. It couldn't be that there are some mental lives in which theconcept CAT applies to CATS and others in which it doesn't. If you haven't got a concept that applies to cats, thatentails that you haven't got the CAT concept. But though the satisfaction conditions of a concept are patently among itsessential properties, it does not follow that the confirmation conditions of a concept are among its essential properties.Confirmation is an epistemic relation, not a semantic relation, and it is generally theory mediated, hence holistic. Onthe one hand, given the right background theory, the merest ripple in cat infested waters might serve to confirm anascription of cathood; and, on the other hand, no cat-containing layout is so well lit, or so utterly uncluttered, or soself-certifying that your failure to ascribe cathood therein would entail that you lack the concept.Jean-marc pizano
Auntie. Try me.
—: It's (sigh!) keeping (Cf: “What is it that “exist” expresses in both ‘numbers exist’ and ‘chairs exist’?” Reply: “It's (sigh!) existing”)
In effect, what I'm selling is a disquotationallexicon. Not, however, because I think semantic facts are, somehow, merely pleonastic; but rather because I take semantic facts with full ontological seriousness, and I can't think of a better way tosay what ‘keep’ means than to say that it means keep. If, as I suppose, the concept KEEP is an atom, it's hardlysurprising that there's no better way to say what ‘keep’ means than to say that it means keep.
I know of no reason, empirical or a priori, to suppose that the expressive power of English can be captured in a language whose stock of morphologically primitive expressions is interestingly smaller than the lexicon of English. Tobe sure, if you are committed to ‘keep’ being definable, and to its having the same definition in each semantic field,then you will have to face the task of saying, in words other than ‘keep’, what relation it is that keeping the money andkeeping the crowd happy both instance. But, I would have thought, saying what relation they both instance is preciselywhat the word ‘keep’ is for; why on earth do you suppose that you can say it ‘in other words’? I repeat: assuming that‘keep’
has a definition is what makes the problem about polysemy; take away that assumption and ‘what do keeping the money and keeping the crowd happy share?’ is easy. They're both keeping.
Auntie. I think that's silly, frivolous, and shallow! There is no such thing as keeping; there isn't anything that keeping the money and keeping the crowd happy share. It's all just made up.13
—: Strictly speaking, that view isn't available to Aunties who wish also to claim that ‘keep’ has a definition that is satisfied in all of its semantic fields; by definition, such a definition would express something that keeping money andkeeping crowds happy have in common. Still, I do sort of agree that ontology is at the bottom of the pile. I reservecomment till the last two chapters.
There is, as I remarked at the outset, a very substantial linguistic literature on lexical semantics; far more than I have the space or inclination to review. But something needs to be said, before we call it quits, about a sustained attempt thatSteven Pinker has been making (Pinker 1984; 1989) to co-opt the apparatus of lexical semantics for employment in atheory of how children learn aspects of syntax. If this project can be carried through, it might produce the kind ofreasonably unequivocal support for definitional analysis that I claim that the considerations about polysemy fail toprovide.
Pinker offers, in fact, two kinds of ontogenetic arguments for definitions; the one in Pinker 1984 depends on a “semantic bootstrapping” theory of syntax acquisition; the one in Pinker 1989, turns on an analysisof a problem in learnability theory known as “Baker's Paradox”. Both arguments exploit rather deep assumptionsabout the architecture of theories of language development, and both have been influential; sufficiently so to justifytaking a detailed look at them. Most of the rest of this chapter will be devoted to doing that.
A basic idea of Pinker's is that some of the child's knowledge of syntactic structure is “bootstrapped” from knowledge about the semantic properties of lexical items; in particular, from knowledge about the semantic structure of verbs.The details are complicated but the outline is clear enough. In the simplest sorts of sentences (like ‘John runs’, forexample), if you can figure out what syntactic classes the words belong to (that ‘John’ is a noun and ‘runs’ is anintransitive verb) you get the rest of the syntax of the sentence more or less for free: intransitive verbs have to haveNPs as subjects, and ‘John’ is the only candidate around.
This sort of consideration suggests that a significant part of the child's problem of breaking into sentential syntax is identifying the syntax of lexical items. So far so good. Except that it's not obvious how properties like being a noun orbeing an intransitive verb might signal their presence in the learner's input since they aren't, in general, marked byfeatures of the data that the child can unquestion-beggingly be supposed to pick up.Jean-marc pizano
case is, I suppose, the moral of Lewis Carroll's story about Achilles and the tortoise: Carroll 1895/1995.
CogSci footnote: the present issue isn't whether inferential capacities are ‘declarative’ rather than ‘procedural’; it's whether they are interestingly analogous to skills. A cognitive architecture (like SOAR, for example) that is heavily committed to procedural representations is not thereby required to suppose that drawing inferences has muchin common with playing basketball or the piano. Say, if you like, that someone who accepts the inference from P to Q has the habit of accepting Q if he accepts P. Butthis sort of ‘habit’ involves a relation among one's propositional attitudes and, prima facie, being able to play the piano doesn't.
Concepts aren't skills, of course; concepts are mental particulars. In particular, they are the constituents of beliefs, whereas skills can't be the constituents of anything except other skills. But though all this is so, the argument in the text doesn't presuppose it.
Notice that the question before us is not whether SIA permits radical nativism; it's patent that it does. According to SIA, having a concept is being locked to a property. Well, being locked to a property is having a disposition, and thoughperhaps there are some dispositions that must be acquired, hence can't be innate, nothing I've heard of argues thatbeing locked to a property is one of them. If, in short, you require your metaphysical theory of concept possession toentail the denial of radical nativism, SIA won't fill your bill. (I don't see how any metaphysics could, short of questionbegging, since the status of radical nativism is surely an empirical issue. Radical nativism may be false, but I doubt thatit is, in any essential way, confused.) But if, you're prepared to settle for a theory of concepts that is plausibly compatiblewith the denial of radical nativism, maybe we can do some business.
If you assume SIA, and hence the locking model of concept possession, you thereby deny that learning concepts necessarily involves acquiring beliefs. And if you deny that learning concepts necessarily involves acquiring beliefs, thenyou can't assume that hypothesis testing is an ingredient in concept acquisition. It is, as I keep pointing out, primarilycognitivism about the metaphysics of concept possession that motivates inductivism about the psychology of conceptacquisition: hypothesis testing is the natural assumption about how beliefs are acquired from experience. But if it can'tbe assumed that concept acquisition is ipso facto belief acquisition, then it can't be assumed that locking DOORKNOBto doorknobhood requires a mediating hypothesis. And if it can't be assumed that locking DOORKNOB to doorknobhoodrequires a mediating hypothesis, then, a fortiori, it can't be assumed that it requires a mediating hypothesis in which theconcept DOORKNOB is itself deployed. In which case, for all that the Standard Argument shows, DOORKNOBcould be both primitive and not innate.
This maybe starts to sound a little hopeful; but not, I'm afraid, for very long. The discussion so far has underestimated the polemical resources that SA has available. In particular, there is an independent argument that seems to show thatconcept acquisition has to be inductive, whether or not the metaphysics of concept possession is cognitivist, so SA gets its inductivistpremiss even if SIA is right that having a concept doesn't require having beliefs. The moral would then be that, thougha non-cognitivist account of concept possession may be necessary for RTM to avoid radical nativism, it's a long wayfrom being sufficient.
In short, Patient Reader, the Standard Argument's way of getting radical nativism goes like this:
(1) cognitivism about concept possession ^ (2) inductivist (i.e.
hypothesis-testing) model of concept learning ^ (3) primitive concepts can't be learned.
SIA denies (1), thereby promising to block the standard argument. If, however, there's some other source for (2)—some plausible premiss to derive it from that doesn't assume a cognitivist metaphysics of concept possession—then thestandard argument is back in business.
People sometimes used to say that ‘exist’ must be ambiguous because look at the difference between ‘chairs exist’ and ‘numbers exist’. A familiar reply goes: the difference between the existence of chairs and the existence of numbersseems, on reflection, strikingly like the difference between numbers and chairs. Since you have the latter to explain theformer, you don't also need ‘exist’ to be polysemic.
This reply strikes me as convincing, but the fallacy that it exposes dies awfully hard. For example, Steven Pinker (personal communication, 1996) has argued that ‘keep’ can't be univocal because it implies possession in sentences likeJ2 but not in sentences like J3. I think Pinker is right that ‘Susan kept the money entails that something was possessedand that ‘Sam kept the crowd happy’ doesn't. But (here we go again) it just begs the question to assume that thisdifference arises from a polysemy in ‘keep'.
For example: maybe ‘keep’ has an underlying complement in sentences like (2) and (3); so that, roughly, ‘Susan kept the money’ is a variant of Susan kept having the money and ‘John kept the crowd happy’ is a variant of John kept the crowd beinghappy. Then the implication of possession in the former doesn't derive from ‘keep’ after all; rather, it's contributed bymaterial in the underlying complement clause. On reflection, the difference between keeping the money and keepingthe crowd happy does seem strikingly like the difference between having the money and the crowd being happy, a factthat the semantics of (2) and (3) might reasonably be expected to capture. This modest analysis posits no structureinside lexical items, and it stays pretty close to surface form. I wouldn't want to claim that it's apodictic, but it doesavoid the proliferation of lexical polysemes and/or semantic fields and it's quite compatible with the claim that ‘keep’means neither more nor less than keep in all of the examples under consideration.12
Auntie. Fiddlesticks. Consider the case where language A has a single unambiguous word, of which the translation in language B is either of two words, depending on context. Everybody who knows anything knows that happens all thetime. Whenever it does, the language-A word is ipsofacto polysemous. If you weren't so embarrassingly monolingual, you'd have noticed this for yourself. (As it is, I'mindebted to Luca Bonatti for raising the point.)—: No. Suppose English has two words, ‘spoiled’ and ‘addled,’ both of which mean spoiled, but one of which is usedonly of eggs. Suppose also that there is some other language which has a word ‘spoilissimoed’ which means spoiled andis used both of spoiled eggs and of other spoiled things. The right way to describe this situation is surely not that‘spoiled’ is ipso facto polysemous. Rather the thing to say is: ‘spoiled’ and ‘addled’ are synonyms and are (thus) bothcorrectly translated ‘spoilissimoed’. The difference between the languages is that one, but not the other, has a word thatmeans spoiled and is context restricted to eggs; hence one language, but not the other, has a word for being spoiled whosepossession condition includes having the concept EGG. This is another reason for distinguishing questions aboutmeaning from questions about possession conditions (in case another reason is required. Remember WATER and
Auntie (who has been catching a brief nap during the preceding expository passage) wakes with a start. Now I've got you. You say ‘keep’ is univocal. Well, then, what is the relation that it univocally expresses? What is the relation such that, accordingto you, Susan bears it to the money in J2 and Sam bears it to the crowd's being happy in J3?
—: I'm afraid you aren't going to like this.
That concepts are organized into hierarchies isn't, of course, anything that definitional theories need deny. What primarily distinguishes the new story about concepts from its classical predecessor is the nature of the glue that'ssupposed to hold a feature bundle together. Defining features were
supposed to exhibit severally necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for a thing's inclusion in a concept's extension. On the present account, by contrast, whether a feature is in the bundle for a given concept is primarily a question ofhow likely it is that something in the concept's extension has the property that the feature expresses. Being able to flyisn't a necessary condition for being a bird (vide ostriches); but it is a property that birds are quite reliably found to have.So, ceteris paribus, +flies belongs to the feature bundle for BIRD. The effect, is to change from a kind of metaphysics inwhich the concept-constitutive inferences are distinguished by their modal properties to a kind of metaphysics in whichthey're picked out epistemically4Jean-marc pizano
Notice that the thesis that concepts are individuated by their inferential roles (specifically by their inferential relations to their constituents) survives this shift. It's just that the individuating inferences are now supposed to be statistical.18 19 Afortiori, we're still working within a cognitivist account of concept possession: to have a concept is, at least inter alia, tobelieve certain things (e.g. in the case of BIRD, that generally birds fly). Notice also that the new story about conceptshas claims to philosophical good repute that its definitional predecessor arguably lacked. Maybe, as Quine says,conceptual entailment isn't all that much clearer than the psychological and semantic notions that it was traditionallysupposed to reconstruct. But if there's something philosophically wrong with statistical reliability, everybody is in trouble.
So, then, consider the thesis that concepts are bundles of statistically reliable features, hence that having a concept is knowing which properties the things it applies to reliably exhibit (together, perhaps, with enough of the structure of therelevant conceptual hierarchy to at least determine how basic the concept is).
A major problem with the definition story was the lack of convincing examples; nobody has a bullet-proof definition of, as it might be, ‘cow’ or ‘table’ or ‘irrigation’ or ‘pronoun’ on offer; not linguists, not philosophers,
least of all English-speakers as such. By contrast, the evidence that people know (and agree about) concerning the prototype structure of words and concepts is ubiquitous and robust.50 In fact, you can hardly devise a concept-possession test on which prototype structure fails to have an appreciable effect. Ask a subject to tell you the
first-that comes into his head, and it's good odds he'll report the prototype for the category-: cars for
vehicles, red for colours, diamonds for jewels, sparrows for birds, and so on. Ask which vehicle-word a child is likely to learn first, and prototypicality is a better predictor than even very good predictors like the relative frequency of the
word in the adult corpus. Ask an experimental subject to evaluate the truth of ‘a-is a vehicle’ and he'll be fastest
where a word for the basic level prototype fills the blank. And so forth. Even concepts like ODD NUMBER, which clearly do have definitions, often have prototype structure as well. The number 3 is a ‘better’ odd number than 27 (andit's a better prime than 2) (see Armstrong, Gleitman, and Gleitman 1983). The discovery of the massive presence ofprototypicality effects in all sorts of mental processes is one of the success stories of cognitive science. I shall simplytake it for granted in what follows; but for a review, see Smith and Medin 1981.
So prototypes are practically everywhere and definitions are practically nowhere.Jean-marc pizano
It's my view that we're eventually going to have to swallow Informational Atomism whole. Accordingly, I've been doing what I can to
sweeten the pill. It seemed to me, for a long while, that a cost of atomism would be failing to honour the distinction between theoretical concepts and the rest. For, surely, theoretical concepts are ones that you have to believe a theory inorder to have? And, according to conceptual atomism, there are no concepts that you have to believe a theory in orderto have. But it doesn't seem to me that way now. A theoretical concept isn't a concept that's defined by a theory; it's justa concept that is, de facto, locked to a property via a theory. Informational Atomism doesn't mind that at all, so long asyou keep the “de facto” in mind.
Likewise, it used to seem to me that atomism about concepts means that DOORKNOB is innate. But now I think that you can trade a certain amount of innateness for a certain amount of mind-dependence. Being a doorknob is just:striking our kinds of minds the way that doorknobs do. So, what you need to acquire the concept DOORKNOB“from experience” is just: the kind of mind that experience causes to be struck that way by doorknobs. The price ofmaking this trade of innateness for mind-dependence is, however, a touch of Wotan's problem. It turns out that muchof what we find in the world is indeed “only ourselves”. It turns out, in lots of cases, that we make things be of a kind bybeing disposed to take them to be of a kind.
But not in every case; not, in particular, in the case of kinds of things that are alike in respect of the hidden sources of their causal powers, regardless of their likeness in respect of their effects on us. To describe it in terms of those sorts ofsimilarities is to describe the world the way that God takes it to be. Doing science is how we contrive to causeourselves to have the concepts that such descriptions are couched in. Not philosophy but science is the way to getWotan out of his fly-bottle. That story seems to me plausibly true; and it is, as we've seen, compatible with aninformational and atomistic account of the individuation of concepts. But dear me, speaking of fly-bottles, howWittgenstein would have loathed it; and Wagner and Virginia Woolf too, for that matter. Well, you can't pleaseeveryone; I'll bet it would have been all right with Plato.
That's really the end of my story; but a word about what I think of as the Luddite objection to conceptual atomism is perhaps in order.
It's natural, pace Appendix 5A, to suppose that conceptual atomism means that there are no conceptual truths, hence that there are no analytic truths. And, if there are no analytic truths, I suppose that there are no such things asconceptual analyses. And it would be worrying if ‘noanalyticity’ entailed not just ‘no analyses’ but ‘no analytic philosophy’ as well. Technological unemployment would thenbegin to threaten.
But I guess I'm not inclined to take that prospect very seriously; certainly I'm not one of those end-of-philosophy philosophers. If, there aren't any conceptual analyses, the moral isn't that we should stop doing philosophy, or eventhat we should start doing philosophy in some quite different way. The moral is just that we should stop saying thatconceptual analysis is what philosophers do. If analytic philosophers haven't been analysing concepts after all, at leastthat explains why there are so few concepts that analytic philosophers have analysed.
I guess what I really think is that philosophy is just: whatever strikes minds like ours as being of the same kind as the prototypical examples.Jean-marc pizano
In short: Suppose ‘CAUSE’ is ambiguous from field to field; then the fact that ‘keep’ always entails ‘CAUSE’ is not sufficient to make ‘keep’ univocal from field to field. Well then, suppose ‘CAUSE’ is univocal from field to field; thenthe fact that ‘keep’ (like ‘CAUSE’) occurs in many different fields doesn't explain its intuitive polysemy. Either way,Jackendoff loses.
A recent letter from Jackendoff suggests, however, that he has yet a third alternative in mind: “I'm not claiming”, he writes, “that keep is univocal, nor that cause is. Rather, the semantic field feature varies among fields, the restremaining constant. AND THE REST IS ABSTRACT AND CANNOT BE EXPRESSED LINGUISTICALLY,BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE A FIELD FEATURE TO SAY ANYTHING” (sic, Jackendoffs caps.Personal communication, 1996). This suggestion strikes me as doubly ill-advised. In the first place, there is no obviousreason why its being “abstract”, ineffable, and so on, should make a concept univocal (/field invariant); why shouldn'tabstract, ineffable concepts be polysemic, just like concrete concepts that can be effed? Unless Jackendoff has ananswer to this, he's back in the old bind: ‘CAUSE’ is field invariant only by stipulation. Secondly, this move leavesJackendoff open to a charge of seriously false advertising. For it now turns out that ‘cause a state that endures overtime’ doesn't really express the definition of ‘keep’ after all: ‘Keep’ means something that can't be said. A lessmisleading definition than the one Jackendoff offers might thus be “keep' means @#$(*], which has the virtue ofnot even appealing to say
anything. The same, mutatis mutandis, for the rest of English, of course, so lexical semantics, as Jackendoff understands it, ends in silence. The methodological moral is, surely, Frank Ramsey's: ‘What can't be said can't be said, and it can't bewhistled either.’
I should add that Jackendoff sometimes writes as though all accounts that agree that keeping is a kind of causing are ipso facto “notational variants” of the definition theory. (I suppose this means that they are also ipso facto notationalvariants of the non-definitional theory, since the relation notational variantof is presumably symmetrical.) But I wouldhave thought that the present disagreement is not primarily about whether keeping is a kind of causing; it's aboutwhether, if it is, it follows that sentences with ‘keep’ in their surface structures have ‘CAUSE’ in their semanticrepresentations. This inference is, to put it mildly, not trivial since the conclusion entails that the meaning of ‘keep’ isstructurally complex, while the premise is compatible with ‘keep’ being an atom. (By the way, what exactly is anotational variant?)
The moral of this long polemic is, I'm afraid, actually not very interesting. Jackendoff's argument that there are definitions is circular, and circular arguments are disreputable. To the best of my knowledge, all extant arguments thatthere are definitions are disreputable.
Auntie. Anyone can criticize. Nice people try to be constructive. We've heard a very great deal from you of ‘I don't like this’ and ‘I think that won't work’. Why don't you tell us your theory about why ‘keep’ is intuitively polysemic?
—: Because you won't like it. Because you'll say it's silly and frivolous and shallow.
Auntie. I think you don't have a theory about why ‘keep’ is intuitively polysemic.
—: Yes I do, yes I do, yes I do! Sort of.
My theory is that there is no such thing as polysemy. The appearance that there is a problem is generated by the assumption that there are definitions; if you take the assumption away, the problem disappears. As they might havesaid in the '60s: definitions don't solve the problem of polysemy; definitions are the problem of polysemy.
Auntie. I don't understand a word of that. And I didn't like the '60s.
—. Well, here's a way to put it. Jackendoffs treatment of the difference between, say, ‘NP kept the money and ‘NP kept the crowd happy' holds that, in some sense or other, ‘keep' means different things in the two sentences.Jean-marc pizano
The general character of the new theory of concepts is widely known throughout the cognitive science community, so the exegesis that follows will be minimal.
Imagine a hierarchy of concepts ordered by relations of dominance and sisterhood, where these obey the intuitive axioms (e.g. dominance is antireflexive, transitive and asymmetric; sisterhood is antireflexive, transitive, and symmetric,etc.). Figure 5.1 is a sort of caricature.
The structural complexity of definitions was of some use to philosophers too: it promised the (partial?) reduction of conceptual to logical truth. So, for example, the conceptual truth that if John is a bachelor then John is unmarried, and the logical truth that if John is unmarried and John is a man then John is unmarried, are supposed tobe indistinguishable at the ‘semantic level’.
Fig. 5.1 An Entirely Hypothetical ‘Semantic Hierarchy’ Showing the Position and Features Of Some Concepts For Vehicles.
. . . ARTEFACTS (-hnade objects)
I think that raw intuitions of conceptual connectedness can plausibly be explained away by appealing to some mixture of centrality and Factor X. And, as far as I know, there is nothing in philosophy aside from these raw intuitions thatseriously suggests that content constituting conceptual connections exist. So I think it's reasonable, on thephilosophical evidence, to suppose that such conceptual connections don't exist. Quine was likely right aboutconceptual connections, even though he was wrong about necessity and a prioricity both of which are, so I suppose,very important and perfectly real. If all of that is so, then from the philosopher's point of view the bottom line is thatnecessity, a prioricity and the like are very mysterious: they are, in general, not by-products of analyticity; and they are,in general, things that we do not understand. What else is new?
And the bottom line for the purposes of the theory of concepts is this: if there are no constitutive conceptual connections, then there are also no definitions; and, if there are no definitions, then there are no definitions forconcepts to be.
A Good Apple tree or a bad, is an Apple tree still: a Horse is not more a Lion for being a Bad Horse. —William Blake
The definition theory says that concepts are complex structures which entail their constituents. By saying this, it guarantees both the connection between content and necessity and the connection between concept individuation andconcept possession. On the one hand, since definitions entail their constituents, it follows that whatever belongs to aconcept's definition is thereby true of everything, actual or possible, that the concept subsumes. On the other hand,since what definitions entail are their constituents, it follows that a definition of a concept specifies its canonical (viz.individuating) structural description. And finally, whatever else concept possession may amount to, you can't have athing unless you have its parts; hence the connection between concept possession and concept individuation accordingto the definition story. This metaphysical synthesis of a theory of concept individuation with theories of modality andconcept possession was no small achievement. In some respects it has yet to be bettered, as we're about to see.
By and large, it's been the modal properties of definitions that philosophers have cared about since, as previously remarked, the semantical truths that definitions generate recommend themselves for 17
antisceptical employment. By contrast, it's their being complex that primarily makes definitions interesting to psychologists and linguists. With complex things, there's always the hope that their behaviour can be predicted fromthe behaviour of their parts; with primitive things, since there are no parts, there is no such hope. In particular (for thelinguists), if words have definitions, then arguably words have the syntax of phrases “at the semantic level”; so perhapslexical grammar can be unified with phrasal grammar. Likewise (for the psychologists), if lexical concepts are tacitlystructurally complex, perhaps they can be brought under the same psychological generalizations that govern conceptsthat are manifestly complex; if the concept BACHELOR is the concept UNMARRIED MAN, then learning or thinkingwith the one can't differ much from learning or thinking with the other.46
So the definition theory was a fusion of disparate elements; in particular, the idea that concepts are complex and the idea that their constitutive inferences are typically necessary are in principle dissociable. And, for better or worse, theyhave been coming unstuck in the recent history of cognitive science. The currently standard view is that the definitionstory was right about the complexity of typical lexical concepts, but wrong to claim that complex concepts typicallyentail their constituents. According to the new theory, it's not the necessity of an inference but its reliability that determinesits relevance to concept individuation.
How this is supposed to work, and why it doesn't work the way that it's supposed to, and where its not working the way that it's supposed to leaves us in the theory of concepts, will be the substance of this chapter.
Oh well, maybe my telling you that Jackson was a painter and Pollock was a painter didn't fix the same senses for both names after all. I won't pursue that because, when it comes to senses, who can prove what fixes what? But it hardlymatters since, on reflection, what's going on doesn't seem to have to do with meaning. Rather, the governing principle isa piece of logical syntax: If V and ‘b are different names, then the inference from ‘Fa’ to ‘Fb’ is never conceptuallynecessary.5 (It's even OK to wonder whether Jackson is Jackson, if the two ‘Jacksons’ are supposed to be tokens ofdifferent but homonymous name types.) It looks like the moral of this story about Jackson and Pollock is the same asthe moral of Mates's story about bachelors and unmarried men. Frege's substitution test doesn't identify senses.Correspondingly, if it is stipulated that MOPs are whatever substitution salve veritate turns on, then MOPs have to besliced a good bit thinner than senses. Individuating MOPs is more like individuating forms of words than it is likeindividuating meanings.
I take these sorts of considerations very seriously. They will return full strength at the end of Chapter 2.
—What's wrong with 5.3: This takes a little longer to say, but here is the short form. Your having n MOPs for water explains why you have n ways of thinking about water only on the assumption that there is exactly one way to grasp each MOP.6The question thus arises what, if anything, is supposed to legitimize this assumption. As far as I can tell, unless you'reprepared to give up 5.3, the only answer a Fregean theory allows you is: sheer stipulation.
Terminological digression (I'm sorry to have to ask you to split these hairs, but this is a part of the wood where it is very easy to get lost): I use ‘entertaining’ and ‘grasping’ a MOP (/concept) interchangeably. Enter taining/grasping a MOPdoesn't, of course, mean thinking about the MOP;
there are as many ways of thinking about a MOP as there are of thinking about a rock or a number. That is, innumerably many; one for each mode of presentation of the MOP. Rather, MOPs are supposed to be the vehicles ofthought, and entertaining a MOP means using it to present to thought whatever the MOP is a mode of presentationof; it's thinking with the MOP, not thinking about it. End digression. My point is that if there is more than one way tograsp a MOP, then ‘grasping a water-MOP is a way of thinking about water’ and ‘Smith has only one water-MOP’ doesnot entail that Smith has only one way of thinking about water.
So, then, what ensures that there is only one way to grasp a MOP? Since Frege thinks that MOPs are senses and that sense determines reference (concepts with the same sense must be coextensive) he holds, in effect, that MOP identityand concept identity come to the same thing. So my question can be put just in terms of the latter: that one has asmany ways of thinking of a referent as one has concepts of the referent depends on there being just one way toentertain each concept. What, beside stipulation, guarantees this?
Perhaps the following analogy (actually quite close, I think) will help to make the situation clear. There are lots of cases where things other, and less problematic, than Fregean senses might reasonably be described as ‘modes ofpresentation’; viz. as being used to present the object of a thought to the thought that it's the object of. Consider, forexample, using a diagram of a triangle in geometrical reasoning about triangles. It seems natural, harmless, maybe evenilluminating, to say that one sometimes reasons about triangles via such a diagram; and that the course of the reasoningmay well be affected (e.g. facilitated) by choosing to do so. In a pretty untendentious sense, the diagram functions topresent triangles (or triangularity) to thought; OK so far.
But notice a crucial difference between a diagram that functions as a mode of presentation and a Fregean sense that does: in the former case, there's more—lots more—than one kind of object that the diagram can be used to present.The very same diagram can represent now triangles, now equilateral triangles, now closed figures at large, now threesided figures at large . . .Jean-marc pizano
Actually, I don't much care which you say, so long as you like the general picture. Suffice it that it's quite in the spirit of informational semantics to decide to talk like this: Homer did have the concept WATER (he had a concept that isnomologically linked to beingwater) and, of course, beingwater isn't a mind-dependent property. So Homer had a conceptof a natural kind. But WATER wasn't, for Homer, a concept of a natural kind as such; and for us it is. We're locked tobeingwater via a chemical-cum-metaphysical theory, that specifies its essence, and that is quite a different mechanism ofsemantic access from the ones that Homer relied on. In particular, the two ways of locking to water support quitedifferent counterfactuals. This shows up (inter alia) in the notorious thought experiments about Twin-Earth: we thinkthat XYZ wouldn't be water; Homer wouldn't have understood the question.
But an entirely informational and atomistic semantics can also do justice to the intuition that Homer had the same WATER concept as ours. All the metaphysics of concept possession requires, of our concept WATER or Homer's, isbeing locked to water. If you are locked to water our way, you have the concept WATER as a natural kind concept; ifyou are locked to concept WATER Homer's way, you have the concept WATER, but not as a natural kind concept.But, on a perfectly natural way of counting, if you are locked to water either way, you have the concept WATER. (Isuppose that God is locked to being water in still a third way; one that holds in every metaphysically possible world butisn’t theory-mediated. That's OK with informational semantics; God can have the concept WATER too. He can't,however, have the pretheoretic concept WATER; the one that's locked to water only by its superficial signs. Nobody'sPerfect.)
If you're lucky, you can have concepts of natural kinds on the cheap. Homer maybe didn't need much to get WATER locked to water, maybe all he needed was innate detectors for the phenomenological properties which, in point ofnomological necessity, water has in all the worlds near to him (and us). But, of course, you only get what you pay for:Homer didn't have the concept of water as a natural kind concept. To have that, he would need to have been locked tothe essence of water via the essence of water; that is, in a way that doesn't depend on water's superficial signs. Probably,de facto, all such lockings (except God's) are theory-mediated; indeed, they are perhaps all metatheory-mediated; theymay well depend, de facto, on having not just concepts of natural kinds, but also the concepts NATURAL KIND andHIDDEN ESSENCE. Which nobody did until quite recently.
But I want to emphasize what I take to be a main moral of the discussion: the ‘de facto’ matters. Just as IA says there are no concepts the possession of which is metaphysically necessary for having WATER (except WATER), so I'd like itto say that there are no concepts the possession of which is metaphysically necessary for having WATER as a naturalkind concept (except WATER); all that's required is being locked to water in a way that doesn't depend on its superficialsigns. But, of course, metaphysically necessary is one thing, on the cards is quite another. I'm quite prepared to believethat, de facto, until we had (indeed, had more or less self-consciously), the concepts that cluster around NATURALKIND, there was probably no way that we could link to WATER except the sort of way that Homer did and childrenand animals do; viz. via water's metaphysically accidental but nomologically necessary properties. But now we have atheory that tells us what water is, and we are linked to water via our acceptance of that theory. Science discoversessences, and doing science thereby links us to natural kinds as such.
I think, by the way, that the ethological analogies play out quite nicely on this sort of analysis. It's natural and handy and, for most purposes harmless, to say that ducklings have the concept MOTHER DUCK innately; that malesticklebacks have the concept CONSPECIFIC RIVAL innately, and so on.Jean-marc pizano
of lexical meaning and theories of concept acquisition. The idea is that its definition is what you acquire when you acquire a concept, and that its definition is what the word corresponding to the concept expresses. But how could“bachelor” and “unmarried male” express the same concept—viz. UNMARRIED MALE—if it's not even true that“bachelor” and “unmarried male” apply to the same things? And how could acquiring the concept BACHELOR bethe same process as acquiring the concept UNMARRIED MALE if there are semantic properties that the twoconcepts don't share? It's supposed to be the main virtue of definitions that, in all sorts of cases, they reduce problemsabout the defined concept to corresponding problems about its primitive parts. But that won't happen unless eachdefinition has the very same content as the concept that it defines.
I propose now to consider some of the linguistic arguments that are supposed to show that many English words have definitions, where, however, “definitions” means definitions. I think that, when so constrained, none of these argumentsis any good at all. The lexical semantics literature is, however, enormous and I can't prove this by enumeration. WhatI'll do instead is to have a close look at some typical (and influential) examples. (For discussions of some other kinds of‘linguistic’ arguments for definitions, see Fodor 1970; Fodor and Lepore, forthcoming a; Fodor and Lepore,forthcoming b.)
Here's a passage from Jackendoff 1992. (For simplification, I have omitted from the quotation what Jackendoff takes to be some parallel examples; and I've correspondingly renumbered the cited formulas.)
The basic insight... is that the formalism for encoding concepts of spatial location and motion, suitably abstracted, can be generalized to many verbs and prepositions in two or more semantic fields, forming intuitively relatedparadigms. [J1 —J4] illustrates [a] basic case
[J1 Semantic field:] [J2 Semantic field:]J3 Semantic field:]
Spatial location and motion: ‘Harry kept the bird in the cage.’ Possession: ‘Susan kept the money.’
Ascription of properties [sic]:29 ‘Sam kept the crowd happy.’
Wherein does this semantic field differ from any other? If I say that Harry kept the bird in the cage, don’t I thereby ascribe a property—viz. the property of keeping the bird in the cage—to Harry? Jackendoff has a lot of trouble deciding what to call his semantic fields. This might well be because they're gerrymandered.
[J4 Semantic field:] Scheduling of activities: ‘Let's keep the trip on Saturday.’ . . .
The claim is that the different concepts expressed by ‘keep’. . . are not unrelated: they share the same functional
structure and differ only in the semantic field feature. (1992: 37—9).
I think the argument Jackendoff has in mind must be something like this: ‘Keep’ is “polysemous”. On the one hand, there's the intuition that the very same word occurs in J1—J4; ‘keep’ isn't ambiguous like ‘bank’. On the other hand,there's the intuition that the sense of ‘keep’ does somehow differ in the four cases. The relation between Susan and themoney in J2 doesn't seem to be quite the same as the relation between John and the crowd in J3. How to reconcilethese intuitions?Jean-marc pizano
Well, suppose that ‘keep’ sentences “all denote the causation of a state that endures over a period of time” (37).30 That would account for our feeling that ‘keep’ is univocal. The intuition that there's something different, all the same,between keeping the money and keeping the crowd happy can now also be accommodated by reference to thedifferences among the semantic fields, each of which “has its own particular inferential patterns” (39). So Jackendoff“accounts for [the univocality of ‘keep’ in J1—J4] by claiming that they are each realizations of the basic conceptualfunctions” (specified by the putative definition) (37). What accounts for the differences among them is “a semanticfield feature that designates the field in which the Event [to which the analysis of ‘keep’ refers] ... is defined” (38). So ifwe assume that ‘keep’ has a definition, and that its definition is displayed at some level of linguistic/cognitiverepresentation, then we can see how it can be true both that ‘keep’ means what it does and that what it means dependson the semantic field in which it is applied.31