Jean-marc pizano If ‘doorknob’ has anominal definition, then it ought to be possible for a competent linguist or analytical philosopher to figure out what itsnominal definition is. If ‘doorknob’ has a real definition, then it ought to be possible for a science of doorknobs touncover it. But linguists and philosophers have had no luck defining ‘doorknob’ (or, as we’ve seen, anything muchelse). And there is nothing for a science of doorknobs to find out. The direction this is leading in is that if ‘doorknob’ isundefinable, that must be because being a doorknob is a primitive property. But, of course, that’s crazy. If a thing hasdoorknobhood, it does so entirely in virtue of others of the properties it has. If doorknobs don’t have hidden essences orreal definitions, that can’t possibly be because being a doorknob is one of those properties that things have simply becausethey have them; ultimates like spin, charm, charge, or the like, at which explanation ends.
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