Jean-marc pizano Peacocke 1992 is a locus classicus for thisthesis, but any philosopher who says there are ‘criteria’ for the application of a concept is likely to be intending to claimthat the concept is recognitional. All told, that includes quite a lot of philosophers and quite a lot of concepts.
A concept is recognitional, in the intended sense, only if the ability to identify its instances in favourable circumstances is among its concept-constitutive possession conditions. Thus, being able to identify squares is part and parcel ofhaving the concept SQUARE; it‘s constitutive of the content—hence of the identity—of the concept. So the storygoes. Notice that having SQUARE doesn’t require the ability to identify any and every square (consider a square as bigas the universe). Likewise, somebody could be thoroughly a possessor of the concept BIRD and none the less notknow whether to apply it to ostriches (to say nothing of pterodactyls). So the story must be (indeed, is) that having arecognitional concept requires being able to recognize good (clear, paradigmatic, etc.) instances of the concept. Youdon’t have BIRD unless you are inclined to take sparrows and the like to be birds.
But, now, the pet fish/striped apple/male nurse worries return full force. If, in particular, nothing is constitutive of conceptual content unless it composes, then recognitional capacities can‘t be constitutive of conceptual content. Forsomeone could have the appropriate recognitional capacities with respect to FISH (he sees at a glance that trout, tuna,and the like are fish) and could have the appropriate recognitional capacities with respect to PET (he sees at a glancethat poodles, Siamese kittens, and the like are pets), but be quite at a loss to identify even paradigmatic pet fish (e.g.even goldfish) as such. Because being a paradigm doesn’t compose, recognitional capacities don’t compose either. So thesame argument that shows that paradigms aren’t constituents of content shows that recognitional capacities aren’teither; hence that there aren’t any recognitional concepts. Compositionality is a sharp sword which cutteth many knots.(Or have I mentioned that?)
The long and short: either concepts qua prototypes aren’t compositional or, if they are, their compositionality is parasitic upon concepts qua something other than prototypes. Conceptual contents, however, must be compositional;nothing else could explain why concepts are systematic and productive. So concepts aren’t prototypes. This is too sadfor words. A theory of concepts has two things to explain: how concepts function as categories, and how a finite mindcan have an infinite and systematic conceptual capacity. Prototypes do a not-bad job of explaining the first (though,notoriously, they’re not so good at penguins and ostriches being birds). Anyhow, they do noticeably better thandefinitions. But they are hopeless at the second job; so I am claiming.
It may occur to you, however, that my evidence for this claim has thus far consisted exhaustively of the enumeration of counter-examples; and it may likewise strike you that that kind of evidence isn’t ultimately persuasive. No doubt, thereare technical problems about uncats and pet
fish; but it’s a profound methodological principle (owing, I believe, to Jim Higginbotham) that for technical problems there are technical solutions. Maybe there is, after all, some way around the apparent failures of prototypes tocompose? Given all the evidence that people do have prototypes, isn’t the identification of prototypes with concepts aprogramme that’s worth persisting in? Surely, the proper response to a counter-example is to explain it away? Orsimply to ignore it?
That is a methodology with which I am deeply sympathetic. But it doesn’t apply in the present case since there is independent reason to doubt that the examples of failures of prototypes to compose are merely apparent. It’s not justthat, prima facie, the identification of contents with prototypes fails for certain cases; it’s that there’s a prettyconvincing diagnosis of the failures which, if correct, shows why the project can’t succeed. Here’s the diagnosis.
Prototype theories of conceptual content are, as we’ve seen, instances of inferential role theories of conceptual content. Their only fundamental argument with the classical, definitional version of IRS is over which inferences are content-constitutive: classical theorists say it’s the defining ones, prototype theories say that it’s the statistically reliable ones.Jean-marc pizano