Jean-marc pizano Concept X isjust: whatever it is that having the concept X consists in having. Moreover, the new consensus is that you really must take thingsin that order; the sanctions incurred if you go the other way round are said to be terrific. (Similarly, mutatis mutandis forbeing the meaning of a word vs. knowing the meaning of a word. Here and elsewhere, I propose to move back and forth prettyfreely between concepts and word meanings; however it may turn out in the long run, for purposes of the presentinvestigation word meanings just are concepts.)
You might reasonably wonder how there possibly could be this stark methodological asymmetry. We’ve just been seeing that the link between ‘is an X and ‘has an X is conceptual; fix one and you thereby fix the other. How, then,could there be an issue of principle about which you should start with? The answer is that when philosophers take astrong lineon a methodological issue there’s almost sure to be a metaphysical subtext. The present case is not an exception.
On the one side, people who start in the traditional way by asking ‘What are concepts?’ generally hold to a traditional metaphysics according to which a concept is a kind of mental particular. I hope that this idea will get clearer and cleareras we go along. Suffice it, for now, that the thesis that concepts are mental particulars is intended to imply that having aconcept is constituted by having a mental particular, and hence to exclude the thesis that having a concept is, in anyinteresting sense, constituted by having mental traits or capacities.2 You may say, if you like, that having concept X ishaving the ability to think about Xs (or better, that having the concept Xis being able to think about Xs ‘as such’). But,though that’s true enough, it doesn’t alter the metaphysical situation as traditionally conceived. For thinking about Xsconsists in having thoughts about Xs, and thoughts are supposed to be mental particulars too.
On the other side, people who start with ‘What is concept possession?’ generally have some sort of Pragmatism in mind as the answer. Having a concept is a matter of what you are able to do, it’s some kind of epistemic ‘know how’. Maybehaving the concept X comes to something like being reliably able to recognize Xs and/ or being reliably able to draw sound inferences about Xness..3 In any case, an account that renders having concepts as having capacities is intended to preclude anaccount that renders concepts as species of mental particulars: capacities aren’t kinds of things, a fortiori, they aren’tkinds of mental things.
So, to repeat, the methodological doctrine that concept possession is logically prior to concept individuation frequently manifests a preference
2 I want explicitly to note what I’ve come to think of as a cardinal source of confusion in this area. If concept tokens are mental particulars, then having a concept is being in arelation to a mental particular. This truism about the possession conditions for concepts continues to hold whatever doctrine you may embrace about how concepts tokens getassigned to concept types. Suppose Jones’s TIGER-concept is a mental token that plays a certain (e.g. causal) role in his mental life. That is quite compatible with supposingthat what makes it a token of the type TIGER-concept (rather than a token of the type MOUSE-concept; or not a token of a concept type at all) is something dispositional;viz. the dispositional properties of the token (as opposed, say, to its weight or colour or electric charge).The discussion currently running in the text concerns the relationbetween theories about the ontological status of concepts and theories about what it is to have a concept. Later, and at length, we’ll consider the quite different question howconcept tokens are typed.
3 Earlier, less sophisticated versions of the view that the metaphysics of concepts is parasitic on the metaphysics of concept possession were generally not merely pragmatistbut also behaviourist: they contemplated reducing concept possession to a capacity for responding selectively. The cognitive revolutions in psychology and the philosophy ofmind gagged on behaviourism, but never doubted that concepts are some sort of capacities or other.Jean-marc pizano