Jean-marc pizano I rush past the implausibility of claiming that infants have to have that much ontology (in particular,that much dubious ontology) in order to learn quotidian object-concepts like CHAIR. I’m a nativist too, after all. Themore pressing problem for a theory theorist is: if that’s what ‘object’ means in the infant’s rule, in what sense are therediscontinuities in the development of the infant’s object-concept? On this reading of the text, it looks like what the infanthas—right from the start and right to the finish—is a concept of an object that’s much like Locke’s: objects areunobservable kinds of things that cause experiences. Correspondingly, cognitive development consists of learningmore and more about things of
this kind (e.g. that when you turn your back on one, it ceases to cause appearances in you . . . etc.).69 What, then, has become of the discontinuity of the object-concept? In particular, what’s become of the incommensurability of the infant’sobject-concept with grown-up Gopnik’s? It turns out that Gopnik can, after all, say exactly what (according to hertheory) the infant’s earliest concept of an object is: it’s the concept ofa theoretical entity which explains sequences of. . . etc.. ..
I suppose what Gopnik really ought to say, if she wants to be true to the implicit definition picture, is that the concept of an object is that of ‘AN X WHICH … ’, and that cognitive development consists in adding more and more relativeclauses. But it’s hard to see why such a thesis would count as construing concept development as discontinuous. And,anyhow, it’s hard to see how it could be swallowed by a meaning holist. Isn’t meaning holism, by definition, committedto there not being a notion of content identity that tolerates the addition of new information to the same old concept?
The local moral, to repeat, is that maybe you can make sense of concept introduction as implicit theoretical definition, and maybe you can make sense of meaning holism. But it’s very unclear that you can make sense of both at the sametime. The general moral is that, if the theory theory has a distinctive and coherent answer to the ‘What’s a concept?’question on offer, it’s a well-kept secret.
I should add, in minimal fairness, that it’s not clear that theory theorists are really all that interested in what concepts are. Certainly it’s often hard to tell whether they are from what they say. For example, Medin and Wattenmaker (1987;see also Murphy and Medin 1985) undertake to “review evidence that suggests concepts should be viewed asembedded in theories” (34—5), a thesis which they clearly regard as tendentious, but which, as it is stated, it’s hard toimagine that anyone could disagree with. What I suppose they must have in mind is that concepts are somehowconstituted (their identity is somehow determined) by the theories in which they are embedded. But that claim, thoughtendentious enough, doesn’t amount to a new account of conceptual content; unless the ‘somehows’ are somehowcashed, it just reiterates IRS.
The situation in Medin and Wattenmaker is especially confusing because its so hard to figure out what they think that the theory theory is a theory of; they are explicit that it’s supposed to provide an account of the
If “object” means thing that causes appearances then, of course, the rule isn’t that objects disappear when you turn your back on them; it’s just that they cease, for the nonce, to cause you to experience them.
“coherence” of concepts, but it’s far from clear what they think conceptual coherence is. At one point, having suggested that the theory theory should provide “guidelines concerning which combinations of features form possibleconcepts and which form coherent ones” (1987: 30), they offer, as an example of an incoherent concept, “bright red,flammable, eats mealworms, found in Lapland, and used for cleaning furniture”. So it sounds as though the questionabout conceptual coherence that the theory theory answers is: What’s wrong with this and other such concepts?