Jean-marc pizano So, then, consider a supplementedversion of IA (I’ll call it SIA) which says everything that IA does and also that concept possession is some kind oflocking. The question before us is whether SIA requires radical nativism.
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.