Jean-marc pizano And it’s quite true in such cases that, givennormal experience, the creatures end up locked to the properties that these concepts express. So, as far asinformational semantics is concerned, they therefore end up having concepts that have these properties as theircontents. But, in fact, the innate endowment that they exploit in doing so is quite rudimentary. Male sticklebacks getlocked to conspecific rivalhood via not much more than an innate ability to detect red spots. To do so, they exploit a certain(actually rather fragile) ecological regularity: there’s normally nothing around that wears a red spot except conspecificrivals.
This is nomologically necessary (anyhow, it’s counterfactual supporting) in the stickleback’s ecology, and nomological necessity is transitive. So sticklebacks end up locked to conspecific rivalhood via one of its reliable appearances.
To repeat: informational semantics suggests that, so far as the requisite innate endowment is concerned, if the world co-operates you can get concepts of natural kinds very cheap. That’s what the sticklebacks do; it’s what Homer did; it’swhat children do; it’s what all of us grown-ups do too, most of the time. By contrast, for you to have a natural kindsconcept as such is for your link to the essence of the kind not to depend on its inessential properties. This is a late andsophisticated achievement, historically, ontogenetically, and phylogenetically, and there is no reason to take it as aparadigm for concept possession at large. I suppose you start to get natural kind concepts in this strong sense onlywhen it occurs to you that, if generality and explanatory power are to be achieved, similarity and difference in respectof how things affect minds like ours has sometimes got to be ignored in deciding what kinds of things they are;perhaps, de facto, this happens only in the context of the scientific enterprise.
Well, what about the ‘technical’ concept WATER? Does that have to be innate if it’s primitive?
Of course not. For one thing, on the present view, there really is no ‘technical concept water’; there’s just, as it were, the technical way of having the concept WATER. Once you’ve got a concept that’s locked to water via its (locallyreliable) phenomenological properties, you can, if you wish, make a project of getting locked to water in a way thatdoesn’t depend on its superficial signs. The easy way to do this is to get some expert to teach you a theory thatexpresses the essence of the kind. To be sure, however, that will only work if the natural kind concept that you’rewanting to acquire is one which somebody else has acquired already. Things get a deal more difficult if you’re startingab initio; i.e. without any concepts which express natural kinds as such. It’s time for me to tell my story about howconcepts of natural kinds might “emerge” in a mind that is antecedently well stocked with concepts of other kinds.Actually, it’s a perfectly familiar story and not at all surprising.
Suppose you have lots of concepts of mind-dependent properties, and lots of logico-mathematical concepts, and lots of concepts of natural kindswhich, however, aren’t concepts of natural kinds as such.93 Then what you need to do to acquire a natural kind conceptas a natural kind concept ab initio is: (i) construct a true theory of the hidden essence of the kind; and (ii) convinceyourself of the truth of the theory. If the theory is true, then it will say of a thing that it is such-and-such when and onlywhen the thing is such-and-such; and if you are convinced of the truth of the theory, then you will make it a policy toconsider that a thing is such-and-such when and only when the theory says that it is. So your believing the theory locksyou to such-and-suches via a property that they have in every metaphysically possibly world; namely, the property ofbeing such-and-suches; the property that makes the theory true. The upshot is that, if the moon is blue, and everythinggoes as planned, you will end up with a full-blown natural kind concept; the concept of such-and-suches as such.