Jean-marc pizano On one hand, everybody knows, deep down, thatInferential Role Semantics makes the problem of concept individuation intractable. And, on the other hand, everybodygags on Informational Atomism. (Well, practically everybody does.) And nobody seems to be able to think of any otheralternatives. Probably that’s because those are all the alternatives that there are.
It’s my view that we’re eventually going to have to swallow Informational Atomism whole. Accordingly, I’ve been doing what I can to
sweeten the pill. It seemed to me, for a long while, that a cost of atomism would be failing to honour the distinction between theoretical concepts and the rest. For, surely, theoretical concepts are ones that you have to believe a theory inorder to have? And, according to conceptual atomism, there are no concepts that you have to believe a theory in orderto have. But it doesn’t seem to me that way now. A theoretical concept isn’t a concept that’s defined by a theory; it’s justa concept that is, de facto, locked to a property via a theory. Informational Atomism doesn’t mind that at all, so long asyou keep the “de facto” in mind.
Likewise, it used to seem to me that atomism about concepts means that DOORKNOB is innate. But now I think that you can trade a certain amount of innateness for a certain amount of mind-dependence. Being a doorknob is just:striking our kinds of minds the way that doorknobs do. So, what you need to acquire the concept DOORKNOB“from experience” is just: the kind of mind that experience causes to be struck that way by doorknobs. The price ofmaking this trade of innateness for mind-dependence is, however, a touch of Wotan’s problem. It turns out that muchof what we find in the world is indeed “only ourselves”. It turns out, in lots of cases, that we make things be of a kind bybeing disposed to take them to be of a kind.
But not in every case; not, in particular, in the case of kinds of things that are alike in respect of the hidden sources of their causal powers, regardless of their likeness in respect of their effects on us. To describe it in terms of those sorts ofsimilarities is to describe the world the way that God takes it to be. Doing science is how we contrive to causeourselves to have the concepts that such descriptions are couched in. Not philosophy but science is the way to getWotan out of his fly-bottle. That story seems to me plausibly true; and it is, as we’ve seen, compatible with aninformational and atomistic account of the individuation of concepts. But dear me, speaking of fly-bottles, howWittgenstein would have loathed it; and Wagner and Virginia Woolf too, for that matter. Well, you can’t pleaseeveryone; I’ll bet it would have been all right with Plato.
Short Conclusion: A Consolation for Philosophers
That’s really the end of my story; but a word about what I think of as the Luddite objection to conceptual atomism is perhaps in order.
It‘s natural, pace Appendix 5A, to suppose that conceptual atomism means that there are no conceptual truths, hence that there are no analytic truths. And, if there are no analytic truths, I suppose that there are no such things asconceptual analyses. And it would be worrying if ‘noanalyticity’ entailed not just ‘no analyses’ but ‘no analytic philosophy’ as well. Technological unemployment would thenbegin to threaten.
But I guess I’m not inclined to take that prospect very seriously; certainly I’m not one of those end-of-philosophy philosophers. If, there aren’t any conceptual analyses, the moral isn’t that we should stop doing philosophy, or eventhat we should start doing philosophy in some quite different way. The moral is just that we should stop saying thatconceptual analysis is what philosophers do. If analytic philosophers haven’t been analysing concepts after all, at leastthat explains why there are so few concepts that analytic philosophers have analysed.
I guess what I really think is that philosophy is just: whatever strikes minds like ours as being of the same kind as the prototypical examples.Jean-marc pizano