Just as it’s possible to dissociate the

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19

Just as it’s possible to dissociate the idea that concepts are complex from the claim that meaning-constitutive inferences are necessary, so too it’s possible to dissociate the idea that concepts are constituted by their roles in inferences from the claim that they are complex. See Appendix 5A.

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20

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More precisely, only with respect to conceptualy necessary inferences. (Notice that neither nomological nor metaphysical necessity will do; there might be laws about brown cows per se, and (who knows?) brown cows might have a proprietary hidden essence.) I don’t know what a Classical IRS theorist should say if it turns out that conceptuallynecessary inferences aren’t ipso facto definitional or vice versa. That, however, is his problem, not mine.

21

They aren’t the only ones, of course. For example, Keil remarks that “Theories . . . make it impossible … to talk about the construction of concepts solely on the basis ofprobabilistic distributions of properties in the world” (1987: 196). But that’s true only on the assumption that theories somehow constitute the concepts they contain. DittoKeil’s remark that “future work on the nature of concepts . . . must focus on the sorts of theories that emerge in children and how these theories come to influence thestructure of the concepts that they embrace” (ibid.).

22

There are exceptions. Susan Carey thinks that the individuation of concepts must be relativized to the theories they occur in, but that only the basic ‘ontological’commitments of a theory are content constitutive. (However, see Carey 1985: 168: “I assume that there is a continuum of degrees of conceptual differences, at the extremeend of which are concepts embedded in incommensurable conceptual systems.”) It’s left open how basic ontological claims are to be distinguished from commitments ofother kinds, and Carey is quite aware that problems about drawing this distinction are depressingly like the analytic/synthetic problems. But in so far as Carey has an accountof content individuation on offer, it does seem to be some version of the Classical theory.

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23

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This point is related, but not identical, to the familiar worry about whether implicit definition can effect a ‘qualitative change’ in a theory’s expressive power: the worry thatdefinitions (implicit or otherwise) can only introduce concepts whose contents are already expressible by the host theory. (For discussion, see Fodor 1975.) It looks to methat implicit definition is specially problematic for meaning holists even if it’s granted that an implicit definition can (somehow) extend the host theory’s expressive power.

24

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I don’t particularly mean to pick on Gopnik; the cognitive science literature is full of examples of the mistake that I’m trying to draw attention to. What’s unusual aboutGopnik’s treatment is just that it’s clear enough for one to see what the problem is.

25

As usual, it’s essential to keep in mind that when a de dicto intentional explanation attributes to an agent knowledge (rules, etc.), it thereby credits the agent with the conceptsinvolved in formulating the knowledge, and thus incurs the burden of saying what concepts they are. See the ‘methodological digression’ in Chapter 2.

26

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This chapter reconsiders some issues about the nativistic commitments of RTMs that I first raised in Fodor 1975 and then discussed extensively in 1981^. Casual familiaritywith the latter paper is recommended as a prolegomenon to this discussion.I’m especially indebted to Andrew Milne and to Peter Grim for having raised (essentially thesame) cogent objections to a previous version.

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27

For discussions that turn on this issue, see Fodor 1986; Antony and Levine 1991; Fodor 1991.

28

Actually, of course, DOORKNOB isn’t a very good example, since it’s plausibly a compound composed of the constituent concepts DOOR and KNOB. But let’s ignorethat for the sake of the discussion.

29

Well, maybe the acquisition of PROTON doesn’t; it’s plausible that PROTON is not typically acquired from its instances. So, as far as this part of the discussion is concerned, you are therefore free to take PROTON as a primitive concept if you want to. But I imagine you don’t want to.Perhaps, in any case, it goes without saying thatthe fact that the d/D effect is widespread in concept acquisition is itself contingent and a posteriori.

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Then came the Snake.What the Snake Said

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Then came the Snake.

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What the Snake Said

‘I have here,’ the Snake said, ‘some stuff that will no doubt strike you, in your Innocence, as a sample of bona fide, original, straight off the shelf, X-ness. But come a little closer—come close enough to see how the stuff is puttogether—and you’ll see that it isn’t X after all. In fact, it’s some kind of Y

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—‘Sucks to how it’s put together,’ we replied, in our Innocence. ‘For a thing to strike us as of a kind with paradigm Xs just is for that thing to be an X. X-ness just is the property of being the kind of thing to which we do (or would)extrapolate from appropriate experience with typical Xs. Man is the measure; vide doorknobs.’

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—‘That,’ the Snake replied, ‘depends. Since we’re assuming from the start that Xs and Ys are, for practical purposes, indistinguishable in their effects on you, it follows that thinking of both Xs and Ys as Xs will do you no practical harm.For example, for purposes of longevity, reproductive efficiency, and the like, it’s all one whether you ingest only Xsunder the description ‘X or you ingest both Xs and Ys under that description. But that is ingest; I am in earnest. Ifyou want to carve Nature at the joints, if you want to know how the world seems to God, you will have to learn sometimesto distinguish between Xs and Ys even though they taste (and feel, and look, and sound, and quite generally strike youas) much the same. It’s entirely up to you of course. Far be it from me to twist your arm. (Sign here, please. In blood.)’

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We fell for that, and it was, on balance, a fortunate Fall. The trouble with being Innocent is that, although how God made things sometimes shows up in broad similarities and differences in the way that they strike us (trees reliably strikeus as quite different from rocks; and they are), sometimes it only shows up in similarities and differences in the waythings

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strike us in very highly contrived, quite unnatural environments; experimental environments, as it might be. For it’s sometimes only in terms of a taxonomy that classifies things by similarities and differences among the ways that theydo (or would) behave in those sorts of environments, that we can specify the deep generalizations that the world obeys.We are, after all, peculiar and complicated sorts of objects. There is no obvious reason why similarity in respect of theway that things affect us should, in general, predict similarity in the way that they affect objects that are less peculiarthan us, or less complicated than us, or that are peculiar and complicated in different ways than us.36

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Unless, however, we contrive, with malice aforethought, that things should strike us as alike only if they are alike in respect of the deep sources of their causal powers: that they should strike us as alike only if they share their hiddenessences. So, for example, we can set things up so that the chemicals in the bottles will both turn the paper red (andthereby strike us as similar) if, but only if, they are both acids. Or, we can set things up so that both meters will registerthe same (and thereby strike us as similar) if, but only if, there’s the same amount of current in both the circuits; and soon. The moral is that whereas you lock to doorknobhood via a metaphysical necessity, if you want to lock to a natural kindproperty, you have actually to do the science.

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So much for the fairy tale. It’s intuitively plausible, phylogenetically, ontogenetically, and even just historically, to think of natural kind concepts as late sophistications that are somehow constructed on a prior cognitive capacity forconcepts of mind-dependent properties. But intuitively plausible is one thing, true is another. So, is it true? And, whatdoes “doing the science” amount to? How, having started out as Innocents with no concepts of natural kinds, could wehave got to where we are, with natural kind concepts like WATER? I turn to these questions in, more or less, thatorder.

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“[take] the burden of explaining learningout of the environmental input and [put] it back into the child” (1989: 14—15). Only if the child does not overgeneralizelexical categories is there evidence for his “differentiating [them] a priori’ (ibid.: 44, my emphasis); viz. prior toenvironmentally provided information.

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Jean-marc pizano “[take] the burden of explaining learningout of the environmental input and [put] it back into the child” (1989: 14—15). Only if the child does not overgeneralizelexical categories is there evidence for his “differentiating [them] a priori’ (ibid.: 44, my emphasis); viz. prior toenvironmentally provided information.

 

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Pinker’s argument is therefore straightforwardly missing a premiss. The logical slip seems egregious, but Pinker really does make it, as far as I can tell. Consider:

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[Since there is empirical evidence against the child’s having negative information, and there is empirical evidence for the child’s rules being productive,] the only way out of Baker’s Paradox that’s left is . . . rejecting arbitrariness.Perhaps the verbs that do or don’t participate in these alterations do not belong to arbitrary lists after all . . .[Perhaps, in particular, these classes are specifiable by reference to semantic criteria.] … If learners could acquireand enforce criteria delineating the[se] . . . classes of verbs, they could productively generalize an alternation to verbsthat meet the criteria without overgeneralizing it to those that do not. (ibid.: 30)

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Precisely so. If, as Pinker’s theory claims, the lexical facts are non-arbitrary and children are sensitive to their nonarbitrariness, then the right prediction is that children don’t overgeneralize the lexical rules.

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Which, however, by practically everybody’s testimony, including Pinker’s, children reliably do. On Pinker’s own account, children aren’t “conservative” in respect of the lexicon (see 1989: 19—26, sec. 1.4.4.1 for lots and lots ofcases).38 This being so, there’s got to be something wrong with the theory that the child’s hypotheses “differentiate”lexical classes a priori. A priori constraints would mean that false hypotheses don’t even get tried. Overgeneralization, bycontrast, means that false hypotheses do get tried but are somehow expunged (presumably by some sort ofinformation that the environment supplies).

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At one point, Pinker almost ’fesses up to this. The heart of his strategy for lexical learning is that “if the verbs that occur in both forms have some [e.g. semantic] property. . . that is missing in the verbs that occur [in the input data] inonly one form, bifurcate the verbs … so as to expunge nonwitnessed verb forms generated by the earlierunconstrained version of the rule if they violate the newly learned constraint” (1989: 52). Pinker admits that this may“appear to be using a kind of indirect negative evidence: it is sensitive to the nonoccurrence of certain kinds of verbs”.To be sure; it sounds an awful lot like saying that there is no Baker’s Paradox for the learning of verb structure, henceno argument for a priori semanticconstraints on the child’s hypotheses about lexical syntax. What happens, on this view, is that the child overgeneralizes,just as you would expect, but the overgeneralizations are inhibited by lack of positive supporting evidence from thelinguistic environment and, for this reason, they eventually fade away. This would seem to be a perfectlystraightforward case of environmentally determined learning, albeit one that emphasizes (as one might have said in theold days) ‘lack of reward’ rather than ‘punishment’ as the signal that the environment uses to transmit negative data tothe learner. I’m not, of course, suggesting that this sort of story is right. (Indeed Pinker provides a good discussion ofwhy it probably isn’t, see section 1.4.3.2.) My point is that Pinker’s own account seems to be no more than a case of it.What is crucial to Pinker’s solution of Baker’s Paradox isn’t that he abandons arbitrariness; it’s that he abandons ‘no negative data’.

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Understandably, Pinker resists this diagnosis. The passage cited above continues as follows:

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This procedure might appear to be using a kind of indirect negative evidence; it is sensitive to the nonoccurrence of certain kinds of forms. It does so, though, only in the uninteresting sense of acting differently depending onwhether it hears X or doesn’t hear X, which is true of virtually any learning algorithm … It is not sensitive to thenonoccurrence of particular sentences or even verb-argument structure combinations in parental speech; rather it isseveral layers removed from the input, looking at broad statistical patterns across the lexicon. (1989: 52)

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There is, however, a widespread consensus (and not only among conceptual relativists) that intentional explanation can, after all, be preserved without supposing that belief contents are often—or even ever—literally public. The idea isthat a robust notion of content similarity would do just as well as a robust notion of content identity for the cognitivescientist’s purposes. Here, to choose a specimen practically at random, is a recent passage in which Gil Harmanenunciates this faith:

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There is, however, a widespread consensus (and not only among conceptual relativists) that intentional explanation can, after all, be preserved without supposing that belief contents are often—or even ever—literally public. The idea isthat a robust notion of content similarity would do just as well as a robust notion of content identity for the cognitivescientist’s purposes. Here, to choose a specimen practically at random, is a recent passage in which Gil Harmanenunciates this faith:

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Sameness of meaning from one symbol system to another is a similarity relation rather than an identity relation in the respect that sameness of meaning is not transitive … I am inclined to extend the point to concepts, thoughts,and beliefs . . . The account of sameness of content appeals to the best way of translating between two systems,where goodness in translation has to do with preserving certain aspects of usage, with no appeal to any more‘robust’ notion of content or meaning identity. . . [There’s no reason why] the resulting notion of sameness ofcontent should fail to satisfy the purposes of intentional explanation. (1993: 169—79)7

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It’s important whether such a view can be sustained since, as we’ll see, meeting the requirement that intentional contents be literally public is non-trivial; like compositionality, publicity imposes a substantial constraint upon one’stheory of concepts and hence, derivatively, upon one’s theory of language. In fact, however, the idea that contentsimilarity is the basic notion in intentional explanation is affirmed a lot more widely than it’s explained; and it’s quiteunclear, on reflection, how the notion of similarity that such a semantics would require might be unquestion-begginglydeveloped. On one hand, such a notion must be robust in the sense that it preserves intentional explanations prettygenerally; on the other hand, it must do so without itself presupposing a robust notion of content identity. To the best of myknowledge, it’s true without exception that all the construals of concept similarity that have thus far been put on offeregregiously fail the second condition.

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Harman, for example, doesn’t say much more about content-similarity-cum-goodness-of-translation than that it isn’t transitive and that it “preserves certain aspects of usage”. That’s not a lot to go on. Certainly it leaves wide openwhether Harman is right in denying that his account of content similarity presupposes a “ ‘robust’ notion of content ormeaning identity”. For whether it does depends on how the relevant “aspects ofusage” are themselves supposed to be individuated, and about this we’re told nothing at all.

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Harman is, of course, too smart to be a behaviourist; ‘usage’, as he uses it, is itself an intentional-cum-semantic term. Suppose, what surely seems plausible, that one of the ‘aspects of usage’ that a good translation of ‘dog’ has to preserveis that it be a term that implies animal, or a term that doesn’t apply to ice cubes, or, for matter, a term that means dog Ifso, then we’re back where we started; Harman needs notions like same implication, same application, and same meaningin order to explicate his notion of content similarity. All that’s changed is which shell the pea is under.

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At one point, Harman asks rhetorically, “What aspects of use determine meaning?” Reply: “It is certainly relevant what terms are applied to and the reasons that might be offered for this application … it is also relevant how some termsare used in relation to other terms” (ibid.: 166). But I can‘t make any sense of this unless some notion of ‘sameapplication’, ‘same reason’, and ‘same relation of terms’ is being taken for granted in characterizing what goodtranslations ipso facto have in common. NB on pain of circularity: same application (etc.), not similar application (etc.).Remember that similarity of semantic properties is the notion that Harman is trying to explain, so his explanation mustn’tpresuppose that notion.

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I don’t particularly mean to pick on Harman; if his story begs the question it was supposed to answer, that is quite typical of the literature on concept similarity. Though it’s often hidden in a cloud of technical apparatus (for a detailedcase study, see Fodor and Lepore 1992: ch. 7), the basic problem is easy enough to see.Jean-marc pizano

Then came the Snake.What the Snake Said

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Then came the Snake.

What the Snake Said

‘I have here,’ the Snake said, ‘some stuff that will no doubt strike you, in your Innocence, as a sample of bona fide, original, straight off the shelf, X-ness. But come a little closer—come close enough to see how the stuff is puttogether—and you’ll see that it isn’t X after all. In fact, it’s some kind of Y

—‘Sucks to how it’s put together,’ we replied, in our Innocence. ‘For a thing to strike us as of a kind with paradigm Xs just is for that thing to be an X. X-ness just is the property of being the kind of thing to which we do (or would)extrapolate from appropriate experience with typical Xs. Man is the measure; vide doorknobs.’

—‘That,’ the Snake replied, ‘depends. Since we’re assuming from the start that Xs and Ys are, for practical purposes, indistinguishable in their effects on you, it follows that thinking of both Xs and Ys as Xs will do you no practical harm.For example, for purposes of longevity, reproductive efficiency, and the like, it’s all one whether you ingest only Xsunder the description ‘X or you ingest both Xs and Ys under that description. But that is ingest; I am in earnest. Ifyou want to carve Nature at the joints, if you want to know how the world seems to God, you will have to learn sometimesto distinguish between Xs and Ys even though they taste (and feel, and look, and sound, and quite generally strike youas) much the same. It’s entirely up to you of course. Far be it from me to twist your arm. (Sign here, please. In blood.)’

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We fell for that, and it was, on balance, a fortunate Fall. The trouble with being Innocent is that, although how God made things sometimes shows up in broad similarities and differences in the way that they strike us (trees reliably strikeus as quite different from rocks; and they are), sometimes it only shows up in similarities and differences in the waythings

strike us in very highly contrived, quite unnatural environments; experimental environments, as it might be. For it’s sometimes only in terms of a taxonomy that classifies things by similarities and differences among the ways that theydo (or would) behave in those sorts of environments, that we can specify the deep generalizations that the world obeys.We are, after all, peculiar and complicated sorts of objects. There is no obvious reason why similarity in respect of theway that things affect us should, in general, predict similarity in the way that they affect objects that are less peculiarthan us, or less complicated than us, or that are peculiar and complicated in different ways than us.36

Unless, however, we contrive, with malice aforethought, that things should strike us as alike only if they are alike in respect of the deep sources of their causal powers: that they should strike us as alike only if they share their hiddenessences. So, for example, we can set things up so that the chemicals in the bottles will both turn the paper red (andthereby strike us as similar) if, but only if, they are both acids. Or, we can set things up so that both meters will registerthe same (and thereby strike us as similar) if, but only if, there’s the same amount of current in both the circuits; and soon. The moral is that whereas you lock to doorknobhood via a metaphysical necessity, if you want to lock to a natural kindproperty, you have actually to do the science.

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So much for the fairy tale. It’s intuitively plausible, phylogenetically, ontogenetically, and even just historically, to think of natural kind concepts as late sophistications that are somehow constructed on a prior cognitive capacity forconcepts of mind-dependent properties. But intuitively plausible is one thing, true is another. So, is it true? And, whatdoes “doing the science” amount to? How, having started out as Innocents with no concepts of natural kinds, could wehave got to where we are, with natural kind concepts like WATER? I turn to these questions in, more or less, thatorder.

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Just as it’s possible to dissociate the

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19

Just as it’s possible to dissociate the idea that concepts are complex from the claim that meaning-constitutive inferences are necessary, so too it’s possible to dissociate the idea that concepts are constituted by their roles in inferences from the claim that they are complex. See Appendix 5A.

20

More precisely, only with respect to conceptualy necessary inferences. (Notice that neither nomological nor metaphysical necessity will do; there might be laws about brown cows per se, and (who knows?) brown cows might have a proprietary hidden essence.) I don’t know what a Classical IRS theorist should say if it turns out that conceptuallynecessary inferences aren’t ipso facto definitional or vice versa. That, however, is his problem, not mine.

21

They aren’t the only ones, of course. For example, Keil remarks that “Theories . . . make it impossible … to talk about the construction of concepts solely on the basis ofprobabilistic distributions of properties in the world” (1987: 196). But that’s true only on the assumption that theories somehow constitute the concepts they contain. DittoKeil’s remark that “future work on the nature of concepts . . . must focus on the sorts of theories that emerge in children and how these theories come to influence thestructure of the concepts that they embrace” (ibid.).

22

There are exceptions. Susan Carey thinks that the individuation of concepts must be relativized to the theories they occur in, but that only the basic ‘ontological’commitments of a theory are content constitutive. (However, see Carey 1985: 168: “I assume that there is a continuum of degrees of conceptual differences, at the extremeend of which are concepts embedded in incommensurable conceptual systems.”) It’s left open how basic ontological claims are to be distinguished from commitments ofother kinds, and Carey is quite aware that problems about drawing this distinction are depressingly like the analytic/synthetic problems. But in so far as Carey has an accountof content individuation on offer, it does seem to be some version of the Classical theory.

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23

This point is related, but not identical, to the familiar worry about whether implicit definition can effect a ‘qualitative change’ in a theory’s expressive power: the worry thatdefinitions (implicit or otherwise) can only introduce concepts whose contents are already expressible by the host theory. (For discussion, see Fodor 1975.) It looks to methat implicit definition is specially problematic for meaning holists even if it’s granted that an implicit definition can (somehow) extend the host theory’s expressive power.

24

I don’t particularly mean to pick on Gopnik; the cognitive science literature is full of examples of the mistake that I’m trying to draw attention to. What’s unusual aboutGopnik’s treatment is just that it’s clear enough for one to see what the problem is.

25

As usual, it’s essential to keep in mind that when a de dicto intentional explanation attributes to an agent knowledge (rules, etc.), it thereby credits the agent with the conceptsinvolved in formulating the knowledge, and thus incurs the burden of saying what concepts they are. See the ‘methodological digression’ in Chapter 2.

26

This chapter reconsiders some issues about the nativistic commitments of RTMs that I first raised in Fodor 1975 and then discussed extensively in 1981^. Casual familiaritywith the latter paper is recommended as a prolegomenon to this discussion.I’m especially indebted to Andrew Milne and to Peter Grim for having raised (essentially thesame) cogent objections to a previous version.

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27

For discussions that turn on this issue, see Fodor 1986; Antony and Levine 1991; Fodor 1991.

28

Actually, of course, DOORKNOB isn’t a very good example, since it’s plausibly a compound composed of the constituent concepts DOOR and KNOB. But let’s ignorethat for the sake of the discussion.

29

Well, maybe the acquisition of PROTON doesn’t; it’s plausible that PROTON is not typically acquired from its instances. So, as far as this part of the discussion is concerned, you are therefore free to take PROTON as a primitive concept if you want to. But I imagine you don’t want to.Perhaps, in any case, it goes without saying thatthe fact that the d/D effect is widespread in concept acquisition is itself contingent and a posteriori.

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