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