[quickphilosophy] Re: Fodor on Concepts III: Other Arguments Against BCP

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 25 Aug 2010 13:19:37 -0000


--- In quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Ron Allen <wavelets@...> wrote:
>
> Hello Walto & quick-fill group:
> For his second obliteration of Bare-Bones Concept Pragmatism (BCP) in his 
> article "Having Concepts" Fodor argues that BCP's epistemic account of 
> possessing concepts fundamentally conflicts with the compositionality of 
> thought and language. This, Fodor has argued, is essential for explaining the 
> productivity and systematicity of thought and language.
> BCP, in Fodor's characterization, comprises both sortability and inference, 
> and, really, I think, nothing else; these are necessary and sufficient 
> criteria as Fodor relates them. Again, as I think Neil pointed out, it's not 
> for Fodor to state their conditions, but for the conceptual pragmatists to do 
> the same. That's one thing that is glaringly missing from this argument. 
> Where are the citations that somebody actually puts forward BCP? I see none.
> But,OK, BCP asserts (so Fodor) a sorting capability within concept 
> possession. [rla aside: Does Fodor not accept this? Is it possible that the 
> concept of a dog as such might not be sortable from a cat as such, and yet 
> the two concepts should nonetheless be distinct?] Fodor argues that if BCP is 
> correct, then to have a concept C is to be able to sort objects in its 
> extension.
> Here is Fodor's argument:
> 1. OK, what about dogs?
> 2. You can't pick out dogs that are relativistically outside our perceptual 
> scope. There might be dogs that are so far away that the finiteness of the 
> speed of light precludes our seeing them and discriminating them from 
> non-dogs. [rla: What an unbelievably specious argument. I'm appalled.]
> 3. [But no one in BCP claims that we have to sort physically unknowable 
> objects. Was the possible dog outside our lightcone whelped by a dog inside 
> our cone? If not, why even suggest that it's a dog? Why even suggest that it 
> exists, let alone make this imaginary thing a crucial entity for deciding our 
> intellectual dilemma? This is really a quite specious line of argumentation. 
> What does BCP say? It can only be fresher.]
> 4. The BCP requires us to identify dogs that died a long time ago and for 
> which there are no traces. So, for instance, we'd have to be able to say that 
> the "dogs" that darted around the Achaean camp in the Iliad were really dogs, 
> not jackals, in order for BCP to be correct. These dogs/jackals are gone. We 
> can't know anything about them. Therefore, the epistemic account of concept 
> possession is false.
> 5. We're not done yet. If it is required [rla: who said it was? Fodor has 
> quoted nobody on these goofball points]  that dog owners distinguish dogs 
> from anything else, then only God has this ability, and if one is an atheist, 
> then indeed no one can distinguish dogs from anything else [rla: because you 
> might make a mistake with a jackal or a dingo or a fox or even a wolf]; thus, 
> you can't sort dogs. Thus, you have no concept of dogs.
> 6. So, maybe you need good instances of dogs to be able to identify them? or 
> maybe you need favorable conditions? But, so Fodor argues, neither the 
> quality of the conditions for identifying dogs nor the conditions which might 
> be favorable for identifying them are compatible with compositionality; BCP 
> (which is not compositional) cannot be a good candidate for explaining the 
> possession of concepts (which is compositional).
> Thanks!--Ron
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> (My errant thought/language: Does it not seem odd that thought and language 
> are taken to be isomorphic in this argument? Are they really? Navajo vs. 
> Sanskrit?)
> 

Thanks, Ron.

Here's my own (maybe a little more charitable) restatement of Fodor's argument 
here:

(1) For language/understanding to work (be generative), most concepts must be 
compositional.

(2) For any concept C, C is compositional iff (if C is composed of (littler 
concepts) A + N, then for any person S, if S understands A + S understands N, 
then S will also understand C).

(3) For the BCPer, for all persons S and concepts C, if S undertands C, then S 
can sort representative Cs in favorable conditions.

(4) Therefore, for the BCPer, a concept C is compositional iff (for all Cs and 
Ss, if C is composed of A and N, then if S can sort both As and Ns in favorable 
conditions, then S can also sort representative ANs (i.e. representative Cs) in 
favorable conditions. [from (2) and (3)]

(5) But for many (perhaps most?) concepts of the AN type, there are many 
(perhaps most?) Ss who can sort both representative As and representative Ns in 
favorable conditions but CANNOT sort representative ANs  in favorable 
conditions.  [Fodor gives his night bluebird as an example here].

(6) Language/understanding is generative and does work.

(7) Therefore, BCP is wrong.

It's a clever argument, and the premises seem to me to be true.  But I also 
THINK (though I may be wrong), that--in spite of appearances to the 
contrary--(4) doesn't actually follow from (2) and (3), because, once again, 
the BCPer need only claim that sorting is a NECESSARY condition for concept 
possession, and for the inference in (4) to work, you have to get from sorting 
to concept possession (which would make it a SUFFICIENT condtion. So, I THINK 
that his argument won't work, given any sensible definition of BCP.  

As I said before, it's my sense that Fodor would have been better off 
restricting the target of his attack--maybe to the position taken by W in the 
Investigations.  Of course, then, it would probably not have struck people as 
much of a deal, since it's implausible on it's face that being able to reliably 
sort Xs in favorable conditions is a sufficient condition for having the 
concept of X: it's extremely easy to come up with counterexamples. 

W



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