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

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 25 Aug 2010 13:56:16 -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] Â 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.

Thanks, Ron.

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

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

(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 understands 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, the BCPer 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.


Other related posts: