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

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 02 Sep 2010 22:54:30 -0000

--- In quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, "gabuddabout" <gabuddabout@...> wrote:
> Nice exchange between Walter and Ron.
> Walter writes:
> >Right, but now I'm beginning to wonder whether the more complex concept 
> >really
> IS nothing more than what can be composed of those constituents. I mean,
> couldn't somebody object that whenever one CAN sort As and Bs but CAN'T sort 
> ABs
> we have good evidence that AB ISN'T just made up of Aness and Bness?
> Because of this objection you raise, do we choose (or must we choose) to 
> allow epistemic clauses in the analysis of concept possession?  I'll allow 
> for my not getting the point.

As I understand it, Fodor's conclusion that there is nothing epistemic (as I 
think he understands that) in concept possession is supposed to follow from 

(i) Language has a finite # of terms but is generative, allowing people to 
communicate nicely, understand new things, etc.

(ii) (i) can only be the case if (some?/many?/most?/all?) concepts are 

(iii) if concept possession is epistemic, (some/many/most/all) concepts are not 

Therefore, concept possession is not epistemic (i.e., BCP is false).

But, as Ron points out this argument puts a lot of pressure precisely where no 
empirical info is provided--on the "some/many/most/all".  My point above was 
just that somebody could hold that maybe it's true that Fodor can give a few a 
counter-examples to compositionality if BCP is true, but it doesn't matter 
because those are just unusual outlier concepts.  This person might hold that 
it's still the case that USUALLY, compositionality works even for BCPers, and 
that's enough for (i) to be true.

> > I suppose
> that in that case Fodor would just go back to his claim that many (most? all?)
> concepts simply MUST be compositional, or language understanding wouldn't be
> possible.
> Isn't Fodor concerned with concept possession in a way that is distinct from 
> "language understanding."  Aren't these sort of different animals insofar as 
> language understanding involves idioms that aren't part of the science of 
> concept possession?  I'll allow that I just blew a big fart here in not 
> getting yet another point.

I think he uses the obvious truth that there is language understanding and that 
we aren't stuck in some finite box of just a few props we can understand to try 
to prove that concept possession is not epistemic. That is, he DOES think 
they're different animals and that the fact of one shows that the other is 
wrong.  But, as indicated, I don't think the argument quite works.

> > But, again, why couldn't there just be a handful of AB-type concepts
> that aren't compositional in that way without language being completely 
> stymied?
> If idioms may be such handfuls, and we are not stymied by idioms, then 
> perhaps none of us, including Fodor, are stymied by this possibility.  But 
> again, maybe I missed the point.

We clearly aren't stymied, and what that shows, I think, is that either (a) 
compositionality need not be universal for language to be generative, (b) BCP 
doesn't require that sorting be sufficient, only necessary, or (c) BCP is 
false.  Fodor jumps right to (c) but I think there are two other possibilities.


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