[quickphilosophy] Re: Fodor on Concepts V: Circularity & Peacocke's implicit definition theory

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 29 Sep 2010 18:16:34 -0000

--- In quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, "wavelets@..." <wavelets@...> wrote:
> Hi quickphilosophy group:
> I'm still working on Section 3.3 of Fodor's paper 'Having concepts: a brief 
> refutation of the twentieth century,' "Mind & Language," vol. 19, no. 1, Feb. 
> 200, pp. 29-47. The second subsection (pp. 40 ff.) is about circularity and 
> inference, and it concerns not Bare-Bones Concept Pragmatism (BCP) 
> explicitly, but a related philosophical standpoint, where *implicit 
> definition* as a key element of concept possession. The related philosophical 
> tendency is represented by Peacocke, "A Study of Concepts," Cambridge, MA: 
> MIT Press, 1992.
> Fodor begins with the concepts of the logical connectives, and he works, 
> again by example, from Peacocke's formulation of concept possession for 
> CONJUNCTION, or the logical AND operation, of logic. For Peacocke, a thinker 
> possesses the concept of CONJUNCTION precisely by accepting the inference 
> rules for logical AND:
> pCq     pCq     p
>                          q
> ---      ---     ---
> p           q         pCq
> So if a thinker can get from premises containing CONJUNCTION (C) to those 
> that don't, and that thinker can get from premises that don't contain 
> CONJUNCTION to those that do, then that thinker possesses the concept of 
> The inferences are valid because of *their form alone*, and that is all there 
> is to having the concept of CONJUNCTION (according to Fodor's rendition of 
> Peacocke). But is grasping the concept of CONJUNCTION the same as following 
> the above schema for its elimination (two one the left) and its introduction 
> (scheme on the right)? Fodor argues that this claim is invalid (p. 41).
> Thanks  & more later!
> --Ron

Thanks, Ron.  I'm get the sense, with this argument too, that Fodor is still 
flitting back and forth between the propensity to make the right inferences 
BEING the concept possession and that propensity being a necessary condition 
for having the concept.  Fodor says, e.g., that Peacocke has a problem because 
"all sorts of things other than having CONJUNCTION might explain why somebody 
accepts a substitution instance of 'John CONJUNCTION Mary swim' iff he accepts 
both that John swims and that Mary swims."  But if Peacocke is only making this 
propensity a necessary condition, Fodor's argument fails.  Later, Fodor says, 
"Peacocke says that to accept conjunction introduction/elimination as 
primitively compelling is essential to the mastery of CONJUNCTION..."  But 
again, to say that X is essential to Y isn't to say that X IS Y.

I suppose Fodor could be asking what else for the concept pragmatist IS concept 
possession besides having the proper propensity, if making the right inferences 
is thought only to be a necessary condition.  That is, he might say, "Well 
look, the whole point of your pragmatism was to make concept possession into 
some sort of testable epistemological ability.  So if you can't do that, you 
might as well just drop it and join me in my anti-pragmatic understanding of 
understanding."  I don't have any real response to that challenge: I guess I 
think that concept possession is, like most interesting philosophical concepts, 
probably unanalyzable, and to that extent, maybe I agree with Fodor.  But I 
also agree with those "pragmatists" (if any) who insist (as Fodor seems to 
deny), that one can't have these concepts if one doesn't make the right 
inferences.  And I think that if Fodor wants to refute them, he needs to find 
explicit statements (as I think he might in Witt., Quine, and Davidson) to the 
effect that concept possession is NOTHING MORE than having certain 
epistemological abilities.  In addition, I think before claiming to refute the 
weaker thesis, one should be required to give examples of somebody 
understanding CONJUNCTION but not getting that if p & q then q.

I may be missing something important here, though.


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