Re: [quickphilosophy] Fodor on Concepts IV: Circularity + Peacocke

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 30 Sep 2010 10:36:09 -0700 (PDT)

Hi qp group:
Ah, it seems that my first post on this topic did make it to the list, but my 
spam filter directed my email copy to the Spam folder. It protected me from 
spamming myself. I feel so much safer now.
Anyway, Fodor's target now is two camps that are fellow-travelers of the BCP 
crowd: the conceptual role group (Boghossian) and the implicit definition group 
(Peacocke). It seems to me that BCP is more limited in its claims that these 
other thinkers. In other words, you can sort and make inferences without 
necessarily having a set of rules for conceptual roles or an implicit 
definition. So Fodor seems to be attacking those that go a step beyond plain 
vanilla BCP.
Also, it would seem to me that Boghossian would have to support BCP's 
conditions for concept possession. If you were sophisticated enough to follow a 
set of rules for expressions, then you'd be able to distinguish items in the 
extension (sorting), and you'd be able to make inferences (which is just to 
follow the rules in various situations). Similarly, holding an implicit 
definition would imply being able to sort and being able to infer.
The upshot is that Fodor could damage conceptual role semantics and could 
flummox implicit definiton and yet leave vanilla BCP unscathed.
Where does Fodor's attack begin? First he observes that conceptual role 
semantics cannot be simply asserting that it's possible to provide rules. 
That's easy enough to do in the case of referring expressions, like 'bachelor'. 
What could be dicey for conceptual role advocates to claim is that grasping a 
concept is to be identified with grasping the rules for the introduction and 
elimination of the concept, as in the case of CONJUNCTION given in the last 
(The introduction of CONJUNCTION just means that you are given p and q and you 
deduce pCq, introducing the C-symbol. Elimination means that you are given pCq, 
and from that you infer p (eliminating the C-symbol) or q (no C again).)
Fodor states that in the case of the logical constants, that's what conceptual 
role semantics has to do. In other words, Fodor is saying that in the case of 
their treatment of the logical constants, that conceptual role semantics merges 
with implicit definition concept possession. I think that's what he's saying 
in the 3rd paragraph beginning on p. 41 of his article.
Fodor is going to argue that the stronger claim to which the conceptual role 
and implicit definition camps must commit--namely that introduction and 
elimination rules must be identified with concept possession, not just possible 
from concept possession--cannot be sustained.
I hope this isn't too plodding. I find this part of Fodor's article difficult.

--- On Wed, 9/29/10, Ron Allen <wavelets@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

From: Ron Allen <wavelets@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: [quickphilosophy] Fodor on Concepts IV: Circularity + Peacocke
To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Wednesday, September 29, 2010, 6:45 AM


Hi quickphilosophy group:

I tried to post this last night, but it didn't stick for some reason. Probably 
my ISP at fault. 

Fodor has another argument in Section 3.3 of his paper 'Having Concepts' that 
argues against 'conceptual role' semantics and the idea of an implicit 
definition as the basis for concept possession. 

1. Conceptual role semantics assigns rules to expressions that govern their 
use. There might be rules for referring expressions, such as 'flywheel', but 
the best examples are of logical constants, such as AND and OR, because these 
don't seem to have referents, and the only way to explain how they are used is 
to specify use rules. An example of a conceptual role semanticist is Paul 
Boghossian, whose forthcoming paper Fodor cites. (Fodor writes in 2004, and 
Prof. Boghossian's paper appeared in Nous in Aug 1996; here's a link to a draft 
on his NYU 
He says that "Implicit definition: It is by arbitrarily stipulating that 
certain sentences of logic are to be true, or that certain inferences are to be 
valid, that we attach a meaning to the logical constants. More specifically, a 
particular constant means that logical object, if any, which makes valid a 
specified set of sentences and/or inferences involving it."

2. The implicit definition camp is also represented by Christopher Peacocke, (A 
Study of Concepts, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996). Peacocke says that 
"Conjunction is that concept C to posess which a thinker must find transitions 
that are instances of the following forms primitively compelling, and must do 
so because they are of these forms:

q      pCq      pCq
---     -----      ------
pCq  p          q      "

(I hope that format aligns well in the group's page.) This is on p. 6 of 
Peacocke's book. Fodor inserts "[inferential]" before "transitions" in the 
quote above. So, basically, you possess the concept of CONJUNCTION if and only 
if you're compelled by these transitions, which define the notion of logical 

Let me see if this reply sticks.


--- On Mon, 9/13/10, Ron Allen <wavelets@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

From: Ron Allen <wavelets@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: [quickphilosophy] Fodor on Concepts IV: Circularity
To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Monday, September 13, 2010, 10:47 PM


Hi kwikphil group:

Just to recapitulate: Fodor finds in section 3.3 of his paper 'Having 
Concepts,' that there is a vicious circle in the BCP analysis of concept 
possession. The sorting criterion (one of two, the other being inferential 
skill) that is partly sufficient for concept possession depends on the notion 
of the concept possessor possessing the same or an equivalent concept in order 
to perform the sorting. So, attempting to explain concept possession in terms 
of sorting and inference relies on (by way of the first condition, sorting) a 
notion of concept possession already, and the concept in question is the same 
or conceptually the same ans the one that BCP hopes to analyze. Circular, and 
viciously so at that.

But Fodor goes on to remark (p. 40) that this has irked many philosophers, and 
Wittgenstein is one of them. Here is how Fodor reviews W's difficulties in 
being a sophisticated BCP advocate, beset by the burden of the circularity that 
Fodor is gesturing at:

1. For W, having a concept involves knowing a criterion for applying a concept.

[rla, insert] Note that a "criterion" for Wittgenstein is a problematic and 
plastic term. I think that Baker and Hacker comment upon this, and that along 
with Fodor, we need to be cautious in throwing the concept around.

2. Thus, minimally, one can apply the concept in good instances in favorable 

3. Second for W, the application criteria for a concept are constitutive of its 

[rla] PI.208 seems to say this.

4. Fodor picks an example again: PAIN. The criteria for its 2nd person 
application are behavioral.

5. To have the PAIN concept is to sort pains from non-pains [and (rla) to make 
inferences; BCP isn't asserting that sorting alone suffices] by behavioral 

6. But, the PAIN concept isn't the same as the BEHAVIOR-MANIFESTATION-OF-PAIN 

7. A good instance of the behavioral manifestation an instance of pain, or not?

8. Fodor does not think so, and he thinks that W should be confounded by this 
as well: No wonder that W said things like "pain isn't a something" but "it 
isn't a nothing either".

[rla: this is Philosophical Investigations 304].

9. In summary, Fodor claims that "...either there is no sorting condition on 
concept possession or, if you prefer, the sorting condition that there is is 
circular." He has also convicted Wittgenstein, a bona fide sophisticated BCPer, 
along with the hapless and crude BCP advocates (Skinner and Quine), of the 
charge of circular reasoning.

Next on the menu, Fodor is going to find vicious circularity within the 
inference condition that BCP asserts for concept possession. I'll cover this in 
the next few posts. Mostly, it's an attack on the theory of concepts that 
Peacocke advances in A Study of Concepts, MIT Press, 1992.


--- On Mon, 9/13/10, wavelets@xxxxxxxxxxx <wavelets@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

From: wavelets@xxxxxxxxxxx <wavelets@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: [quickphilosophy] Fodor on Concepts IV: Circularity
To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Monday, September 13, 2010, 11:46 AM


Hi quickphilosophers:

Fodor claims that neither of the conditions that Bare-Bones Concept Pragmatism 
(BCP) finds to be jointly sufficient for concept possession, sorting and 
inference, can be formulated without a vicious circularity.

Beginning with the sorting criterion in Section 3.3 of his article 'Having 
Concepts,' Fodor worries about the extension of a sort. He proceeds by example. 

1. Consider someone that can sort DOGs according to the concept of a BARKER. 
This sort works as long as the only things that bark are DOGs and all DOGs 

2. So, for the sort to be a criterion for concept possession, it seems that 
sort must be successful in counterfactual conditions: the sort must work for 
cases of barking non-dogs, canine non-barkers, and so on.

3. Yet, it seems that even under counterfactual conditions, the extension that 
results from a sort does not determine the concept that motivates the sort.

4. To show this, Fodor offers more examples: (a) TRIANGLE and 

5. You can have the first of these concepts, without having the second.

6. Thus, the necessary coextension of two sorts does not imply that the sorts 
reveal the same concept.

7. One must sort according to some concept that one has.

8. BCP must therefore claim that only sorts according to a conceptually 
equivalent concept can produce the same sort.

9. So BCP must claim that the sorting condition for a concept possession C 
presupposed some possessed concept C' that is either identical to C or 
conceptually equivalent to C.

10. This is a vicious circle. 

Fodor goes on to comment on how Wittgenstein attempted to deal with this 
circularity. I'll cover that in my next post.


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