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

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 31 Aug 2010 23:55:19 -0700 (PDT)

Hi Walt:
Well, OK, there is a lot hanging on that "most" modifying "concepts" in your 
point (1). 
But, the argument you reconstruct from Fodor does not depend on a certain 
percentage of concepts obeying the rule of composition. In fact, if I 
understand the argument aright, there need be only one concept that is 
compositional for it to work. It's an argument by example. Because, the alleged 
BCP proponent asserts that all concepts are given exclusively by a capacity to 
sort accordingly and a capacity to infer accordingly. Fodor contrives things so 
that BCP asserts universalities, whereas he, Fodor, only asserts an example.
But, I still don't see where you have accurately captured Fodor's notion of 
compositional. He represents it as a permutation of terms: Bob loves Alice; 
Alice loves Bob. But, you represent it as a decomposition. Is the permutational 
argument wrong, and the later argument about the night-flying bluebird the 
right one? It could be that I am too simplistic.
So, maybe there are two aspects to Fodor's compositionalism: one is 
permutational and one is decompositional. Thus, composition is really, in some 
cases that are important, decompositional. Hmm...your reformulation does not 
address the permutational variant, which seems to me to have been the one by 
which Fodor defined the concept of composition. So, let me have a second look 
at the composition = decomposition option.
There's nothing in the argument that depends on a quantification of how many 
compositional arguments there are. If the argument works, then it works by an 
example. And the example is an A+N example of a night-flying bluebird.
Which is not an A+N example, but an A + B + C + N example, where A = night, B = 
flying, C = blue, and N = bird. So, already the example is not a simple 
composition, but a complex composition, and we'd have to wonder if the concept 
would not be more appropriate if it were argued as a night-bird, or a 
flying-bird, or a blue-bird. Ah, but those concepts would allow their 
extensions be more easily culled, and this would undercut Fodor's argument.
So, we're going to play along with Fodor, because he needs it, and say that A = 
night-flying-blue and N = bird. Thus, we have an example of a concept that 
decomposes into two lesser concepts (night-flying-blue and bird), and we hold 
this up to BCPism to see what happens.
Just as an aside: This is not a strong argument. Fodor is arguing from an 
example, and he is arguing from an example of some thing that does not exist. 
He may as well say, "But, there might be an A-example and an N-example, such 
that A+N is composed of A and N, and yet there is no way to sort A+N or there 
is no way to infer from A+N." But, that is nonsense, because, in general, I can 
sort A+N if and only if I can affirm A and I can affirm N, and I can infer from 
A+N, precisely whenever I can infer A and I can infer N. This is not a strong 
argument: It is no argument.
Fodor could have picked a real example, the Epidonax Flycatchers, for example. 
It is really difficult to sort them into their five species. But that is just 
to restrict the realm of exemplars to casual visual inspection. These are not 
"good conditions" for Epidonax Flycatchers. Good conditions vary with the 
concept. There is no reason to suggest that things might be otherwise. You can 
tell an A+B+C+N from others by going out at night, killing everything that is 
flying, seeing whether it is a bird, and then seeing whether it is blue. Those 
are "good conditions" for the A+B+C+N concept. They are not the same conditions 
as for a Bald Eagle, but who, except for perhaps Fodor, suggested that the 
conditions for one concept had to be the same as those for sorting the 
extension of another concept.
What Fodor really needs for his argument to work is an example of a concept 
that can be described, but not sorted. That's ridiculous. Fodor is demanding of 
the BCPers that they understand the specificity of his example and then not 
understand the specificity of the example by making mistakes in sortation.
I'm all for an effort to discredit behaviorism and this caricature of BareBones 
Concept Pragmatism as well, but Fodor's argument just isn't getting me there. 
OK, it is entertaining; I'll grant that much! It seems to me that a Chinese 
Room Argument (CRA) against BCP is effective for showing that the BCP criteria 
are at most necessary conditions for concept possession, and not quite 
sufficient in most, if not all, circumstances. I would be hard put to come up 
with circumstances for which BCP provides sufficient conditions for concept 
possession of any concept, given the CRA.
Thanks!--Ron 

--- On Tue, 8/31/10, walto <calhorn@xxxxxxx> wrote:

From: walto <calhorn@xxxxxxx>
Subject: [quickphilosophy] Re: Fodor on Concepts III: Other Arguments Against 
BCP
To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Tuesday, August 31, 2010, 6:07 PM















 
 



  


    
      
      
      



--- In quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Ron Allen <wavelets@...> wrote:

>

> Hi Walter:

>  

> I've been out of town and unable to devote much time to Fodor.

>  

> Just an observation: I think you are reformulating Fodor's development and 
> combining parts of different arguments. That's OK, though.

>  

> I agree completely that he's attacking BCP as if it were committed to 
> sorting and inference as sufficient conditions for concept possession, when, 
> in all likelihood, they are just necessary conditons. Individually and 
> conjoined, then, they are still weaker than concept possession. 

>  

> Would not a kind of Chinese Room Argument be relevant to this question? 



It seems so to me.



>For example, suppose I had a person inside the CRA who was asked to sort and 
>make inferences upon objects that were presented to the window. The little 
>guy in the CRA has to sort dieseldowns and he has to make inferences about 
>them. But, he just follows a set of ad hoc rules that somehow, 
>coincidentally, just happen to work for the particular sequence of dieseldown 
>and non-dieseldown examples we hold up in the window and for the dieseldown 
>and non-dieseldown deductive problems we hold up to the window. Now, this ad 
>hoc, rule-driven luck is not sufficient to say that the Room has the concept 
>of a dieseldown, even though, sure enough, it made a whole handsome series of 
>sortations and a pretty decent pattern of inferences.

>  



Yes.



> Also, another thing about your reformulated argument below. In your point (2) 
> you define compositionality as concepts being decomposed into smaller ones. 
> This is different from Fodor, who only asserts that they add together or 
> permute in some fashion, not that they decompose.



(2) doesn't require that all concepts decompose.  It just says what's supposed 
to follow from concepts that do.



>  Also, the decomposition leads to an infinite regress. I either come to some 
> concepts that are not compositional (and not composed of smaller ones) or I 
> have compositional concepts all the way down (to minus infinity). But, if we 
> don't regress, then all of our concepts are built up from atomic concepts, 
> and a BCP advocate with an Atomic Propositions and Atomic Perceptions 
> foundationalism underneath would not at all be unsatisfied with that result. 
> If Fodor were to argue for the kind of compositionality that you seem to 
> suggest here, then his Dog as such concept would be just a collection of 
> atomic perceptions, better or worse known to a subject.



I take from that article that he actually is some sort of atomist.  



>  

> So, at least with your (2) below, I think that you have an infinite regress, 



No, there's no regress from (2), which, again, only says what's supposed to 
follow if a concept IS "decomposable."   It doesn't require that every concept 
is.



and if not that, then you dissolve concepts as such into a variant acceptable 
to BCP.

>  



I don't see that. Can you explain?



I repost the argument below for easy reference.



W

 

> 

>

> (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.

> 





    
     

    
    


 



  








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