Friday, September 15, 2006

Content Holism: Gabriel Segal.

I think I inadvertently stumbled into what looks like a really good argument for a sort of holism about cognitive content (published in ‘Ignorance of Meaning’ in Alex Barber ed. The Epistemology of Language). It’s tough being a holist about content, if, like me, you are also what might be called a naive realist about content: content is just part of the natural world, along with elms and elephants and everything else. Content, then, is in principle open to scientific investigation. But we seem to be struggling a little with the practicalities of that. And holism may be part of the problem.

The sort of holism I have in mind might be very roughly expressed by saying that the content of an individual’s concept depends on the totality of beliefs in which it features. So, for example, if, one day, Bart thought that measles is more common amongst girls than boys, and the next day he came to believe that it isn’t, then his ‘measles’ concept must have changed. Equally, if Bart thinks that measles is more common amongst girls than boys and Lisa doesn’t, then Bart and Lisa have different ‘measles’ concepts.

Here is a very rough thumbnail sketch of the argument for holism. Suppose that Bart and Lisa disagree on the question of whether measles is more common amongst girls than boys, but agree on pretty much all the other properties of the disease. They also both know that ‘measles’ and ‘rubeola’ are synonyms and they use the terms interchangeably. Now suppose that a naïve subject, Maggie, learns ‘measles’ from Bart and ‘rubeola’ from Lisa. She becomes competent with the terms, sharing most of Bart’s and Lisa’s ‘measles’ and ‘rubeola’ beliefs. Maggie comes to believe that measles is more common amongst girls than boys, but that rubeola isn’t. So, of course, she believes that they are different diseases.

Evidently, by standard Fregean principles, the content of Maggie’s ‘measles’ and ‘rubeola’ concepts differ. Now, by liberal, non-holistic standards of individuation we would want to say that the content of Bart’s and Maggie’s ‘measles’ concepts is the same and that the content of Lisa’s and Maggie’s ‘rubeola’ concepts is the same and that the content of Bart’s and Maggie’s ‘rubeola’ and ‘measles’ concepts are the same. But, given the difference between Maggie’s ‘measles’ and ‘rubeola’ concepts, that’s impossible. So we must deny at least one of the identity claims. But all the identity claims are on the same footing: there is no reason to favour one over another. So we should deny them all. So, it follows from the fact that Bart and Lisa differ in just one little, unimportant belief about measles, that their concepts differ in content.

The argument from the Simpsons generalizes. So holism is true.

Of course, spelling out the argument properly takes some time and patience. But it can be done. So what then? Then we wonder how it is possible coherently to use opaque propositional attitude attributions to talk about the Simpsons. How can they all believe, de dicto, that measles causes spots if the contents of their ‘measles’ concepts are different? Then we see that psychological generalizations work fine because they deploy a flexible standard of sameness of content, with different levels of content-similarity governing the correctness of opaque generalizations, in different conversational contexts. But how does that work? What is the metric of similarity here? Where do we even begin to look?

So the challenge is: either answer those last questions or find a flaw in the argument from the Simpsons.

28 Comments:

Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Interesting post, Gabriel, thanks very much. I want to take the bull by both horns and give an outline for a similarity metric which will show the flaw in the argument from the Simpsons.
Content holism says “the content of an individual’s concept depends on the totality of beliefs in which it features.” I think this is wrong, because partial beliefs do not affect content, it is only beliefs which are certain that can affect content. I define certain beliefs as beliefs held to degree 1. Believing p to degree 1 involves believing that the evidence you have for p is conclusive. Let us call Gabe’s content holism: “partial belief holism” and my holism: “certain belief holism”.
Suppose Bart and Lisa were to bet on a coin toss. Bart believes it will come up heads, Lisa believes it will come up tails. According to “partial belief holism” Bart and Lisa have different concepts for “coin” “heads” “tails” etc. But this is absurd since when they bet on the proposition “the coin lands heads up”, they are betting on the same proposition, so their contents must be the same. We know they have the same contents according to “certain belief holism” because when the coin lands heads up, both Bart and Lisa believe to degree 1 that “the coin lands heads up.”
The same can be said in the measles case. Bart believes measles is more prevalent in girls. Lisa believes not. Suppose they bet on this. Suppose Bart finds a scientific study that demonstrates that rubeola is more prevalent in girls. Lisa will concede she has lost the bet. This means that they are now both certain that measles is more prevalent in girls. They both accept odds 0:1 as fair. They accept the same evidence as conclusive, therefore they share the measles concept.
Maggy, on the other hand, thinks rubeola is a different disease from measles, so she would not accept the scientific study as conclusive evidence that measles is more prevalent in girls. Her concept of measles is different from Bart’s and Lisa’s according to certain belief holism. This is because, on reading the scientific study, Bart and Lisa become certain that measles is more prevalent in girls, whereas Maggy does not.
The metric of similarity of content I am proposing is measured in the range of situations in which evidence for sentences containing the concept will be conclusive. Lisa and Bart’s difference in opinion about the relative prevalence of measles will affect little or no conclusive evidence, it will be a very local and minor change in their webs of belief. Maggie’s belief that measles and rubeola are two different diseases, on the other hand, will affect a large range of conclusive evidence. For example, a diagnosis of measles will not be conclusive evidence for Maggie that she has rubeola, in fact it will be strong evidence to the contrary. Her conceptual mistake will spread through her web of belief contaminating every strand where “measles” or “rubeola” reaches.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Rob_S said...

Not sure about this certain belief holism.

Couldn't Bart believe with certainty that measles is more common among girls, and Lisa with certainty that more boys get it? If they each think they have conclusive evidence for their belief, then on your conception their beliefs are bona fide degree 1 beliefs.

Similarly, who’s to say Bart is not convinced that his coin will come up heads? People in casinos have convictions of this kind all the time. If Bart is convinced, then according to certain belief holism he has different concepts of “coin” “heads” and “tails”. To this you are obliged to repeat your objection to partial belief holism – “But this is absurd since when [Bart and Lisa] bet on the proposition “the coin lands heads up”, they are betting on the same proposition, so their contents must be the same.”

I should say that I do think the idea of a similarity metric based on how different people’s webs of beliefs react to evidence is worth pursuing. But I don’t see any clear connections between this and certain belief holism, which seems to share much the same (perhaps surmountable) problems as partial belief holism.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Rob_s said...

Additionally, to take issue with the whole strategy of taking the bull by both horns, isn’t the idea of a similarity metric to neutralise the seeming absurdities of holism, which you seem to accept as absurd? For instance, you say: “But this is absurd since when they bet on the proposition “the coin lands heads up”, they are betting on the same proposition, so their contents must be the same.”

But what a working similarity metric allows you to do is say, “Yes, considered in this philosophical context, Bart and Lisa’s concepts are slightly different. But in this gambling context, their concepts and the content of the proposition they are betting on count as the same.”

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Rob_S said...

On the topic of the original post, would it be unthinkable to say that Maggie has only one concept, which she knows by two names and is confused about?

12:39 PM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Thanks Rob. Certainty is an imprecise concept. I want to tie certainty to evidence in such away that to be properly certain of p, no further evidence could increase your degree of belief. Certainty is operationally defined as evidence on which you will be prepared to settle outstanding bets. If Bart and Lisa were certain of the prevalence of measles, then Lisa wouldn't accept the authority of a scientific study. In this case, Lisa's concept of measles WOULD be radically different from Bart's. Gabriel's original example is underspecified in this regard. Take the case of someone "convinced" that a coin would land heads. In this case they would demand the money before the coin landed, since the coin landing wouldn't increase their belief. Here again, I admit this is possible, but this would be a case of someone having a radically different concept. If one doesn't specify whether a belief is partial or certain, then one cannot expect to use the belief to specify the content

3:03 PM  
Anonymous rob_s said...

Okay, I guess you are working with a more technical concept of certainty than I imagined. Maybe there’s a way this can work but it doesn’t sit well with me at first looks. Start with your treatment of the heads/tails example:

“Take the case of someone "convinced" that a coin would land heads. In this case they would demand the money before the coin landed, since the coin landing wouldn't increase their belief.”

But is it true that lack of personal conviction is the reason why someone wouldn’t ask for their money straight away? A more important factor would be the knowledge that your gambling opponent would not be willing to pay you. Why bother to ask when you know you won’t get anything?

Compare the case of A, who possesses a four-leaf clover. A could tell B about it and B, knowing the rarity of four-leaf clovers and A’s propensity to lie, could bet that A had no such thing. A’s certain belief that he has the clover would not give him license to demand the money straight away. He would have additionally to produce the four-leaf clover.

This shows that your claim:

“Certainty is operationally defined as evidence on which you will be prepared to settle outstanding bets.”

ought not to be read as saying that certainty is preparedness to settle a bet you have won, but preparedness to settle a bet you have lost. E.g. to count yourself as losing a bet, you will have to be made certain of p (the proposition you bet against). Plausibly, this involves being shown a piece of evidence such that no further evidence will make you “more convinced” of p. For example, you may have to be shown a coin landing heads up, or a four-leaf clover.

If this is right, Lisa will have to be so impressed by the scientific study that Bart shows her that nothing will make her “more convinced” that girls have measles. If the study has this effect, Lisa will cough up the money.

But the problem with this fleshing out of the scenario for certain belief holism is that even extremely convincing evidence tends to be defeasible. For example, Bart could know of a flaw in the scientific study. He hasn’t pointed it out because he wants his money, but his own secret findings in his treehouse laboratory suggest that, contra-p, measles is more common in boys. And no evidence will make him more confident in this belief (although, of course, it could be undermined by still more sophisticated evidence).

In the scenario just described, both Lisa and Bart have conflicting degree-one beliefs about measles. Lisa believes p. Bart believes not-p. So certain belief holism is now bound to say that they have different measles concepts.

Moving to a different line of argument, what if Bart is certain that girls get measles more, and Lisa has simply never thought about this issue? According to certain belief holism, this alone should make their concepts different.

These problems look to me very much like the problems faced by partial belief holism.

4:24 PM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Rob, I thoroughly accept that certain belief holism would need considerable fleshing out. The defeasibility point is the most difficult. In the cases that you suggested it became clear that bet settlement is no straight forward matter. For a bet to be settled it is not sufficient that either winner or loser has conclusive evidence, they must both have conclusive evidence, and they must both know that the other has this evidence.
Your defeasibility example demonstrates this. Bart shows Lisa the scientific study. Lisa is now demonstratably certain since she agrees with Bart that this is conclusive evidence and is prepared to settle. But Bart has defeating Tree house lab evidence. So, Bart, if he is a gentleman, should not accept Lisa's money. We can see that this is so because were Lisa availed of Bart's Tree house evidence, she would share Bart's measle beliefs. In which case she would be justified in accusing Bart of witholding relevant evidence and therefore fleecing her. So it is not a difference in their concept of measles that makes a difference in their beliefs. It is merely a difference in their evidence.
I admit that I'll have to rephrase certain belief holism. -A subjects concept is individuated by the evidential situations in which she is disposed to be certain of beliefs in which the concept features-. Not so snappy, but I think gets around the problems you raise.

7:44 PM  
Anonymous bart said...

i dont think so

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Rob_s said...

Could you say a little more about how the new version of certain belief holism works? Is the idea that when assessing two people's concepts for sameness, the only beliefs featuring the concept that matter are ones for which:

"both [parties] have conclusive evidence, and [for which] they must both know that the other has this evidence"?

Cheers, Rob

9:39 AM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Rob, certainty is a function of evidence and other features of context. Having a particular concept will determine in which beliefs the subject will be certain given the evidence and context. Bart and Lisa will have the same certain beliefs featuring "measles" in the same range of contexts. Even the most difficult case of defeated evidence shows this. If Lisa and Bart changed context and evidence but retained their concept, their beliefs would go with the evidence and context, not the concept. Therefore their concept is not what causes them to have different beliefs. They have the same concept, just different evidential perspectives.
Maggie on the other hand would have different measles related certain beliefs in the various evidential contextual situations, so what makes this difference must be the measles concept.
The concept can be seen to be a pattern of dispositions to certainty then, not occurent certainty. Dispositions are hard to test, which is why bet settlement comes in. You are disposed to be certain in situations in which you are disposed to settle bets. Bet settlement occurs when 1. Both parties judge the evidence to be conclusive given that context. 2. It is manifestly certain to both parties that 1 holds. Many have noticed that this common knowledge requirment leads to an infinite regress. But the infinite regress is halted at the first step if both parties assume that they share concepts. Can they rely on this assumption? Yes, we rely on the assumption that we all share a language. This assumption is not infallible, but when people have non standard concepts, it is relatively easy to uncover in situations where there is shared evidence that is conclusive.

Partial beliefs won't yeild much information because people with the same concepts can have different degrees of partial belief in similar evidential situations. If I say "I'm not sure, but I think this sausage is pork," and you say "I think it is beef", we have no idea whether your concept "Beef" is synonymous with my concept "pork" or whether we just have different opinions. If the butcher confirms that the sausage meat comes from a pig and we both feel our beliefs to be confirmed, then it is clear we have different concepts.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Rob_s said...

Right, I’m starting to get where you’re coming from – it’s looking more plausible as you fill in the details.

One thing I’d need reassuring about is circularity.

A worked out version of the account needs a way to group evidential scenarios. This is because different users of the same concept will be disposed to be certain in evidential scenarios that on first looks are quite different from one another. For instance, a monolingual French person will not be persuaded that more girls get measles by an English-language scientific study, only by a study written in French. And so on. What is needed is a speaker-relative way of grouping evidential scenarios. It would have to call, for example, a French speaker looking at a French study the same scenario as an English speaker looking at an English study – even though in lots of respects (for instance the look of the letters on the page), the two scenarios are very different. The obvious way of specifying these scenarios as “matching” is to describe the evidence as a document understandable to the agent as showing that {measles is more common among girls}. But describing the documents in this way would seem to require prior knowledge that they work on the same concept of measles in both agents – which is what we are using all this apparatus to show.

Is this a valid worry? I may be expecting too much from the account…

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Jess said...

I hope you don't mind me jumping in here. I was just wondering whether anyone else can see the shadow of some kind of "verificational holism" or some such beast lurking, what with all this talk of evidence.

How about something roughly like: Bart and Lisa have different beliefs about measles, but share the concept 'measles' because they share the same standards that they would require to verify any beliefs they hold including 'measles'.

But then, where can the holism come in? Perhaps a second order holism, whereby the concept is not set by the totality of 'measles beliefs', but the totality of 'measles-verification beliefs'.

I'm not saying that this is the answer, only it seems to be a natural progression from the talk of evidence.

I also suppose the answer to Gabe's challenge from this would either be (a) that Lisa and Bart do share the same concept after all, because in spite of their different measles beliefs, they have the same measles-verification beliefs, or (b) that the metric of similarity lies in how many measles-verification beliefs are shared.

6:24 PM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Rob, Gosh, I hadn't even thought about speakers of different languages. Suppose Bart could only speak Italian and Lisa only English...I would think these kind of cases would warrant special treatment. I would go under the assumption that most English speakers would have very similar concepts attaching to English words, but, especially words with vague boundaries like colour words, might possibly not translate quite so well. For example, I've heard that "blue" in English covers two italian colour words, so "the ball in the box is blue" might have different conclusive evidence from the same sentence translated into Italian. Also the diagnosis of schizophrenia varies depending on which country the psychiatrist comes from. These are just two examples there must be thousands.
"Same evidence" I want to define as when two people participating in a bet will settle the bet since they are aware that the evidence is manifest to both parties. This rules out different language speakers unless the evidence is non linguistic. So you rightly point out that if Lisa couldn't read English, the medical study written in English would satisfy her as evidence. I would think that it would be okay to say that she had a different concept here. My instinct is to say that if she couldn't read English, she should defer to those who can and take their opinions as authoratative when they say they are. With the Simpsons this might seem odd, but what is Bart doing reading medical journals about measles prevalence rates anyway? A non english speaking Italian doctor having a bet with an English Doctor would probably accept the evidence of the journal on trust, even if he couldn't read it.

7:20 PM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Hello Jess, thanks for jumping in.
It is precisely as you say, -- verification holism. I guess you say "beast" because many feel verificationism to have been killed and buried. I think this is for two reasons. 1. There are many unverifiable sentences that are meaningful. 2. Quines attack in the two dogmas, which amounts to the incompatibility of verificationism with holism.
The first issue 1 needs special treatment, since there cannot be bet settlement on unverifiable sentences. But in Gabriel's post, the beliefs are verifiable, so this need not concern us.
2 Has always struck me as odd, since Quine didn't abandon verificationism, but says in "Epistemology naturalised" that some sort of verificationism about meaning, at least for observation sentences, must be the case, since otherwise language learning would be impossible. The fix I am offering is to recognise that what counts as a verification varies according to non evidential features of the context. The evidence required for verification of a sentence depends on i) what is at stake ii) what the shared assumptions are. iii) the conceptual content.
The two answers you offer to the simpsons problem posed by Gabriel are not in my mind incompatible. From what we have been told, Bart and Lisa could have the same measles concept. Maggy certainly has a different one. Bart and Lisa may also have different one's, but this would only be revealed by discovering a situation where one accepted a verification for a measles belief that the other rejected.

7:53 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Bloggin the question:

(1) You haven't engaged with Segal's argument. You have only responded to its conclusion. The trick is either to show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises, or to show that one of the premises is false.
(2) You say of the conclusion 'But this is absurd since when they bet on the proposition “the coin lands heads up”, they are betting on the same proposition, so their contents must be the same.'. Suppose that Bart wears a crimson sweater and Lisa wears a scarlet one. Still they wear sweaters that are the same colour. 'Same' means something like 'similar enough for our purposes'. If holism is true, that's how it is with Bart and Lisa betting on the same proposition.
Rob-S:
You say 'On the topic of the original post, would it be unthinkable to say that Maggie has only one concept, which she knows by two names and is confused about?'.
This could be addressed by Segal's appeal to 'standard Fregean principles'. Suppose Maggie sincerely assents to:
"Measles is more common amongst girls than boys". Suppose she sincerely denies "Rubeola is more common amongst girls than boys".
A Fregean principle might be expressed thus (from Segal's original article):

(FD) If a subject, s, rationally assents to P(t1) and dissents from or abstains on the truth value of P(t2) (P(x) an extensional context), then t1 and t2 have different meanings in s’s idiolect and s associates different concepts with them.

(FD) tells us that Maggie associates different concepts with the two terms.

1:38 PM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Lisa,
I engaged directly with the argument by challenging the identity of Maggies concepts "Measles" and "Rubeola" with either Bart's or Lisa's.
The argument I take it is
1. Bart's measles = Bart's Rubeola
2. Lisa's Measles = Bart's Measles
3. Lisa's Rubeola = Bart's Measles
4. Maggies Rubeola = Lisa Rubeola
5. Maggies Measles = Barts Measles
Therefore
6. Maggies Rubeola = Maggies Measles.
But, Segal argues, 6 is false, so therefore at least one of the other identities must be false.
I challenged the premises 4 and 5.
If these identities don't hold, then the argument doesn't go through, since Bart and Lisa can share measles/rubeola concepts in spite of Maggies misconceptions, which is what we pre-theoretically want to say. I explained this by pointing out that Bart and Lisa would have similar verification procedures for measles beliefs but Maggie would have radically different ones. The example being that the fact that X has measles would be conclusive evidence to Bart and Lisa that X has Rubeola, but would be disconfirming evidence that X has Rubeola to Maggie. Segal's argument seems to work by presuming that all beliefs have the same weight in measuring sameness of content, so it is presumed that the slight little difference of belief about measles prevalence in Bart and Lisa will have the same weight of the slight little difference in belief about the non identity of rubeola and measles in Maggy. However, this is no slight difference, since Maggies different belief has a deep impact on conclusive evidence, whereas Bart and Lisa's difference in belief has no impact on evidence at all.
This response shows that one of the premises is false, explains why it is false and in addition provides a metric for sameness of concept that is generally applicable. I would say that this counts as engaging directly with Segal's arguement.
The second point you raise is about sameness and how this can be relatavised to a purpose. The purpose of introducing "thought bets" to coin a phrase is to establish what the purpose of enquiry is. I thought it best to stick to the original example to frame the "purpose". When Bart and Lisa disagree about the prevalence rates of measles, they are disagreeing about the "same" thing for these purposes, since they would count the same evidence as resolving the issue. Maggy, in this framework, if disagreeing about measles prevalence would not be disagreeing about the same thing, since the same evidence would not resolve the issue for her, or may even resolve it the other way.
This is not to say that Lisa and Bart's concepts do not differ elsewhere, for different purposes. Suppose Lisa thought measles gave immunity to cancer, but Bart did not. Then the fact that X had measles would provide conclusive evidence that X did not have cancer to Lisa, but not to Bart. For these purposes, their measles concepts differ in an important way.
This response shows that one of the premises is false, explains why it is false and in addition provides a metric for sameness of concept that is generally applicable. I would say that this counts as engaging directly with Segal's arguement.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Mr bloggin the question writes:

"The argument I take it is
1. Bart's measles = Bart's Rubeola
2. Lisa's Measles = Bart's Measles
3. Lisa's Rubeola = Bart's Measles
4. Maggies Rubeola = Lisa Rubeola
5. Maggies Measles = Barts Measles
Therefore
6. Maggies Rubeola = Maggies Measles.
But, Segal argues, 6 is false, so therefore at least one of the other identities must be false.
I challenged the premises 4 and 5."

So you claim to challenge an argument the conclusion of which is that at least one of 1 - 5 is false by claiming that two, in particular, of 1 - 5 are false.
Think again please Mr bloggin the question.

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Rob_s said...

Lisa (really Lisa or nom de blog?)

"You say 'On the topic of the original post, would it be unthinkable to say that Maggie has only one concept, which she knows by two names and is confused about?'.
This could be addressed by Segal's appeal to 'standard Fregean principles'."

Sure -- so the strategy would be to reject the standard Fregean principles. If concept X was a publicly constituted thing, for instance, then it might be possible to mislearn it from the community (in this case the Simpson family) in such a way that you could, contra FD, rationally believe concept X to be two concepts. Is this so crazy? If we wanted to avoid a proliferation of slightly differing private concepts, we might choose to say that people are often in partial possession of public concepts. Teaching Maggie that measles=rubeola could then be seen as setting her right about concepts she had gotten wrong, as much as about diseases. What's more this would be a natural way of talking.

Worth noting that FD can be questioned, anyway.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Rob_s says
'If concept X was a publicly constituted thing, for instance, then it might be possible to mislearn it from the community (in this case the Simpson family) in such a way that you could, contra FD, rationally believe concept X to be two concepts. Is this so crazy?'
Perhaps it's not crazy. But note first that it is not Maggie's beliefs about concepts that are at issue, but her beliefs about diseases. She makes a distinction between what she calls 'measles' and what she calls 'rubeola'. Now what is involved in this? Folk psychology and most of scientific psychology deploy notions of contents and concepts that obey (FD). These notions account for discriminatory behaviour by attributing different contents to different judgements. (FD) thus follows from something that is at the very core of psychological explanation. Of course, (FD) has often been questioned. Rejecting it is all the rage these days. But if you reject (FD), you lose psychology as we know it. And nobody has offered us anything that could replace it. It’s very easy to fail to see just how radical the proposal is.

1:34 PM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Lisa, Gabriel's original post cantains this claim:
"but all the identity claims are on the same footing: there is no reason to favour one over another. So we should deny them all."
This is what I am denying. There is a reason to favour the Bart "measles" "rubeola" and Lisa "measle" "rubeola" concept identity claims over the Maggie "Measles" concept identity claims with Bart's or Lisa's; And the reason is that Lisa and Bart will accept the same evidence, whereas Maggy will not.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Mr the question:

Now the dialectic is intelligible.
Segal offfers no defence of his parity claim. And it is not self-evident. Therefore it warrants discussion.
But I have to go back to school now. So I will leave it to others to judge whether the differences in betting behaviour among Maggie, Bart and me actually pattern the way you claim.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Rob_S said...

Lisa, yup, I accept giving up FD may be fairly drastic (although I think that folk psychology actually employs several ideas of concepts, including socially constituted ones that don't follow FD). But who are the current philosophers you mention who reject FD? I would be interested to read more on this.

Bloggin the question, I am a bit concerned by what you say about languages. The stuff about "blue" and "schizophrenia" is interesting, but your position seems to require something far stronger than direct translations occasionally not being available. It requires you to say that monolingual speakers of different languages cannot have any concepts the same.

Maybe the appeal to trusting what an English speaker says about some evidence is supposed to help us identify concepts belonging to Italian Bart and English Lisa. But this seems spurious. Firstly, Bart can't understand what Lisa tells him about the evidence! But more seriously, these bits of evidence look completely different -- the evidence of the report, vs the testimony of a sibling.

Again I am getting at the difficulty of comparing evidential scenarios, and suggesting that the metric you require to do this that already calls upon the agents' possession of concepts, which is what is supposed to be being explained.

10:30 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

rob_s asks:

"But who are the current philosophers you mention who reject FD? I would be interested to read more on this." So-called 'direct reference' theorists hold that reference is the only kind content (for some or all types of concept). Prominent proponents: Nathan Salmon, Scott Soames, David Braun, Jerry Fodor, Edna Krabappel, C. Montgomery Burns.

9:54 AM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Rob S, I think perhaps you are expecting too much of certain belief holism. All it can do is give an operational measure for when two or more people have the same concepts. Occasionally we may not be able to measure the sameness of concepts for practical reasons. I do not claim that in these cases the concepts are therefore different.
An example: Common sense would have Fritz and Bart believing the same thing when they believe that the cat is in the cat box. But you rightly point out that if Lisa told Bart and Fritz in English that the cat is in the cat box, this may provide conclusive evidence for Bart, but not for Fritz who speaks no English. This is a problem for my view since it suggests that Bart and Fritz do not share beliefs or concepts "cat" "box" etc. whereas common sense tells us they do.
My defense is not properly worked out but is along these lines: Bart and Fritz share non linguistic evidential standards for their belief and related beliefs. For this reason they will be able to learn/teach each other the meanings of these terms. Their terms will be translatable. Because of this we can say that there is a great deal of linguistic evidence available to Bart, but not to Fritz. However, Fritz would accept the same linguistic evidence if it was translated into German. We (the human race) know how to translate English into German, so I don't need to provide a metric of sameness of meaning across translation, I happily leave that to experts. If Fritz accepted completely different evidence for "the cat is in the box" than Bart, then he would have a different concept.

1:05 PM  
Anonymous David Papineau said...

Gabe’s argument for holism seems to me to trade on a conflation between different ways of counting concepts.

One way of counting concepts is by referential value. I’d say that this is all we need for most purposes. By this standard, all the concepts that Bart, Lisa and Maggie variously express by ‘measles’ and ‘rubeola’ are the same concept.

The Frege test gives us a finer way of typing concepts. We need this finer way of typing concepts to account for the fact that Maggie can believe that Homer has measles but not believe that Homer has rubeola—and maybe for some other purposes too.

Given this kind of distinction, the argument for holism looks a bit like the following. Bart has a Ford Mustang, Lisa has a Ford Mustang. It’s natural to say they have the same car. But Maggie has two Ford Mustangs, one just like Bart’s model, the other just like Lisa’s model. Maggie’s two cars clearly aren’t the same car. So Bart and Lisa can’t have the same car after all.

Why suppose that there is only one legitimate way of counting concepts that is relevant to claims of the form a is the same concept as b?

2:51 PM  
Blogger David Papineau said...

Gabe’s argument for holism seems to me to trade on a conflation between different ways of counting concepts.

One way of counting concepts is by referential value. I’d say that this is all we need for most purposes. By this standard, all the concepts that Bart, Lisa and Maggie variously express by ‘measles’ and ‘rubeola’ are the same concept.

The Frege test gives us a finer way of typing concepts. We need this finer way of typing concepts to account for the fact that Maggie can believe that Homer has measles but not believe that Homer has rubeola—and maybe for some other purposes too.

Given this kind of distinction, the argument for holism looks a bit like the following. Bart has a Ford Mustang, Lisa has a Ford Mustang. It’s natural to say they have the same car. But Maggie has two Ford Mustangs, one just like Bart’s model, the other just like Lisa’s model. Maggie’s two cars clearly aren’t the same car. So Bart and Lisa can’t have the same car after all.

Why suppose that there is only one legitimate way of counting concepts that is relevant to claims of the form a is the same concept as b?

2:51 PM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Good point David. My difficulty is in saying that Maggie's concept measles is the same as Bart's and Lisa's because they refer to the same disease. I'm not sure that Maggies concept does refer to measles.
If Homer has Measles and no other disease then Maggies belief that Homer has measles and no other disease is true. If she had good evidence, there is reason to attribute her with knowledge. So Maggie knows that Homer has one disease and that is measles. But Maggie believes that measles refers to a different disease than rubeola. This is a conceptual belief to do with the meaning of her terms. So it is an analytic truth for Maggie that if H has only one disease and it is measles, then H does not have Rubeola. So from a valid deduction from a known premise and an analytic truth, Maggies derives a false belief! I think it would be preferable to say that Maggie does not know that Homer has measles, because her concept of measles doesn't refer to measles the disease. So even referentially she doesn't have the same concept.

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

David Papineau says:
Why suppose that there is only one legitimate way of counting concepts that is relevant to claims of the form a is the same concept as b?

Segal might accept that there are two or more ways of counting concepts and say that his argument applies to concepts as these are deployed by psychological explanations framed in opaque generalizations.
Or he might argue for the stronger thesis that counting concepts by reference is a waste of time because it will not work for any interesting purpose. If we use "believes" transparantly then we either have to say that it is impossible to believe that, e.g. Lucifer exists or that e.g. believing that Lucifer exists is the same as believing that James T. Kirk exists. Both of these claims are patently absurd.
There is only one of counting concepts that works. and that way respects FD.

10:28 AM  

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