Friday, July 25, 2008



Anneli Jefferson gave an interesting talk about the subject that I am most confused about: the meaning of concepts. It seems that even within London there is no shared idea of what concepts are at all. This is alarming since philosophy is sometimes thought to be about conceptual analysis.
So here is a brief statement of a view that we can call the epistemological view:
[1] A concept is individuated by its possession conditions.
Fodor apparently calls this the “Current View”
The other option, the “Classical view” is that
[2] A concept is individuated by whatever it is that the concept represents.
I think this could even be called the Current Current view and I’ve got a feeling it is what David Papineau holds.
Anneli seemed to think that the possession conditions of a concept are a list of beliefs that one has that include the concept. Something like a Ramsey sentence. The problems with this are twofold
1. Publicity. What if two people have different beliefs including the same concept?
2. Error. How can a belief containing a concept be wrong?
There are of course various ways of addressing these problems. One being molecularism, which has it that there are a subset of core beliefs that it is necessary to have to possess a concept. These core beliefs then constitute the concept.
Fodor seems to be defending a more extreme Atomism, which is a combination of the Classical view, with the idea that all that is required to possess a concept is to be able to use it to represent the things the concept refers to.
Here is an example of a person who can clearly make statements including the concept that are true or false without any beliefs including the concept at all.
Mary is blind and has been brought up in a language community that were careful to never use colour words around her. Then she is given a spectrometer that tells her what colour things are when she points it at them. Mary can now have the following thought. “I wonder if the rose in the vase is red? I bet it is” I argue that Mary wins the bet if and only if the rose is red. She has no beliefs concerning red things whatsoever. She would still win the bet if and only if the rose is red even if she sold her spectrometer. The mere act of selling a piece of machinery cannot change the truth conditions of your thoughts or utterances.
Also she can wonder if her spectrometer is faulty and reports that green things are red. This thought is true iff her spectrometer is faulty and reports that green things are red. To have a reason to believe this she would need some beliefs about red things, but you don’t need any reasons at all to entertain a hypothesis.
Anneli might argue that Mary does have a red containing belief and that is that the spectrometer detects red things. But Mary can suspend belief in the existence of red things, in which case she can suspend belief in the ability of the spectrometer to detect red things.
What is clear is that she can form hypotheses and make statements involving the concept red that have empirical content. To anybody who has some method of settling whether things are red or not, she can represent things as red, truly or falsely. Neither party need have any beliefs about red things at all, they need not even be committed to the existence of anything red. What is important is that there are beliefs containing the concept red that it is possible for Mary to know. Let’s call this the Really Current view.
[3] Concepts are individuated by bet settlement criteria.


JOHN: Pass the red folder.
MARY: Ok, here you are.
JOHN: What colour is your front door?
MARY: Red.
JOHN: What colour shall we paint the kitchen?
MARY: I don’t mind, you choose.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

3:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The mary's case is not a good example. For one thing, there is the acquisition of basic units of thought, which presuppose an intentional relation with the object of the concept (ie. the red thing or a redness). This is the possession of a concept and a conditio sine qua non for the possession of a belief about anything. Obviously, Mary is unable to do that about colours.

For another thing, completely different, there is the possibility of handling the signs associated to those basic units of thought. What Mary receives from the spectrometer is only a series of signs that means nothing to her. 'Red' could be substituted by any other sign, like '123' or 'skfjie', all are meaningless to her at all, because there are no connections language-mind-world in Mary's case. It is only a matter of playing with meaningless signs, as if we were playing with japanese ideograms and a japanese speacker were tolding us when we were right or wrong about the relations of these signs with the world. The japanese speacker has the key to connect ideograms to the concepts and to the world: the intentional relation that is in the origins of the concept acquisition. Only by this way is possible to have beliefs about the world. A kind of play with ideograms or any sign without an intentional relation before them is not sufficient to anyone have beliefs about the world. Therefore Mary has no beliefs about anything involving colours, she is only playing with nonsense signs and your example don't works.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So when Mary answers "red" to the question "what colour is your door" she is saying something meaningless which has no connection to the world? I just find this implausible. I gave the example where she couldn't really answer a preference question over colours, but there is no reason why she shouldn't have a preference given sufficient experience of coloured things.
You talk of basic units of thought needing correspondence with the object of the concept. You seem to imply that there is only one way to do this. This is far too metaphysically loaded for me. I don't believe there is any such thing as "redness", and if someone can correctly identify and communicate propositions including "red" then they have the concept of red. How do I know if you or anyone else has this "intentional relation with the object of the concept"? How do I know if I have it? You obviously think that you have it, but how could you prove to me that you have?

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I woud say that a concept is a
state of affairs arising in the mind----I don't think you can get
more specific than that.
Where the boundary between mind and sense is---is a minefield.
If you reject the mind/body split
then 'state of affairs" refers
not just to mind.

11:00 PM  

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