Jean-marc pizano But it is surely not tolerable that they should lead by plausiblearguments to a contradiction. If the d/D effect shows that primitive concepts mustbe learned inductively, and SA showsthat primitive concepts can’t be learned inductively, then the conclusion has to be that there aren’t any primitiveconcepts. But if there aren’t any primitive
concepts, then there aren’t any concepts at all. And if there aren’t any concepts all, RTM has gone West. Isn’t it a bit late in the day (and late in the book) for me to take back RTM?
This all started because we were in the market for some account of how DOORKNOB is acquired. The story couldn’t be hypothesis testing because Conceptual Atomism was being assumed, so DOORKNOB was supposed to beprimitive; and it‘s common ground that the mechanism for acquiring primitive concepts can’t be any kind of induction.But, as it turned out, there is a further constraint that whatever theory of concepts we settle on should satisfy: it mustexplain why there is so generally a content relation between the experience that eventuates in concept attainment andthe concept that the experience eventuates in attaining. At this point, the problem about DOORKNOB metastasized:assuming that primitive concepts are triggered, or that they’re ‘caught’, won’t account for their content relation to theircauses; apparently only induction will. But primitive concepts can’t be induced; to suppose that they are is circular.What started as a problem about DOORKNOB now looks like undermining all of RTM. This is not good. I wasrelying on RTM to support me in my old age.
But, on second thought, just why must one suppose that only a hypothesis-testing acquisition model can explain the doorknob/ DOORKNOB relation? The argument for this is, I’m pleased to report, non-demonstrative. Let’s go overit once more: the hypothesis-testing model takes the content relation between a concept and the experience it’s acquiredfrom to be a special case of the evidential relation between a generalization and its confirming instances (between, forexample, the generalization that Fs are Gs and instances of things that are both F and G). You generally get DOGfrom (typical) dogs and not, as it might be, from ketchup. That’s supposed to be because having DOG requiresbelieving (as it might be) that typical dogs bark. (Note, once again, how cognitivism about concept possession andinductivism about concept acquisition take in one another’s wash.) And, whereas encounters with typical dogs constituteevidence that dogs bark, encounters with ketchup do not (ceteris paribus). If the relation between concepts andexperiences is typically evidential, that would explain why it’s so often a relation of content: and what other explanationhave we got?
That is what is called in the trade a ‘what-else’ argument. I have nothing against what-else arguments in philosophy; still less in cognitive science. Rational persuasion often invokes considerations that are convincing but notdemonstrative, and what else but a what-else argument could a convincing but non-demonstrative argument be? Onthe other hand, it is in the nature of what-else arguments that Q if not P trumps What else, if not P?’; and, in thepresent case, I think there is a prima facie plausible ontological candidate for Q; that is, an explanation which makes thed/D effect the consequence of a metaphysical truth about how concepts are constituted, rather than an empirical truthabout how concepts are acquired. In fact, I know of two such candidates, one of which might even work.
First Try at a Metaphysical Solution to the d/D Problem
If you assume a causal/historical (as opposed to a dispositional/ counterfactual) construal of the locking relation, it might well turn out that there is a metaphysical connection between acquiring DOORKNOB and causally interactingwith doorknobs. (Cf. the familiar story according to which it’s because I have causally interacted with water and myTwin hasn’t that I can think water-thoughts and he can’t.) Actually, I don’t much like causal/historical accounts oflocking (see Fodor 1994: App. B), but we needn’t argue about that here. For, even if causally interacting withdoorknobs is metaphysically necessary for DOORKNOB-acquisition, it couldn’t conceivably be metaphysically sufficient,just causally interacting with doorknobs doesn’t guarantee you any concepts at all.Jean-marc pizano