Jean-marc pizano But you couldn’t devise or confirm that hypothesis unless you already hadthe concept RED, since the concept RED is invoked in the formulation of the hypothesis. So you can’t have learned the conceptRED (or, mutatis mutandis, any other primitive concept) inductively, by hypothesis testing and confirmation. But SAassumes that induction is the only sort of concept learning that there is. So it follows that you can’t have learned yourprimitive concepts at all. But if you have a concept that you can’t have learned, then you must have it innately. So theStandard Argument says. What, if anything, is wrong with this?
To begin with, it might be replied that the inductive account of concept acquisition is plausible only assuming a cognitivist account of concept possession; an account of concept possession according to which having a concept isknowing something. This assumption is natural enough if you are thinking of concepts on the model of definitions (/stereotypes/ theories): having a concept is knowing what its definition (/stereotype/theory) is. By contrast, IA isexplicitly non-cognitivist about concept possession; it says that having a concept is (not knowing something but) beingin a certain nomic mind—world relation; specifically, it’s being in that mind—world relation in virtue of which theconcept has the content that it does. This changes the geography in ways that may be germane to the present issues.Because it is non-cognitivist about concept possession, IA invites a correspondingly non-cognitivist account of howconcepts are acquired. That might be just what you’re looking for if you’re looking for a way out of SA.
Avoiding nativism by endorsing a non-cognitivist view of concept possession is, of course, hardly a new idea. At least since Ryle (1949), a lot of philosophical ink has been invested in the thought that having a concept is knowing how, notknowing that. Correspondingly, concept acquisition is arguably learning how, rather than learning that, and it isn’t obviousthat learning how needs to be inductive. Maybe construing concept possession as know-how is all that avoiding SArequires. I think philosophers quite generally find this plausible.
But it isn’t. For one thing, if it’s not obvious that learning how requires hypothesis testing, it’s also not obvious that it doesn’t: in lots of cases, itappears that how-learning itself depends on that-learning.74 For example, my linguist friends tell me that learning howto talk a first language requires quite a lot of learning that the language has the grammar that it does. I tell my linguistfriends that my philosophy friends tell me that it is a priori and necessary that this cannot be so. Then my linguistfriends laugh at me. What am I to do?
And, for another thing, whatever the general story about knowing how and knowing that may be, the particular skills that concept possession is usually supposed to implicate are perceptual and inferential, and these look to be just saturatedwith knowing that. Surely, you can‘t identify a dog by its barking unless you know (/believe) that dogs bark. Surely, youwon’t infer from dog to animal unless you know (/believe) that dogs are animals. Indeed, in the second case, opposingknowing how to knowing that looks like insisting on a distinction without a difference.75
Where we’ve got to is: even if it’s supposed that concepts are skills,76 very little follows that helps with avoiding SA. That’s because to avoid SA you need a non-cognitivist view of concept possession. And supposing concepts to beskills doesn’t guarantee a non-cognitivist view of concept possession, because it is perfectly possible to be a cognitivistabout the possession of skills, if not in every case, then at least in the case of the skills that concept possession requires. Themoral: it‘s unclear that Ryle can deny SA the premiss that it centrally requires, viz. that concept acquisition is mediated by hypothesisformation and testing.
But IA can. Let’s see where this leads.
Following Loewer and Rey (1991a) (who are themselves following the usage of ethologists) I’ll say that acquiring a concept is getting nomologically locked to the property that the concept expresses.Jean-marc pizano