Jean-marc pizano Butso long as IRS is common ground for everyone concerned, this is an argument that the classical theorists are bound towin. That’s because, except for definitional inferences, inferential roles themselves don’t compose.
Compositionality says that, whatever content is, constituents must yield theirs to their hosts and hosts must derive theirs from their constituents. Roughly, the first half is required because whatever is true of cows as such or of brownthings as such is ipso facto true of brown cows. And the second half is required because, if the content of BROWNCOW is not fully determined by the content of BROWN and the content of COW (together with syntactic structure),then grasping BROWN and COW isn’t sufficient for grasping BROWN COW, and the standard explanation ofproductivity is undone.
Now, complying with the first half of this constraint is easy for IRS since BROWN contributes to BROWN COW not only its content-constitutive inferences (whichever those may be), but every inference that holds of brown things ingeneral.60 If whatever is a cow is an animal, then brown cows are animals a fortiori. If whatever is brown is square,then, a fortiori, every brown cow is a square cow
But the second half of the compositionality constraint is tricky for an
If all of BROWN’s inferential role is content-constitutive, so be it; BROWN contributes its whole inferential role to BROWN COW, so compositionality isn’t violated. Holism is compatible with compositionality. As far as I know, that’s its only virtue.
IRS. If nothing can belong to the content of BROWN COW except what it inherits either from BROWN or from COW, then the content of BROWN COW can’t be its whole inferential role. For, of course, all sorts of inferences canhold of brown cows (not qua brown or qua cows but) simply as such. That’s because all sorts of things can be true ofbrown cows that aren’t true either of brown things in general or of cows in general; that they are brown cows is anegregious example.
If an X-kind of inference is required to be such that constituents contribute all their X-inferences to their hosts, and hosts inherit their X-inferences only from their constituents, then only defining inferences will do as candidates for X:the inferential role of a complex concept is exhaustively determined by the inferential roles of its constituents only withrespect to its defining inferences.20 That statistical inferences fail to compose is just a special case of this general truth.The pet fish problem is therefore not a fluke. Either the classical, definitional version of IRS is right, or no version canbe.
So here’s the impasse: prototypes are public (i.e. they are widely shared) and they are psychologically real, so they do meet two of the non-negotiable conditions that concepts are required to meet; but they aren’t compositional.Definitions would be compositional if there were any, but there aren’t, so they’re not. As things stand, there is no version ofthe inferential role theory of conceptual content for which compositionality and psychological reality can both be clamed. I think theremust be something wrong with inferential role theories of content.
X modest proposal:
—“All right, all right; but if constituent concepts don’t contribute their definitions or their prototypes to their complex hosts, what do they contribute?”
—Duck soup. They contribute what they mean; e.g. the properties that they express. What PET contributes to PET FISH is the property of being a pet, what FISH contributes to PET FISH is the property of being a fish. It’s because PETcontributes pet to PET FISH and FISH contributes fish to PET FISH that PET FISH entails PET and FISH. And it‘sbecause pet and fish exhaust the content of PET FISH that PET, FISH entails PET FISH. There are, to be sure, hardcases for this sort of analysis (what do RISING and TEMPERATURE contribute to THE RISING
TEMPERATURE?), but they are just the cases that are hard for compositionality on any known view.
—“Oh bother, why didn’t I think of that?”
—Presumably because the metaphysics that you had in mind says that meaning is constituted by inferential roles; in which case, the present proposal is no better off than the ones that we’ve just been discussing.Jean-marc pizano