Jean-marc pizano For, whatever you may think about the size of the primitive conceptualbasis—and, in particular, about whether DOORKNOB is in it—on any version of RTM some concepts are going tohave to be primitive. And, on the one hand, SA does seem to show that primitive concepts can’t be acquiredinductively. And, on the other hand, whatever the primitive concepts are, their acquisition is pretty sure to exhibit thefamiliar d/D relation between the content of the concept and the content of the experience that occasions it. Of whatconcept does the acquisition not?29
In fact, it’s the concepts that have traditionally been practically everybody’s favourite candidates for being primitive that exhibit the doorknob/DOORKNOB effect most clearly. Like RED, for example. To be sure, philosophers of both theCartesian and the Empiricist persuasion have often stressed the arbitrariness of the relation between the content ofsensory concepts and the character of their causes. It’s bumping into photons (or whatever) that causes RED; butRED and PHOTON couldn’t be less alike in content. (According to Descartes, this shows that not even sensoryconcepts can come from experience. According to Locke, it shows that secondary qualities are mind-dependent.) Well,if the relation between sensory concepts and their causes really is arbitrary, then there can be no d/D problem aboutsensory concepts. In which case, if Empiricists are right and only sensory concepts are primitive, everything turns outOK. Sensory concepts don’t have to be learned inductively, so they can be innate; just as the Standard Argumentrequires, and just as Empiricists and Rationalists have both always supposed them to be. Empiricism would be cheapat the price if it shows the way out of a foundational paradox about RTM.
But, on second thought, no such luck. The thing to keep your eye on, pace Locke and Descartes both, is that the relation between the content ofa sensory concept and the character of its cause is not arbitrary when the cause is intentionally described. The thing to keepyour eye on is that we typically get the concept RED from (or, anyhow, on the occasion of) experiencing things as red.
There is, I think, more than a hint of a muddle about this in Fodor 1981a, where the following is a favourite line of argument: ‘Look, everybody—Empiricists and Rationalists—agrees that there is at least one psychological mechanismwhich effects a non-rational, arbitrary relation between at least some primitive concepts and their distal causes. Inparticular, everybody agrees that the sensorium works that way.’ “[E]ven the Empiricists hold that primitive conceptsare merely triggered by [rather than learned from] experience . . . It is . . . just a fact about the way that we are puttogether than the sensory concepts we have are dependent in the ways they are upon the particular stimulations whichoccasion them” (ibid.: 275). On this account, Rationalism is simply the generalization of the Empiricist picture of thesensorium to cover whatever primitive concepts there turn out to be, sensory or otherwise: some kinds of arbitrarystimuli trigger (sensory) concepts like RED; other kinds of arbitrary stimuli trigger (non-sensory) concepts likeDOORKNOB. What’s the big sweat?
That I still like using the sensorium as a model of concept innateness at large will presently become clear. But, to repeat, prima facie it has a problem that needs to be taken seriously. The problem is that the triggering stimuli for REDaren’t arbitrary when you take them under intentional (rather than psychophysical) description. If you take them underintentional description, the doorknob/DOORKNOB problem instantly emerges for sensory concepts too. It isencounters with doorknobs that typically occasion the acquisition of what Empiricists (and practically everybody else)have taken to be a complex concept like DOORKNOB; likewise it is typically encounters with red things (and not withgreen things, and not with square things, and not with elephants (unless they are red squares or red elephants)) thattypically occasion the acquisition of what practically everybody takes to be a primitive concept like RED. Surely that’s noaccident in either case? And if it’s not an accident, what else but an inductive model of concept acquisition couldexplain it?
This begins to seem a little worrying. It is perhaps tolerable that representational theories of mind should lead by plausible arguments to quite a radical nativism.Jean-marc pizano