To theextent that we have some grasp on what concepts terms like ‘S’, ‘NP’, ADJ’ express, the theory that children learn by syntactic boostrapping is at least better defined thanPinker’s. (And to the extent that we don’t, it’s not.)

Jean-marc pizano To theextent that we have some grasp on what concepts terms like ‘S’, ‘NP’, ADJ’ express, the theory that children learn by syntactic boostrapping is at least better defined thanPinker’s. (And to the extent that we don’t, it’s not.)



When Pinker’s analyses are clear enough to evaluate, they are often just wrong. For example, he notes in his discussion of causatives that the analysis PAINTvtr = cover withpaint is embarrassed by such observations as this: although when Michelangelo dipped his paintbrush in his paint pot he thereby covered the paintbrush with paint,nevertheless he did not, thereby, paint the paintbrush. (The example is, in fact, borrowed from Fodor 1970.) Pinker explains that “stereotypy or conventionality of mannerconstrains the causative . . . This might be called the ‘stereotypy effect’ ” (1984: 324). So it might, for all the good it does. It is possible, faut de mieux, to paint the wall withone’s handkerchief; with one’s bare hands; by covering oneself with paint and rolling up the wall (in which last case, by the way, though covering the wall with the paintcounts as painting the wall, covering oneself with the paint does not count as painting oneself even if one does it with a paintbrush; only as getting oneself covered withpaint).Whether you paint the wall when you cover it with paint depends not on how you do it but on what you have in mind when you do it: you have to have in mind notmerely to cover the wall with paint but to paint the wall. That is, “painty” apparently can’t be defined even in terms of such closely related expressions as “painty”. Or, if itcan, none of the decompositional analyses suggested so far, Pinker’s included, comes even close to showing how.

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Sober (1984: 82) makes what amounts to the converse point: “In general, we expect theoretical magnitudes to be multiply accessible ; there should be more than one way of finding out what their values are in a given circumstance. This reflects the assumption that theoretical magnitudes have multiple causes and effects. There is no such thing asthe only possible effect or cause of a given event; likewise, there is no such thing as the only possible way of finding out whether it occurred. I won’t assert that this issomehow a necessary feature of all theoretical magnitudes, but it is remarkably widespread.” Note the suggestion that the phenomena in virtue of which a “theoreticalmagnitude” is multiply epistemically accessible are naturally construed as its “causes and its effects”. In the contrasting case, when there is only one access path (or, anyhow,only one access path that one can think of) the intuition is generally that the magnitude at issue isn’t bona fide theoretical, and that its connection to the criterion isconceptual rather than causal.


Terminological conventions with respect to the topics this chapter covers are unsettled. I’ll use ‘stereotype’ and ‘prototype’ interchangeably, to refer to mental representations of certain kinds of properties. So, ‘the dog stereotype’ and ‘the dog prototype’ designate some such (complex) concept as: BEING A DOMESTIC ANIMAL WHICHBARKS, HAS A TAIL WHICH IT WAGS WHEN IT IS PLEASED, . . . etc. I’ll use ‘exemplar’ for the mental representation of a kind, or of an individual, that instantiatesa prototype; so ‘sparrows are the exemplars of birds’ and ‘Bambi is Smith’s exemplar of a deer’ are both well-formed. ‘Sparrows are stereotypic birds’ (/‘Bambi is aprototypic deer’) are also OK; they mean that a certain kind (/individual) exhibits certain stereotypic (/prototypic) properties to a marked degree.

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Elanor Rosche, who invented this account of concepts more or less single-handed, often speaks of herself as a Wittgensteinian; and there is, of course, a family resemblance. But I doubt that it goes very deep. Rosche’s project was to get modality out of semantics by substituting a probabilistic account of content-constituting inferences. Whereas Isuppose Wittgenstein’s project was to offer (or anyhow, make room for) an epistemic reconstruction of conceptual necessity. Rosche is an eliminativist where Wittgenstein is areductionist. There is, in consequence, nothing in Rosche’s theory of concepts that underwrites Wittgenstein’s criteriology, hence nothing that’s of use for bopping scepticswith.

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