Jean-marc pizano In short, it is OK to bean atomist about the metaphysical conditions for a concept’s having satisfaction conditions (which I am and will try toconvince you to be too), and yet be a holist about the confirmation of claims that a certain concept is satisfied in acertain situation. Shorter still: just as Quine and Duhem and those guys taught us, there aren’t any criteria. So at least Ishall assume throughout what follows.
3. Compositionality: concepts are the constituents of thoughts and, in indefinitely many cases, of one another.
Mental representations inherit their contents from the contents of their constituents.
Some terminology: I’ll use ‘thoughts’ as my cover term for the mental representations which, according to RTMs, express the propositions that are the objects of propositional attitudes. Thus, a belief that it will rain and a hope that it will rainshare a thought as well as a proposition which that thought expresses. For present purposes, it will do to think ofthoughts as mental representations analogous to closed sentences, and concepts as mental representations analogousto the corresponding open ones. It may strike you that mental representation is a lot like language, according to myversion of RTM. Quite so; how could language express thought if that were not the case?
Qua constituents of thoughts, and of each other, concepts play a certain role in explaining why the propositional attitudes are productive and systematic. The outlines of this story are well known, though by no means untendentious:
Beliefs are productive in that there are infinitely many distinct ones that a person can entertain (given, of course, the usual abstraction from ‘performance limitations’). Beliefs are systematic in that the ability to entertain any one of them impliesthe ability to entertain many others that are related to it in content. It appears, for example, to be conceptually possiblethat there should be a mind that is able to grasp the proposition that Mary loves John but not able to grasp theproposition that John loves Mary. But, in point of empirical fact, it appears that there are no such minds. This sort ofsymmetry of cognitive capacities is a ubiquitous feature of mental life.19 It implies a corresponding symmetry ofrepresentational capacities since RTM says, ‘no cognition without representation’. That is, RTM says that you can’tgrasp a proposition without entertaining a thought.
So, the question presents itself: what must mental representation be like if it is to explain the productivity and systematicity of beliefs? This question is loaded, to be sure: that the systematicity of the attitudes requires thesystematicity of mental representation doesn’t itself require that the systematicity of mental representation is whatexplains the systematicity of the attitudes. Perhaps both are the effects of a common cause. Maybe, for example, ‘theworld’ somehow teaches the mind to be systematic, and the systematicity of mental representation is the by-product ofits doing so.
The stumbling-block for this sort of suggestion is that the mind is much more systematic than the world: that John loves Mary doesn’t make it true, or even very likely, that Mary reciprocates. Sad for John, of course, but where wouldThe Western Canon be if things were otherwise? In fact, the only thing in the world that is as systematic as thought islanguage. Accordingly, some philosophers (Dan Dennett 1993 in particular) have suggested that it’s learning languagethat makes a mind systematic.
But we aren’t told how an initially unsystematic mind could learn a systematic language, given that the latter is ipso facto able to express propositions that the former is unable to entertain. How, for example, does a mind that can think thatJohn loves Mary but not that Mary loves John learn a language that is able to say both? Nor is it clear what could makelanguage itself systematic if not the systematicity of the thoughts that it is used to express; so the idea that the mind learnssystematicity from language just sweeps the problem from under the hall rug to under the rug in the parlour. Onbalance, I think we had better take it for granted,
It bears emphasis that systematicity concerns symmetries of cognitive capacities, not of actual mental states. It is, for example, patently not the case that whoever thinks that Mary loves John also thinks that John loves Mary.Jean-marc pizano