Jean-marc pizano So, according to the present proposal, the constituent structure of the mentalrepresentation BACHELOR is something like ‘UNMARRIED MAN’.
The thesis that definition plays an important role in the theory of mental representation will be the main concern in this chapter and the next. According to that view, many mental representations work the way we’ve just supposed thatBACHELOR does. That is, they correspond to concepts that are expressed by definable words, and they arethemselves structurally complex. This thesis is, to put it mildly, very tendentious. In order for it to be true, it must turnout that there are many definable words; and it must turn out, in many cases, that the MRs that correspond to thesedefinable words are structurally complex. I’m going to argue that it doesn’t, in fact, turn out in either of those ways.9
One last preliminary, and then we’ll be ready to go. If there are no definable words, then, of course, there are no complex mental representations that correspond to them. But it doesn’t follow that if there are many complex mentalrepresentations, then lots of words are definable. In fact, I take it that the view now favoured in both philosophy andcognitive science is that most words aren’t definable but do correspond to
complex MRs (to something like prototypes or exemplars). Since the case against definitions isn’t ipso facto a case against complex mental representations, I propose the following expository strategy. In this chapter and the next, Iargue that concepts aren’t definitions even if lots of mental representations are complex. Chapter 5 will argue that thereare (practically) no complex mental representations at all, definitional or otherwise.26 At that point, atomism will be theoption of last resort.
If we thus set aside, for the moment, all considerations that don’t distinguish the claim that mental representations are typically definitional from the weaker claim that mental representations are typically complex, what arguments have weleft to attend to? There are two kinds: the more or less empirical ones and the more or less philosophical ones. Theempirical ones turn on data that are supposed to show that the mental representations that correspond to definablewords are, very often and simply as a matter of fact, identical to the mental representations that correspond to phrasesthat define the words. The philosophical ones are supposed to show that we need mental representations to bedefinitions because nothing else will account for our intuitions of conceptual connectedness, analyticity, a prioricity, andthe like. My plan is to devote the rest of this chapter to the empirical arguments and all of Chapter 4 to thephilosophical arguments. You will be unsurprised to hear what my unbiased and judicious conclusion is going to be.My unbiased and judicious conclusion is going to be that neither the philosophical nor the empirical arguments fordefinitions are any damned good.
So, then, to business.
Almost everybody used to think that concepts are definitions; hence that having a concept is being prepared to draw (or otherwise acknowledge) the inferences that define it. Prima facie, there’s much to be said for this view. In particular,definitions seem to have a decent chance of satisfying all five of the ‘non-negotiable’ conditions which Chapter 2 saidthat concepts have to meet. If the meaning-constitutive inferences are the defining ones, then it appears that:
—Definitions can be mental particulars if any concepts can. Whatever the definition of ‘bachelor’ is, it has the same ontological status as the mental representation that you entertain when you think unmarried man. That there is such amental representation is a claim to which RTM is, of course, independently committed.
—Semantic evaluability is assured; since all inferences are semantically
i.e. there are no complex mental representations other than those that correspond to concepts that are expressed by phrases; see the preceding footnote. From now on, I’ll take this caveat for granted.
evaluable (for soundness, validity, reliability, etc.), defining inferences are semantically evaluable inter alia.
—Publicity is satisfied since there’s no obvious reason why lots of people might not assign the same defining inferences to a given word or concept. They might do so, indeed, even if there are lots of differences in what theyknow/believe about the things the concept applies to (lots of differences in the ‘collateral information’ they have aboutsuch things).