Jean-marc pizano RTM also requires concepts to have their contents essentially. The versions of RTM that are currently standard in philosophy andin cognitive science, however, want still more: most lexical concepts should not be primitive, and the content ofconcepts should be determined, at least inter alia, by their inferential-cum-causal relations to one another. I think,however, that the evidence is getting pretty solid that the last two conditions can’t be met; lexical concepts typicallydon’t act as though they were internally structured by either psychological or linguistic 26test. And the question which aspects of a concept’s inferential role are the ones that determine its meaning appears to behopeless. Thus far has the World Spirit progressed.
I propose, therefore, that we scrap the standard versions of RTM and consider, in their place, a doctrine that I’ll call Informational Atomism. (IA for short.) IA has an informational part and it has an atomistic part. To wit:
—Informational semantics: content is constituted by some sort of nomic, mind—world relation. Correspondingly, having a concept (concept possession) is constituted, at least in part, by being in some sort of nomic,mind—world relation.
—Conceptual atomism: most lexical concepts have no internal structure.
As far as I can tell, nobody but me thinks that IA has a prayer of being true; not even people who are quite sympathetic to RTM. Now, why is that, do you suppose?
I can imagine three objections to IA (however, see Appendix 7A). The first of these I’m prepared not to take very seriously, but the second two need some discussion. Most of this chapter and the next one are devoted to them. Ishould say at the outset that I regard what follows as very tentative indeed. Though the standard versions of RTMhave been explored practically to death, IA is virgin territory. The best I hope for is a rough sketch of the geography.
First objection: If atomism is true and most lexical concepts have no internal structure, then there is no such thing as the analysis of most of the concepts that philosophers care about. That BROWN COW has a philosophical analysis (intoBROWN and COW) isn’t much consolation.
Reply: Strictly speaking, you can have conceptual analysis without structured concepts since, strictly speaking, you can have analyticity without structured concepts (see Appendix 5A). You do, however, have to live with the failure ofattempts to reduce analyticity to conceptual containment. And you have to live with the general lack of empiricalsanction for claims that satisfying the possession conditions for some concept A requires satisfying the possessionconditions for some other concept B. As far as I can tell, there is little or no evidence for such claims except bruteappeals to intuition; and, as we saw in Chapter 4, a case can be made that the intuitions thus appealed to are corrupt.
On the other hand, who cares about conceptual analysis? It’s a commonplace that its successes have been, to put it mildly, very sparse. Indeed, viewed from the cognitive psychologist’s perspective, the main point about conceptualanalysis is that it’s supposed to fail. For all sorts of
quotidian concepts, its answers to ‘What is their content?’ and to ‘How do you acquire them?’ are, respectively, ‘It has none’ and ‘You don’t’. It’s worth bearing in mind that analytic philosophy, from Hume to Carnap inclusive, was acritical programme. For the Empiricists, the idea was to constrain the conditions for concept possession a priori, byconstraining the acceptable relations between concepts and percepts. It would then turn out that you really don’t havemany of the concepts that you think you have; you don’t have GOD, CAUSE, or TRIANGLE at all, and thoughperhaps you do have DOG, it’s not the sort of concept that you had supposed it to be. “When we run over thelibraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make?” (Hume 1955: 3.) Post-Positivist philosophicalanalysis has wavered between reconstruction and deconstruction, succeeding in neither. Most practitioners now holdthat we do have DOG, CAUSE, and TRIANGLE after all; maybe even GOD. But they none the less insist that thereare substantive, a priori, epistemological constraints on concept possession. These, in the fullness of time, analysis willreveal; to the confusion of Sceptics, Metaphysical Realists, Mentalists, Cartesians, and the like.Jean-marc pizano