Jean-marc pizano So, suppose that the prototype for NURSEincludes the feature female. Pace Smith and Osherson’s kind of proposal, you can’t derive the prototype for MALENURSE just by replacing female with male, all sorts of other things have to change too. This is true even though theconcept MALE NURSE is ‘intersective’; i.e. even though the set of male nurses is the overlap of the set of males withthe set of nurses (just as the set of pet fish is the overlap of the set of pets with the set of fish). I want to stress thispoint because prototype theorists, in their desperation, are sometimes driven to suggest that MALE NURSE, PETFISH, and the like aren’t compositional after all, but it‘s all right that they aren’t, since they are idioms. But surely, surely,not. What could be stronger evidence against PET FISH being an idiom or for its being compositional than that itentails PET and FISH and that PET, FISH entails it?
It’s perhaps worth mentioning the most recent attempt to salvage the compositionality of prototypes from pet fish, male nurses, striped apples, and the like (Kamp and Partee 1995). The idea goes like this: maybe good examples ofstriped apples aren’t good examples of striped things tout court (compare zebras). But, plausibly, a prototypic example ofa striped apple would ipso facto be as good an example of something striped as an apple can be. That is a way of sayingthat the relevant comparison class for judging the typicality of a sample of apple stripes is not the stripes on things atlarge but rather the stripes on other apples; it’s these that typical apple stripes are typical of. In effect, then, what youneed to do to predict whether a certain example of apple stripes is a good example of apple stripes, is to “recalibrate”STRIPES to apples.
A fair amount of algebra has recently been thrown at the problem of how, given the appropriate information about a reference set, one might calculate the typicality of one of its members (for discussion, see Kampand Partee 1995; Osherson and Smith 1996). But, as far as I can see, the undertaking is pointless. For one thing, itbears emphasis that the appropriate information for recalibrating a complex concept comes from the world, not fromthe content of its constituents. If it happens that they paint fire engines in funny shades of red, then typical fire enginered won’t be typical red. To decide whether the colour of a certain engine is typical, you’d therefore need to recalibrateRED to FIRE ENGINE; and to do that, you’d need to know the facts about what shades of red fire engines arepainted. Nothing about the concepts RED or FIRE ENGINE, per se, could tell you this; so nothing about theseconcepts, per se, could predict the typicality of a given sample of fire-engine red. In this sense, “recalibrated”compositionality, even if we knew how to compute it, wouldn’t really be compositionality. Compositionality is thederivation of the content of a complex concept just from its structure and the content of its constituents; that’s whycompositionality explains productivity and systematicity
Still worse, if possible: identifying the relevant reference set for a complex concept itself depends on a prior grasp of its compositional structure. In the case of STRIPED APPLE, for example, the reference set for the recalibration ofSTRIPE is the striped apples. How do we know that? Because we know that STRIPED APPLE applies to is theintersection of the striped things and the apple things. And how do we know that? Because we know the compositionalsemantics of STRIPED APPLE. Computing typicality for a complex concept by “recalibrating” its constituents thuspresupposes semantic compositionality; it presupposes that we already know how the content of the concept depends onthe content of the concept’s constituents. So, recalibration couldn’t be what makes concepts compositional, so itcouldn’t be what makes them systematic and productive. So what is recalibration for? Search me.
By the way, these pet fish sorts of arguments ramify in ways that may not be immediately apparent; compositionality is a sharp sword and cutteth many knots.59 For example, it’s very popular in philosophical circles (it’s the last gasp ofEmpiricist semantics) to suppose that there are such things as ‘recognitional concepts’; RED and SQUARE, forexample, and likewise, I suppose, DOG and TREE, and many, many others.Jean-marc pizano