But it’s hard to believe that is the question since the answer, though perfectly obvious and entirely banal, is one that Medin and Wattenmaker don’t even consider. What’s wrong with the concept BRIGHT RED, FLAMMABLE, EATSMEALWORMS,. . . etc. is that, as far as anybody knows, there’s nothing that is, or would be, true of things in virtue oftheir falling under it (except what follows trivially from their falling under it; e.g. that they are, or would be, found inLapland). In particular, there are no substantive, counterfactual-supporting generalizations about such things; so whyon earth would anybody want to waste his time thinking about them? Compare such unsatisfied (but coherent)concepts as UNICORN. At least there’s a story about unicorns. That is, there are interesting things that are supposed to betrue about them: that their ground-up horns are antidotes to many poisons; that if there were unicorns, virgins couldcatch them if there were virgins, and so on. In short, such examples as Medin and Wattenmaker offer suggest thatbeing ‘coherent’ isn’t even a psychological property: the incoherence of BRIGHT RED, FLAMMABLE, . . . etc. is adefect not of the concept but of the world. It’s therefore hard to see why a psychologist should care about it (thoughperhaps a zoologist might).
Or perhaps Medin and Wattenmaker have some other construal of conceptual coherence in mind; but search me what it is.70
To return to the main theme: many of the typical preoccupations of theory theorists seem to be largely neutral on the issue of concept
See also Keil: “Prototypes merely represent correlated properties, they offer no explanation of the reasons for those correlations (e.g. why the prototypical features of birds, such as beaks, feathers, and eggs tend to co-occur)” (1987: 195). The suggestion seems to be that the difference between prototype theories and theory theories is that thelatter entail that having a concept involves knowing the explanation of such correlations (or knowing that there is an explanation? or knowing that some expert knows theexplanation?). But, if so, it seems that theory theories set the conditions for concept possession impossibly high. I’m pretty confident that being liquid and transparent atroom temperature are correlated properties of water. But I have no idea why they are correlated. Notice, in particular, that learning that being water is being H2O didn’tadvance my epistemic situation in this respect since I don’t know why being liquid and transparent at room temperature are correlated properties of H2O. Do you?
individuation—Is conceptual change discontinuous? What makes a concept coherent? Are children metaphysical essentialists?—and the like. There is, to be sure, much that’s of interest to be said on these topics. But, thank Heaven,not here. From our point of view, the crucial question is whether, when a theory theorist says that concepts aretypically embedded in theoretical inferences, he means to claim that knowing (some or all) of the theory is a necessarycondition for having the concept. If yes, then the ‘which inferences’ question has to be faced. If no, then some positiveaccount of concept possession/individuation is owing. The definition story and the prototype story are bona fidecompeting theories of concepts because they do have answers to such questions on offer. As far as I can make out, thetheory theory doesn’t, so it isn’t.
6 Innateness and Ontology, Part I: The Standard
I find only myself, every time, in everything I create.
—Wotan in Die Walküre, Act II
Are you also puzzled, Socrates, about cases that might be thought absurd, such as hair or mud or dirt or any other trivial and undignified objects. Are you doubtful whether or not to assert that each of these has a separateform? . . . Not at all, said Socrates. In these cases, the things are just the things we see; it would surely be tooabsurd to suppose that they have a form.
Virginia Woolf has summed up this state of things with perfect vividness and conciseness in the words, ‘Tuesday follows Monday’.
—E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare’s Last Plays