If, however, scepticism really is the skeleton in Dummett’s closet, the worry seems to me to be doubly misplaced: first because the questions with which theories of meaning are primarily concerned are metaphysical rather than epistemic.This is as it should be; understanding what a thing is, is invariably prior to understanding how we know what it is. And,secondly, because there is no obvious reason why behaviourally grounded inferences to attributions of concepts,meanings, mental processes, communicative intentions, and the like should be freer from normal inductive risk than,as it might be, perceptually grounded attributions of tails to cats. The best we get in either case is “strong but fallibleevidence”. Contingent truths are like that as, indeed, Hume taught us some while back. This is, no doubt, the veryattitude that Dummett means to reject as inadequate to the purposes for which we “philosophically” require a theoryof meaning. So much the worse, perhaps, for the likelihood that philosophers will get from a theory of meaning whatDummett says thatthey require. I, for one, would not expect a good account of what concepts are to refute scepticism about other mindsany more than I’d expect a good account of what cats are to refute scepticism about other bodies. In both cases, I amquite prepared to settle for theories that are merely true.
Methodological inhibitions flung to the wind, then, here is how I propose to organize our trip. Very roughly, concepts are constituents of mental states. Thus, for example, believing that cats are animals is a paradigmatic mental state, andthe concept ANIMAL is a constituent of the belief that cats are animals (and of the belief that animals sometimes bite, etc.I’m leaving it open whether the concept ANIMAL is likewise a constituent of the belief that some cats bite, we’ll raise thatquestion presently). So the natural home of a theory of concepts is as part of a theory of mental states. I shall supposethroughout this book that RTM is the right theory of (cognitive) mental states. So, I’m going to start with an expositionof RTM: which is to say, with an exposition of a theory about what mental states and processes are. It will turn out thatmental states and processes are typically species of relations to mental representations, of which latter concepts aretypically the parts.
To follow this course is, in effect, to assume that it’s OK for theorizing about the nature of concepts to precede theorizing about concept possession. As we’ve been seeing, barring a metaphysical subtext, that assumption should beharmless; individuation theories and possession theories are trivially intertranslatable. Once we’ve got RTM in place,however, I’m going to argue for a very strong version of psychological atomism; one according to which what conceptsyou have is conceptually and metaphysically independent of what epistemic capacities you have. If this is so, thenpatently concepts couldn’t be epistemic capacities.
I hope not to beg any questions by proceeding in this way; or at least not to get caught begging any. But I do agree that if there is a knock-down, a priori argument that concepts are logical constructs out of capacities, then my view abouttheir ontology can’t be right and I shall have to give up my kind of cognitive science. Oh, well. If there’s a knock-down,a priori argument that cats are logical constructs out of sensations, then my views about their ontology can‘t be righteither, and I shall have to give up my kind of biology. Neither possibility actually worries me a lot.
So, then, to begin at last:
RTM is really a loose confederation of theses; it lacks, to put it mildly, a canonical formulation. For present purposes, let it be the conjunction of the following:
First Thesis: Psychological explanation is typically nomic and is intentional through and through. The laws that
psychological explan ations invoke typically express causal relations among mental states that are specified under intentional description; viz. among mental states that are picked out by reference totheir contents. Laws about causal relations among beliefs, desires, and actions are the paradigms.
I’m aware there are those (mostly in Southern California, of course) who think that intentional explanation is all at best pro tem, and that theories of mind will (or anyhow should) eventually be couched in the putatively purely extensionalidiom of neuroscience.Jean-marc pizano