Jean-marc pizano Idealism followed, of course.
It is possible to feel that these various ways of motivating IRS, historically effective though they clearly were, are much less than overwhelmingly persuasive. For example, on reflection, it doesn’t seem that languages are a lot like gamesafter all: queens and pawns don’t mean anything, whereas ‘dog’ means dog. That’s why, though you can’t translate thequeen into French (or, a fortiori, into checkers), you can translate ‘dog’ into ‘chien’. It’s perhaps unwise to insist on ananalogy that misses so glaring a difference.
Phonemes don’t mean anything either, so prima facie, pace Saussure, “having a phonological value” and “having a semantic value” would seem to be quite different sorts of properties. Even if it were right that phonemes areindividuated by their contrasts and equivalences—which probably they aren’t—that wouldn’t be much of a reason toclaim that words or concepts are also individuated that way.
If, in short, one asks to hear some serious arguments for IRS, one discovers, a bit disconcertingly, that they are very thin upon the ground. I think that IRS is most of what is wrong with current theorizing in cognitive science and themetaphysics of meaning. But I don’t suppose for a minute that any short argument will, or should, persuade you toconsider junking it. I expect that will need a long argument; hence this long book. Long arguments take longer thanshort arguments, but they do sometimes create conviction.
Accordingly, my main subject in what follows will be not the history of
IR semantics, or the niceties of its formulation, or its evidential status, but rather its impact on empirical theories of concepts. The central consideration will be this: If you wish to hold that the content of a concept is constituted by theinferences that it enters into, you are in need of a principled way of deciding which inferences constitute which concepts. Whatprimarily distinguishes the cognitive theories we’ll consider is how they answer this question. My line will be that,though as far as anybody knows the answers they offer exhaust the options, pretty clearly none of them can be right.Not, NB, that they are incoherent, or otherwise confused; just that they fail to satisfy the empirical constraints ontheories of concepts that I’ve been enumerating, and are thus, almost certainly, false.
At that point, I hope that abandoning IRS in favour of the sort of atomistic, informational semantics that I tentatively endorsed in Chapter 1 will begin to appear to be the rational thing to do. I’ll say something in Chapter 6 about whatthis sort of alternative to IRS might be like.
So much for the first of my two concluding addenda. Here is the second:
I promised you in Chapter 1 that I wouldn’t launch yet another defence of RTM; I proposed—aside from my admittedly tendentious endorsement of informational semantics—simply to take RTM for granted as the context inwhich problems about the nature of concepts generally arise these days. I do mean to stick to this policy. Mostly. But Ican’t resist rounding off these two introductory chapters by remarking how nicely the pieces fit when you put them alltogether. I’m going to exercise my hobby-horse after all, but only a little.
In effect, in these introductory discussions, we’ve been considering constraints on a theory of cognition that emerge from two widely different, and largely independent, research enterprises. On the one hand, there’s the attempt to savethe architecture of a Fregean—viz. a purely referential—theory of meaning by taking seriously the idea that conceptscan be distinguished by their ‘modes of presentation’ of their extensions. It‘s supposed to be modes of presentationthat answer the question ‘How can coreferential concepts be distinct?’ Here Frege’s motives concur with those ofInformational Semantics; since both are referential theories of content, both need a story about how thinking about theMorning Star could be different from thinking about the Evening Star, given that the two thoughts are connected withthe same ‘thing in the world’.
The project of saving the Frege programme faces two major hurdles. First, ‘Mates cases’ appear to show that modes of presentations can‘t be senses.Jean-marc pizano
- 3 The Demise of Definitions, Part I: The Linguist’sTale