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Ideas of H.H. Price, by Text

[British, 1899 - 1984, Professor of Logic at Oxford University.]

1946 Review of Aron 'Our Knowledge of Universals'
p.188 p.188 A 'felt familiarity' with universals is more primitive than abstraction
     Full Idea: A 'felt familiarity' with universals seems to be more primitive than explicit abstraction.
     From: H.H. Price (Review of Aron 'Our Knowledge of Universals' [1946], p.188)
     A reaction: This I take to be part of the 'given' of the abstractionist view, which is quite well described in the first instance by Aristotle. Price says that it is 'pre-verbal'.
p.190 p.190 We reach concepts by clarification, or by definition, or by habitual experience
     Full Idea: We have three different ways in which we arrive at concepts or universals: there is a clarification, where we have a ready-made concept and define it; we have a combination (where a definition creates a concept); and an experience can lead to a habit.
     From: H.H. Price (Review of Aron 'Our Knowledge of Universals' [1946], p.190)
     A reaction: [very compressed] He cites Russell as calling the third one a 'condensed induction'. There seems to an intellectualist and non-intellectualist strand in the abstractionist tradition.
p.191 p.191 Our understanding of 'dog' or 'house' arises from a repeated experience of concomitances
     Full Idea: Whether you call it inductive or not, our understanding of such a word as 'dog' or 'house' does arise from a repeated experience of concomitances.
     From: H.H. Price (Review of Aron 'Our Knowledge of Universals' [1946], p.191)
     A reaction: Philosophers don't use phrases like that last one any more. How else could we form the concept of 'dog' - if we are actually allowed to discuss the question of concept-formation, instead of just the logic of concepts.
1953 Thinking and Experience
Ch.II p.35 The basic concepts of conceptual cognition are acquired by direct abstraction from instances
     Full Idea: Basic concepts are acquired by direct abstraction from instances; unless there were some concepts acquired in this way by direct abstraction, there would be no conceptual cognition at all.
     From: H.H. Price (Thinking and Experience [1953], Ch.II)
     A reaction: This seems to me to be correct. A key point is that not only will I acquire the concept of 'dog' in this direct way, from instances, but also the concept of 'my dog Spot' - that is I can acquire the abstract concept of an instance from an instance.
Ch.II p.35 Recognition must precede the acquisition of basic concepts, so it is the fundamental intellectual process
     Full Idea: Recognition is the first stage towards the acquisition of a primary or basic concept. It is, therefore, the most fundamental of all intellectual processes.
     From: H.H. Price (Thinking and Experience [1953], Ch.II)
     A reaction: An interesting question is whether it is an 'intellectual' process. Animals evidently recognise things, though it is a moot point whether slugs 'recognise' tasty leaves.
Ch.II p.35 Before we can abstract from an instance of violet, we must first recognise it
     Full Idea: Abstraction is preceded by an earlier stage, in which we learn to recognize instances; before I can conceive of the colour violet in abstracto, I must learn to recognize instances of this colour when I see them.
     From: H.H. Price (Thinking and Experience [1953], Ch.II)
     A reaction: The problem here might be one of circularity. If you are actually going to identify something as violet, you seem to need the abstract concept of 'violet' in advance. See Idea 9034 for Price's attempt to deal with the problem.
Ch.III p.75 If judgement of a characteristic is possible, that part of abstraction must be complete
     Full Idea: If we are to 'judge' - rightly or not - that this object has a specific characteristic, it would seem that so far as the characteristic is concerned the process of abstraction must already be completed.
     From: H.H. Price (Thinking and Experience [1953], Ch.III)
     A reaction: Personally I think Price is right, despite the vicious attack from Geach that looms. We all know the experiences of familiarity, recognition, and identification that go on when see a person or picture. 'What animal is that, in the distance?'
Ch.III p.75 There may be degrees of abstraction which allow recognition by signs, without full concepts
     Full Idea: If abstraction is a matter of degree, and the first faint beginnings of it are already present as soon as anything has begun to feel familiar to us, then recognition by means of signs can occur long before the process of abstraction has been completed.
     From: H.H. Price (Thinking and Experience [1953], Ch.III)
     A reaction: I like this, even though it is unscientific introspective psychology, for which no proper evidence can be adduced - because it is right. Neuroscience confirms that hardly any mental life has an all-or-nothing form.
Ch.IV p.98 There is pre-verbal sign-based abstraction, as when ice actually looks cold
     Full Idea: We must still insist that some degree of abstraction, and even a very considerable degree of it, is present in sign-cognition, pre-verbal as it is. ...To us, who are familiar with northern winters, the ice actually looks cold.
     From: H.H. Price (Thinking and Experience [1953], Ch.IV)
     A reaction: Price may be in the weak position of doing armchair psychology, but something like his proposal strikes me as correct. I'm much happier with accounts of thought that talk of 'degrees' of an activity, than with all-or-nothing cut-and-dried pictures.
Ch.IV p.98 Intelligent behaviour, even in animals, has something abstract about it
     Full Idea: Though it may sound odd to say so, intelligent behaviour has something abstract about it no less than intelligent cognition; and indeed at the animal level it is unrealistic to separate the two.
     From: H.H. Price (Thinking and Experience [1953], Ch.IV)
     A reaction: This elusive thought strikes me as being a key one for understanding human existence. To think is to abstract. Brains are abstraction machines. Resemblance and recognition require abstaction.
Ch.IX p.276 Abstractions can be interpreted dispositionally, as the ability to recognise or imagine an item
     Full Idea: An abstract idea may have a dispositional as well as an occurrent interpretation. ..A man who possesses the concept Dog, when he is actually perceiving a dog can recognize that it is one, and can think about dogs when he is not perceiving any dog.
     From: H.H. Price (Thinking and Experience [1953], Ch.IX)
     A reaction: Ryle had just popularised the 'dispositional' account of mental events. Price is obviously right. The man may also be able to use the word 'dog' in sentences, but presumably dogs recognise dogs, and probably dream about dogs too.
Ch.VIII p.234 If ideas have to be images, then abstract ideas become a paradoxical problem
     Full Idea: There used to be a 'problem of Abstract Ideas' because it was assumed that an idea ought, somehow, to be a mental image; if some of our ideas appeared not to be images, this was a paradox and some solution must be found.
     From: H.H. Price (Thinking and Experience [1953], Ch.VIII)
     A reaction: Berkeley in particular seems to be struck by the fact that we are incapable of thinking of a general triangle, simply because there is no image related to it. Most conversations go too fast for images to form even of very visual things.
Ch.XI p.322 Some dispositional properties (such as mental ones) may have no categorical base
     Full Idea: There is no a priori necessity for supposing that all disposition properties must have a 'categorical base'. In particular, there may be some mental dispositions which are ultimate.
     From: H.H. Price (Thinking and Experience [1953], Ch.XI)
     A reaction: I take the notion that mental dispositions could be ultimate as rather old-fashioned, but I agree with the notion that dispositions might be more fundamental that categorical (actual) properties. Personally I like 'powers'.