green numbers give full details.     |    back to list of philosophers     |     unexpand these ideas

Ideas of E Margolis/S Laurence, by Text

[American, fl. 2009, Professors at Vancouver and Sheffield.]

2009 Concepts
1 p.2 Concepts are either representations, or abilities, or Fregean senses
     Full Idea: The three main options for the ontological status of concepts are to identify them with mental representations, or with abilities, or with Fregean senses.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 1)
1.1 p.2 Language of thought has subject/predicate form and includes logical devices
     Full Idea: The language of thought is taken to have subject/predicate form and include logical devices, such as quantifiers and variables.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 1.1)
1.1 p.3 A computer may have propositional attitudes without representations
     Full Idea: It may be possible to have propositional attitudes without having the mental representations tokened in one's head. ...We may say a chess-playing computer thinks it should develop its queen early, though we know it has no representation with that content.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 1.1)
     A reaction: [Thye cite Dennett - who talks of the 'intentional stance'] It is, of course, a moot point whether we would attribute a propositional attitude (such as belief) to a machine once we knew that it wasn't representing the relevant concepts.
1.2 p.3 Maybe the concept CAT is just the ability to discriminate and infer about cats
     Full Idea: The view that concepts are abilities (e.g. found in Brandom, Dummett and Millikan) would say that the concept CAT amounts to the ability to discriminate cats from non-cats and to draw certain inferences about cats.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 1.2)
     A reaction: Feels wrong. The concept is what makes these abilities possible, but it seems rather behaviourist to identify the concept with what is enabled by the concept. You might understand 'cat', but fail to recognise your first cat (though you might suspect it).
1.2 p.4 The abilities view cannot explain the productivity of thought, or mental processes
     Full Idea: The abilities view of concepts, by its rejection of mental representation, is ill-equipped to explain the productivity of thought; and it can say little about mental processes.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 1.2)
     A reaction: The latter point arises from its behaviouristic character, which just gives us a black box with some output of abilities. In avoiding a possible regress, it offers no explanation at all.
1.2 p.4 Do mental representations just lead to a vicious regress of explanations
     Full Idea: A standard criticism is that the mental representation view of concepts creates just another item whose significance bears explaining. Either we have a vicious regress, or we might as well explain external language directly.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 1.2)
     A reaction: [They cite Dummett, with Wittgenstein in the background] I don't agree, because I think that explanation of concepts only stops when it dovetails into biology.
2.1 p.6 Classically, concepts give necessary and sufficient conditions for falling under them
     Full Idea: The classical theory is that a concept has a definitional structure in that it is composed of simpler concepts that express necessary and sufficient conditions for falling under the concept, the stock example being unmarried and a man for 'bachelor'.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.1)
     A reaction: This is the background idea to philosophy as analysis, and it makes concepts essentially referential, in that they are defined by their ability to pick things out. There must be some degree of truth in the theory.
2.1 p.7 Typicality challenges the classical view; we see better fruit-prototypes in apples than in plums
     Full Idea: The classical view is challenged by the discovery that certain categories are taken to be more typical, with typicality widely correlating with other data. Apples are judged to be more typical of (and have more common features with) fruit than plums are.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.1)
     A reaction: This discovery that people use prototypes in thinking has been the biggest idea to ever hit the philosophy of concepts, and simply cannot be ignored (as long as the research keeps reinforcing it, which I believe it does). The classical view might adapt.
2.1 p.7 The classical theory explains acquisition, categorization and reference
     Full Idea: The appeal of the classical theory of concepts is that it offers unified treatments of concept acquisition (assembling constituents), categorization (check constituents against target), and reference determination (whether they apply).
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.1)
     A reaction: [See Idea 11128 for the theory] As so often, I find myself in sympathy with the traditional view which has been relegated to ignominy by our wonderful modern philosophers.
2.1 p.8 It may be that our concepts (such as 'knowledge') have no definitional structure
     Full Idea: In the light of problems such as the definition of knowledge, many philosophers now take seriously the possibility that our concepts lack definitional structure.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.1)
     A reaction: This challenges the classical view, that there are precise conditions for each concept. That view would obviously be in difficulties with atomic concepts, so our account of those might be applied all the way up.
2.2 p.8 The prototype theory is probabilistic, picking something out if it has sufficient of the properties
     Full Idea: In the prototype theory of concepts, a lexical concept has probabilistic structure in that something falls under it if it satisfies a sufficient number of properties encoded by the constituents. It originates in Wittgenstein's 'family resemblance'.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.2)
     A reaction: It would seem unlikely to be a matter of the 'number' of properties, and would have to involve some notion of what was essential to the prototype.
2.2 p.8 Prototype theory categorises by computing the number of shared constituents
     Full Idea: On the prototype theory, categorization is to be understood as a similarity comparison process, where similarity is computed as a function of the number of constituents that two concepts hold in common.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.2)
     A reaction: Again it strikes me that 'computing' similarity by mere 'number' of shared constituents won't do, as there is a prior judgement about which constituents really matter, or are essential. That may even be hard-wired.
2.2 p.8 People don't just categorise by apparent similarities
     Full Idea: When it comes to more reflexive judgements, people go beyond the outcome of a similarity comparison. Even children say that a dog surgically altered to look like a raccoon is still a dog.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.2)
     A reaction: We can defend the theory by not underestimating people so much. Most categorisation is done on superficial grounds, but even children know there may be hidden similarities (behind the mask, under the bonnet) which are more important.
2.2 p.8 Complex concepts have emergent properties not in the ingredient prototypes
     Full Idea: An objection to the prototype view concerns compositionality. A complex concept often has emergent properties, as when it seems that 'pet fish' encodes for brightly coloured, which has no basis in the prototypes for 'pet' or 'fish'.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.2)
     A reaction: I would take 'pet fish' to work like a database query. 'Fish' has a very vague prototype, and then 'pet fish' narrows the search to fish which are appropriate to be pets. We might say that the prototype is refined, or the Mk 2 prototype appears.
2.2 p.8 Many complex concepts obviously have no prototype
     Full Idea: Many patently complex concepts don't even have a prototype structure, such as 'Chairs that were purchased on a Wednesday'.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.2)
     A reaction: [The example seems to be from Fodor] I disagree. If we accept the notion of 'refining' the prototype (see Idea 11135), then the compositionality of the expression will produce a genuine but very unusual prototype.
2.3 p.9 The theory theory of concepts says they are parts of theories, defined by their roles
     Full Idea: The theory theory of concepts says that terms are related as in a scientific theory, and that categorization resembles theorising. It is generally assumed that scientific terms are interdefined so that content is determined by its role in the theory.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.3)
     A reaction: I never like this sort of account. What are the characteristics of the thing which enable it to fulfil its role? You haven't defined a car when you've said it gets you from A to B.
2.3 p.9 The theory theory is holistic, so how can people have identical concepts?
     Full Idea: A problem with the theory theory of concepts is that it is holistic, saying a concept is determined by its role, not by its constituents. It then seems difficult for different people to possess the same concepts (or even the same person, over time).
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.3)
     A reaction: This seems a good objection to any holistic account of concepts or meaning - spotted by Plato in motivating his theory of Forms, to give the necessary stability to communication.
2.4 p.10 Maybe concepts have no structure, and determined by relations to the world, not to other concepts
     Full Idea: According to conceptual atomism, lexical concepts have no semantic structure, and the content of a concept isn't determined by its relation to other concepts but by its relations to the world.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.4)
     A reaction: [They cite Fodor 1998 and Millikan 2000] I like the sound of that, because I take the creation of concepts to be (in the first instance) a response to the world, not a response to other concepts.
2.5 p.10 Concept-structure explains typicality, categories, development, reference and composition
     Full Idea: The structures of concepts are invoked to explain typicality effects, reflective categorization, cognitive development, reference determination, and compositionality.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 2.5)
3.2 p.12 Modern empiricism tends to emphasise psychological connections, not semantic relations
     Full Idea: A growing number of philosophers are attracted to modified forms of empiricism, emphasizing psychological relations between the conceptual system and perceptual and motor states, not semantic relations.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 3.2)
     A reaction: I suddenly spot that this is what I have been drifting towards for some time! The focus is concept formation, where the philosophers need to join forces with the cognitive scientists.
3.2 p.12 Body-type seems to affect a mind's cognition and conceptual scheme
     Full Idea: It is claimed, on the basis of empirical research, that the type of body that an organism has profoundly affects it cognitive operations and the way it conceptualises the world. We can't assume that human minds could inhere in wildly different body types.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 3.2)
     A reaction: Sounds interesting. They cite Lawrence Shapiro 2004. It needs a large effort of imagination to think how a snake or whale or albatross might conceptualise the world, in relation to their bodies.
4.2 p.16 People can formulate new concepts which are only named later
     Full Idea: People seem to be able to formulate novel concepts which are left to be named later; the concept comes first, the name second.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 4.2)
     A reaction: [This seems to have empirical support, and he cites Pinker 1994] I do not find this remotely surprising, since I presume that human concepts are a continuous kind with animal concepts, including non-conscious concepts (why not?).
5.2 p.19 Naturalistic philosophers oppose analysis, preferring explanation to a priori intuition
     Full Idea: Philosophers who oppose conceptual analysis identify their approach as being 'naturalistic'. Philosophy is supposed to be continuous with science, and philosophical theories are to be defended on explanatory grounds, not by a priori intuitions.
     From: E Margolis/S Laurence (Concepts [2009], 5.2)
     A reaction: [They cite Papineau 1993, Devitt 1996 aand Kornblith 2002] I think there is a happy compromise here. I agree that any philosophical knowledge should be continuous with science, but we shouldn't prejudge how the analytic branch of science is done.