Chapter 1. Concepts and Cognitive Science. Stephen Laurence and Eric Margolis

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1 Chapter 1 Concepts and Cognitive Science Stephen Laurence and Eric Margolis L. Introduction: Some Preliminaries Concepts are the most fundamental constnrcts in theories of the mind. Given their importance to all aspects of cognition, ifs no su{prise that concepts raise so many.oitto,rersies in philosophy and cognitive science. These range from the relatively local Should concepts be thought of as bundles of feafures, or do they embody mental theories? to the most global Are concepts mental representations, or might they be abstract entities? Indeed, it's even controversial whether concepts are objects, as opposed to cognitive or behavioral abilities of some sort. Because of the scope of the issues at stake, it's inevitable that some disputes arise from radically different views of what a theory of concepts ought to achieve-differences that can be especially plonounced across discipiinary boundaries. Yet in spite of these differertces, there has been a significant amount of interdisciplinary interaction among theorists working on concepts. In this respect, the theory of concepts is one of the great success stories of cognitive science. Psychologists and linguists have borrowed freely from philosophers in developing detailed empirical theories of concepts, drawing inspiration from Wittgenstein's discussions of family resemblance, Frege's distinction between sense and reference, and Kripke's and Putnam's discussions of externalism and essentialism. And piilosophers have found psycjrologists' work on categorization to have powerful implications for a wide r*g" of philosophical debates. The philosopher Stephen Stich (1993) has gone so far as to remark that current empirical models in psychology undermine a traditional approach to philosophy in which philosophers engage in _co:rceptual analyses. As a.*"qrrence of this *ork Stich and others have come to believe!h{ philosophers have to rethink their approach to topics in areas as diverse as the philosophy of mind and ethics. So even if disciplinary boundaries have generated the appearance of dis;oint research, it's hard to deny that significant interaction has taken place. We hope this volume will underscore some of these achievements and- open the way for increased cooperation. In this introduction, we sketch the recent history of theories of concepts. However, our purpose isn't solely one of exposition. We also provide a number of reinteqpretations of what have come to be standard arguments in the field and develop a framework that lends more prominence to neglected areas This paper was fully collaborative; the order of the authors'narnes is arbihary.

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3 Concepts and Cognitive Science 5 fured concepts are primitive or atomic. What exactly it means to say that a concept has, or lacfcs, stmcture is another matter. This brings us to our second preliminary point. Two Models of Conceptual Stntcture Most theories of concepts treat lexical concepts as structured complexes. This raises the issue of what it is for such representational complexes to have structure. Despite the important role that conceptual structure plays in many debates, there has been little explicit discussion of this question. We discem two importantly different models of stmcture that are irnplicit in these debates. The first view we'll call the Containment Model. On this view, one concept is a structwed complex of other concepts iust in case it literally has those other concepts as proper parts. In this way, a concept C might be composed of the concepts X, Y, *a Z. fnen an occturence of C would necessarily involve an occuffence of X, Y, and Z because X, Y, and Z are contained within C, C couldn't be tokened wiihout X, y, and Z being tokened. For example, the concept DRoppED rhe AccoRDloN couldn't be tokened without AccoRDroN being tokened. As an analogy, you might think of the relation that words bear to phrases and sentences. The word "accordion" is a strucfural element of the sentence 'Tony dropped the accordion" in the sense that it is a proper part of the sentence. Consequently, you can't utter a token of the sentence 'Tony dropped the accordion" without thereby uttering a token of the word "accordion." The second view, which we'll can the Inferential Model, is rather different. According to this view, one concept is a stmcfured complex of other concepts just in case it stands in a privileged relation to these other concepts, generally, by way of some type of inferential disposition. On this model, even though X, Y, arrd Z may be part of the structure of C, C can still occur without necessitating their occurence. For example, RED might have a structure implicating the concept colo& but on the Inferential Model, one could entertain the concept neo without having to token the concept color. At most, one would have to have certain dispositions linking nno and color-for example the disposition to infer X s colonep from X s nep. Thus, for any claim that a concept has such-and-such structure-or such-and-such tvpe of strucfure (see sec. 7)-there will be, in principle, two possible inteqpretations of the daim: one in terms of the Containment Model and one in terrns of the Inferential Model. The signiftcance of these distinctions will become clearer once we present some speciftc theories of concepts. For now we simply want to note that discussions of concepfual strucfure are often based on an implicit commitment to one of these models and th"t a proper evaluation of a theory of concepts may hrrn on which model is adopted. Concepts as Abstracta os. Concepts as Mental Representations The third and last preliminary point that we need to discuss concerns a more basic issue-the ontological status of concepts. In accordance with virtually all discussions of concepts in psychology, we will assume that concepts are mental particulars. For examplq your concept crandmother is a mental representation of a certain type Perhaps a shructured mental representation in one of the two senses we've isolated. It should be sai4 however, that not all theorists accept as their starting point the thesis that concepts are mental particulars. In philosophy especially it's not uncommon to

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5 Concepts and Cognitive Science 7 expression "the morning stay'' refers to the object it does because this expression has the sense it does. g. Senses are the indirect referents of erpressions in intmsional conterts Certain linguistic contexts (e.g., "... believes that..." and other propositional attitude reports) have distinctive and peorliar semantic properties. Outside of these contexts, one can freely substitute coreferential terms without affecting the truth value of the sentence ("the morning star is bright" + "the evening star is ' bright"), but within these contexts, the same substifutions are not possible ("Sue believes that the morning star is bright" # "Sue believes that the evening star is bright"1. Frege's explanation of this bype of case is that in such contexts expressions do not refer to their customary referents, but rather to their customary ssrrses. Since the expressions have different customary senses, they actually have different referents in these contexts. Thus Frege is able to maintain the principle that coreferring terms can be substituted one for the other without a.t *gl in truth value, despite what otherwise may have appeared to be a decisive counterexample to the principle. Frege's semantic theory, and the phenomena he used to motivate it, have generated a great deal of controversy, and they have had an enorrnous influence on the development of semantic theories in philosophy and linguistics. For now, though, the important issue is the ontological stafus of senses. Frege argued that senses, construed in terms of these theoretical roles, cannot be mental entities. Since it's conrmon in philosophy to hold that concepts just are Fregean senses, it would seem that Frege's case against mental entities is especially pertinent. The problem, in his view, is that mental entities are subjective, whereas senses are supposed to be obiective. Two people "are not prevented from grasptng the same sense; but they cannot have the same idea" ( , p. 60). (Note that for Frege ideas are mental entities.) If this is the argument against the view that concepts are mental representations, however, it isn't the least bit convincing. To see why, one has to be careful about teasing apart several distinctions that can get lumped together as a single contrast between the subjective and the objective. One of these concerns the difference between mental representation+ thoughts, and experiences, on the one han4 and exha-mental entities on the other. In this sensg a stone is objective but a mental representation of a stone is subiective; it's subjective simply because ifs mental. Notice, however, that sublectivity of this kind doesn't preclude the sharing of a mental representation, since two people can have the same type of mental representation. Whaf isn't possible is for two people to have the very same tolcen representation. This brings us to a second subjective-obiective distinction. It can be put this way: Mental reptisentations are subjective in that their tokens are uniquely possessed; they belong to one and only one subject. Their being subiective in this sense, however, doesn't preclude their being shareable in the relevant sense, since, again, two people can have lhe sa*e representation by eac} having tokens of the same type. When someone says that two people have the same concept, there is no need to suppose that she is saying that they both possess the same token concept. It would make as much sense to say that two people cannot utter the same sentence because they cannot both produce the same token sentence. Clearly what matters for being able to utter the same sentence, or entertain the same concept, is being able to have tokens of the same type. So while mental representations are subiective in the two senses

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7 Concepts and Cognitive Science 9 Theory holds that most concepts-especially lexical concepts-have deffnitional skucfure. What this means is that mo.st concepts encode necessary and sufficient conditions for their own application.s Considet for examplq the concept BAcHELoR. According to the Classical Theory, we can think of this concept as a complex mental representation that speciftes necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be a bachelor. So BACHELoR might be composed of a set of representations such as Is Nor MARRTED, rs MAIE, and s ANr ADULT. Each of these components specifies a condition that something must meet in order to be a bacjrelor, and anything that satisftes them all thereby cowrts as a bacjrelor. These components, or feafures, yield a semantic inteqpretation for the complex representation in accordance with the principles of a compositional semantics. T[is conception of concepts has a long history in philosophy. The seventeenthcentury philosopher Iohn Locke seems to be assuming u *t"tsion of the Classical Theory when he gives his account of the concepts strn and cor^o (169A11975, pp. 2gS-299 and p. 317, respectively): [TJhe ldea of the Sun, What is it, but an aggregate of those several simple ldeas, Bright, Hot, Roundish, having a constant regular motion, at a certain distance from us, an4 perhaps, some other... [Tlhe greatest part of the ldeas, that make our complex ldea of Gold, are Yellowness, great Weight, Ductility, Fusibility, and Solubility, in Aquo Regia, etc. all united together in an unknown Substratum...e On the Classical Theory, most concepts-including most lexical concepts-are complex representations that are composed of structurally simpler representations. What's more, it's nafural to construe their structure in accordance with the Containment Model, where the components of a complex concept are among its ProPer parts.lo Some of these components may themselves be complex, as in the case of BACFTELoR. But evenhrally one reaches a level of primitive representations, which are undeftned. Traditionally, these prir.nitive representations have been taken to be sensory or perceptual in character, along broadly empiricist lines. It is, of course, an oversimplification to speak of the Classical Theory of concepts, as though there were just a single, unitary theory to which all classical theorists subscribe. In redity, there is a diverse family of theories centered around the idea that S. By -application" we mean a semantic relatioru that is, a concept encodes the conditions that are singly necessary and lointly sufficient for something to bi in its extension Another sense of the term is to indicate a psychologrcal process in whicjr an object is judged to fall under a concept. We'll try to avoid this ambigurty by always using "application" in the semantic sense, rrrless the context makes it very clear that the psychological sense is intended. Notice, then, that in the ftrst instance we have characterized the Classical tl,uory in semantic terms. This doesrt't mear however, that the theory is devoid of psychological import See the discussion of concept acguisition and categorization, below. 9. Locket views about natural kind concepts are complicated by the fact that he took nafural kinds to have both a nominal and a real essence. For Locke, the real essence of a kind like gold isn't known, but the nominal essence ir, *d must be, in order to possess the corresporrding concept. Arguably, howevet he takes the nominal essence to give necessary and suffcient conditions for the application of a kind concepb since he holds that the nominal essence is deftned relative to the real essence in such a way that the two kack one another. 10. It's naturat, but not mandatory. Alternatively, one could think of a classically shuctured concept as a node that stands in inferential relations to its deffning features. The advantage of the Containment Model is that it makes especially dear which associated concepts are its defining features and which are incidental.

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9 Concepts and Cognitive Science 11 In the case of many words, speciftcally in the case of the overwhelming maiority of scientiftc words, it is possible to specify their meaning by reduction to oih"t words ("constitution " definition). E.g- "'arthropodes' are animals with segmented bodies and jointed legs."... In this way every word of the language is ieduced to other words and ftn"lly to the words which occur in the so-called "observation sentences" or "protocol sentences-"l2 In the face of repeated failures to analyze everyday concepts in terms of a purely sensory base, contemporary theorists have often relaxed the strong empiricist assumpti,on that all simple concepts must be sensory. I"I example-, Eve Clark (1973') sees the process of acquiring the meaning of a word like 'trother" as comprising several stlges where semantic components get added to an initial representation. In the earliest stage the representation consists of only two components: *Manr, -ADULr. In subsequ"ni stages, -ADULT is changed to tqourr, *slsunc is added, and *necpnocar. is added. In this way, a representation for "brothey'' is gradually constructed from its constifuent representations, which collectively provide a definition of the word and distinguish it from related words, such as 'boy." Though these components may not be primitive Clark isn't comrnitted to the idea that further decomposition will always lead to purely sensory congepts. In fact, she says that many words, especially relational terms, require possibly irreducible features that encode "function"l,,o.ial, or cultural factors" (p. 106). Similarly, the linguist and philosopher Ienold Katzwrites (J:972 [chapter 4 in this volume], P- 4O), ttlhe English noun -chair- can be decomposed into a set of concepts which might be represented by the semantic markers in (a.10): (4.10) obiect, ftryscal NoN-uvING, ARTIFACT, FURNITURE, PoRTABIJ, SoMETIIING wlrh LEGS, SOMETHING WITH A BACK, SOMETHING WITH A SEAT, SEAT FOR ONE. He adds that these semantic markers-or features-reguire further analysis, but, like Clark, he isn't committed to a reduction that yields a purely sensory base. No doubt, a component-by-component model of concept acquisition is compellilg even when it is debached from its empiricist roots. The simplicity and Power of the model provides considerable motivation for pursuing the Classical Theory. Categorizntion The Classical Theory offers an equally compelling model of categorization (i.e., the application of a concept, in the psychological s ose see note S). In fact, the model of categorization is just the ontogeny run backwards; that is, something is judged to fall under a concept iust in case it is judged to fall under the features that.o*pote the concept. So, something might be categorized as falling under the concept charr by noting that it has a seat, ba& legs, and so on. Categorization on this model is basically a process of checking to see if the features that are part of a concept are satisfted by ihe item being categorized. As wilh th-" g"t eral_model of.ot."pt acquisition, this model of categorization is powerful and infuitively appealing, and it's a natural extension of the Classical Theory. fz. Thnoughout we'll ignore certain differences between language and thought, allorring daims about words to stand in for daims about concepts. Carnay's account is about the semantics of linguistic items but otherwise is a useful and explicit version of the Classical'lheory.

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