Concepts: Taking Psychological Explanation Seriously

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2005-07-26

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What do we need a theory of concepts for? Two answers to this 'meta-level' question about concepts figure prominently in the recent philosophical literature, namely, that concepts are needed primarily for the purposes of psychological explanation, and that concepts are needed primarily for the purposes of normative epistemology. I argue that the psychological perspective leads to what I call 'Judgment Pragmatism', which is a version of conceptual/inferential role semantics according to which concepts are not constitutively tied to rationality and knowledge.

I begin in Chapter 1 by distinguishing two uses of the term 'concept' found in the literature, and laying out some constraints on any adequate theory of concepts. In Chapter 2, I articulate the two meta-level approaches under consideration, and explain how the work of Jerry Fodor and Christopher Peacocke is representative of the psychological and epistemological perspectives, respectively. I also show that the meta-level question is distinct from the object-level question of whether Fodor's Informational Atomism or Peacocke's 'Concept Pragmatism' is correct.

In Chapter 3, I distinguish two versions of Concept Pragmatism: Judgment Pragmatism, which individuates concepts in terms of mere judgment, and Knowledge Pragmatism, which individuates some concepts in terms of knowledge. I argue against Peacocke's claim that the former leads to the latter, and show that the perspective of psychological explanation provides us with reasons to resist Knowledge Pragmatism. I then consider, in Chapter 4, one of Peacocke's arguments for Judgment Pragmatism, and articulate the Quinean Challenge it faces. In Chapter 5, I argue that Quine's arguments against the analytic/synthetic distinction are inadequate, and that Concept Pragmatism is not vulnerable to Fodor's empirical case against the analytic.

I then make the empirical case for Judgment Pragmatism, in Chapter 6, by defending the view that positing the analytic/synthetic distinction is a piece of explanatory psychology. In Chapter 7, I consider the dialectical role of Frege cases, and argue that adopting the psychological perspective allows us to stake out a middle ground between Fodor's 'syntactic' treatment and Peacocke's claim that concepts are constitutively tied to reasons and rationality. Chapter 8 offers some concluding thoughts.

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