David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy (6) (1998)
In recent times the question of whether or not there is such a thing as nonconceptual content has been the object of much serious attention. For analytical philosophers, the locus classicus of the view that there is such a phenomena is to be found in Evans remarks about perceptual experience in Varieties of Reference. John McDowell has taken issue with Evans over his claim that "conceptual capacities are first brought into operation only when one makes a judgement of experience, and at that point a different species of content comes into play" (McDowell 1994: 48). In contrast, he proposes that "A judgement of experience does not introduce a new kind of content, but simply endorses the conceptual content, or some of it, that is already possessed by the experience on which it is grounded" (McDowell 1994: 48-49). Ironically, in light of the ambitions of Mind and World, this sits very happily with the firmly embedded views of many traditional classical cognitivists. It has been a long-standing article of faith that, even in its most basic forms, perceptual content must be conceptual. But those who adopt this position have a heavy burden when it comes to explaining the origin and development of concepts (cf. Peacocke 1992a: 9). In line with the proposal that at least some primitive concepts must be innate, theorists like Fodor make appeal to the intrinsic character of such concepts to explain more complex conceptual contents and their essential characteristics (Fodor 1998: 130). Primitive concepts and their properties as simply assumed because of an explanatory need despite that fact that making this assumption has a paradoxical consequence --which, in this case, is revealed by Fodor's claim that all concepts must be acquired inductively (cf. Fodor 1998: 130-132). The good news is that if we opt for a nonconceptualist approach then we need not assume that any concepts are innate. There is a plausible programme afoot, initiated by Cussins, which hopes explain "the construction of cognitive properties out of non-cognitive properties" (Cussins 1990: 374). He encourages us to suppose "that the mind/world distinction is a phylogenetic or ontogenetic achievement" (Cussins 1990: 409). However, some advocates of nonconceptual content believe that providing this explanation will be a relatively straightforward, although clearly difficult, task given that a contentful base of nonconceptual informational states, of the kind Evans envisioned, is presupposed. My aim is to defend Evans but if if nonconceptual content is to play the important role assigned to it of helping to explain the development of concepts then we must explicate the nature of such content in such a way that does not presuppose that it is truth-conditional. We must also be able to say exactly what part nonconceptual responses play in judgement making and conceptual development. It is the burden of this paper to provide a sketch of how both these ends might be achieved and to offer some reasons for thinking the project is a viable one. I do this in two stages. The first is to advocate a modest biosemantic theory of nonconceptual content and the second is to show how this can shore up a Davidsonian understanding of the possession conditions for concepts.
|Keywords||Nonconceptual content Truth Objectivity|
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