What Frege asked Alex the Parrot: Inferentialism, Number Concepts, and Animal Cognition

Philosophical Psychology 33 (2):206-227 (2019)
  Copy   BIBTEX

Abstract

While there has been significant philosophical debate on whether nonlinguistic animals can possess conceptual capabilities, less time has been devoted to considering 'talking' animals, such as parrots. When they are discussed, their capabilities are often downplayed as mere mimicry. The most explicit philosophical example of this can be seen in Brandom's frequent comparisons of parrots and thermostats. Brandom argues that because parrots (like thermostats) cannot grasp the implicit inferential connections between concepts, their vocal articulations do not actually have any conceptual content. In contrast, I argue that Pepperberg's work with Alex (and other African grey parrots) provides evidence that the vocal articulations of at least some parrots have conceptual content. Using Frege's insight that numbers assert something about a concept, I argue that Alex's ability to answer the question "How many?" depended upon a prior grasp of conceptual content. Developing this claim, I argue that Alex's arithmetical abilities show that he was capable of using numbers as both concepts and objects. Frege's theoretical insight and Pepperberg's empirical work provide reason to reconsider the capabilities of parrots, as well as what sorts of tasks provide evidence for conceptual content.

Similar books and articles

Animal minds and the possession of concepts.Albert Newen & Andreas Bartels - 2007 - Philosophical Psychology 20 (3):283 – 308.
Motivating inferentialism: Comments on M aking It Explicit.John McDowell - 2005 - Pragmatics and Cognition 13 (1):121-140.
Motivating inferentialism: Comments on.John McDowell - 2005 - Pragmatics and Cognition 13 (1):121-140.
Frege on Conceptual and Propositional Analysis.Mark Textor - 2010 - Grazer Philosophische Studien 81 (1):235-257.
Frege on cardinality.Lila Luce - 1988 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 48 (3):415-434.
The Myth of Concept Publicity.Laura Duhau Girola - 2012 - Ideas Y Valores 61 (148):101-113.
On Frege's two Notions of Sense.Guillermo E. Rosado Haddock - 1986 - History and Philosophy of Logic 7 (1):31-41.

Analytics

Added to PP
2019-01-16

Downloads
672 (#13,509)

6 months
158 (#4,107)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Erik Nelson
Dalhousie University

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

References found in this work

The Foundations of Arithmetic.Gottlob Frege - 1884/1950 - Evanston: Ill., Northwestern University Press.
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.Immanuel Kant - 1785/2002 - In Practical Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 37-108.
Thinking Without Words.Jose Luis Bermudez - 2003 - Oxford University Press.

View all 23 references / Add more references