The Empirical Case Against Analyticity: Two Options for Concept Pragmatists

Minds and Machines 19 (2):199-227 (2009)
It is commonplace in cognitive science that concepts are individuated in terms of the roles they play in the cognitive lives of thinkers, a view that Jerry Fodor has recently been dubbed ‘Concept Pragmatism’. Quinean critics of Pragmatism have long argued that it founders on its commitment to the analytic/synthetic distinction, since without such a distinction there is plausibly no way to distinguish constitutive from non-constitutive roles in cognition. This paper considers Fodor’s empirical arguments against analyticity, and in particular his arguments against lexical decomposition and definitions, and argues that Concept Pragmatists have two viable options with respect to them. First, Concept Pragmatists can confront them head-on, and argue that they do not show that lexical items are semantically primitive or that lexical concepts are internally unstructured. Second, Pragmatists may accept that these arguments show that lexical concepts are atomic, but insist that this need not entail that Pragmatism is false. For there is a viable version of Concept Pragmatism that does not take lexical items to be semantically structured or lexical concepts to be internally structured. Adopting a version of Pragmatism that takes meaning relations to be specified by inference rules, or meaning postulates, allows one to accept the empirical arguments in favor of Concept Atomism, while at the same time deny that such arguments show that there are no analyticities. The paper concludes by responding to Fodor’s recent objection that such a version of Concept Pragmatism has unhappy consequences concerning the relation between concept constitution and concept possession
Keywords Concepts  Analyticity  Inferential role semantics  Conceptual role semantics  Concept pragmatism  Fodor
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DOI 10.1007/s11023-009-9148-4
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