Commentary on Alex Barber, “Concepts, Conceptions and Conceptual Change”. Technical Report 2001-01
The purpose of Barber’s paper is to suggest that developmental psychologists who are committed to the popular theory-theory of conceptual content should adopt a new variant known as entrenchment theory, that will be immune to some of the philosophical challenges that plague the theory-theory. The theory-theory of concepts says that a mental representation expresses some concept when: a) that mental representation occurs in a well-defined set of stored propositions (beliefs), and b) this set of stored propositions are, as Barber puts it, “characteristic” of the concept. (p. 2) The unrestricted conception-conception says that every single belief a person has that involves some representation is relevant in determining which concept that representation expresses. So the theory-theory is a restriction of the conception-conception because it identifies a subset of core beliefs involving a representation R, namely the theoretical ones (whatever that may mean), and claims that only these theoretical beliefs, and not any others, determine the identity of the concept expressed by R. Entrenchment theory also places a restriction on which beliefs are relevant to the content of a representation, but it does so in a way that is different in two respects. First, and most importantly, rather than determining whether a belief is part of a theory, we use the level of entrenchment of the representation in the belief to determine whether it is central or not. Second, while the theory-theory encourages us to make a binary distinction between beliefs that do or do not bear on the identity of a concept, entrenchment (I believe) necessarily makes a fuzzy distinction. Those beliefs in which a representation R is more entrenched have a stronger bearing on the identity of the concept expressed by R. Those beliefs in which R is less entrenched have a weaker bearing. R is more entrenched in belief A than belief B if giving up or revising belief A would be more epistemically traumatic than giving up or revising belief B. Giving up a belief will be more epistemically traumatic the more far reaching the implications for evidence are. Barber remarks that, at least for natural kind concepts, demonstrative and linguistic beliefs will tend to be more entrenched than beliefs about theoretical origin or structure. This pattern may be reversed for more purely theoretical concepts. (p. 14)
|Keywords||Alex Barber, concepts, entrenchment theory, cognitive psychology, perception|
|Publisher||Institute of Cognitive Science|
|Series||Cognitive Science Technical Report Series|
Scott, Sam. (2001). Commentary on Alex Barber, “Concepts, Conceptions and Conceptual Change”. Technical Report 2001-01. Cognitive Science Technical Report Series. Institute of Cognitive Science.