Author Topic: Do I understand this correctly  (Read 733 times)

Offline josephusflav

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Do I understand this correctly
« on: December 20, 2017, 09:24:56 AM »
P1 Words represent concepts.

P2 Concepts can be made of more concepts. (dragon=lizard with wings)

C1 Therefore if a word purports to represent a combination of many concepts, but those concepts fail to cohere into a new concept then the word fails to represent a concept.


For a example of my conclusion "Buglump" is a Colorless red existing dog that is a cat and doesn't exist.

Buglump's concepts fail to cohere and thus do not form a new idea. Unlike wings and lizard, which form the new thought dragon
« Last Edit: December 20, 2017, 09:44:22 AM by josephusflav »

Offline Daniel

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Re: Do I understand this correctly
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2017, 10:49:51 PM »
I suppose so. Concepts should probably be internally coherent: a concept of an unmarried bachelor seems problematic. I'm not so sure about words, though: incoherent words seem unlikely to develop, but I'm not certain that we couldn't ever have them. Words are just labels, and maybe they would label something that doesn't make sense. (Consider "god" or "unicorn" if indeed those things do not exist: is "god" still a valid concept if there is no such entity as part of the universe supposedly created by or controlled by such an entity? And all theists and atheists seem perfectly happy with the word "god" even if they disagree about whether the idea is something related to the real world. Of course that is potentially coherent, so maybe that doesn't quite fit the idea you were asking about, but it's the closest I could think of at the moment.)

It's also possible that we believe our concepts are coherent but really do not have coherent or clear concepts at all. Consider back when people thought that whales were fish, and various other anecdotes like that. The meaning of words is a tricky topic, and not resolved in current research. There's no real consensus about it, but there are some important considerations. Look up "lexical meaning" for more. As for the idea of what words really mean, versus what we might think they mean just based on normal usage, I have a recent conference presentation about that here: https://sites.google.com/site/coglingwroc3/thematic-panels/categorization-prototypes (third set of slides listed in that panel). I think some of what I talked about there might broadly relate to your questions here.
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Offline panini

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Re: Do I understand this correctly
« Reply #2 on: December 21, 2017, 05:12:26 PM »
You need a D1 or something like that. Some people use "concept" to refer to "idea", and others more narrowly use it to refer to "idea that is so important that it is conventionalized as a word (or other symbol)". I would use "concept" in the latter manner (granting that "concept" is becoming a meaningless term in current usage). There are cases of words that don't represent a single concept, such as "up". As a particle in V-particle constructions, (look up, chat up, screw up) it doesn't represent a concept, instead it's a somewhat arbitrary component of a lexical item made up of two words. You could fix this by fine-tuning the concept "word", but we don't want to beg the question.

"Made of" suggests something along the lines of language acquisition, where "animal" is "made of" the concepts "dog, cat, rat, horse...", and dog et al. are cognitively more basic (acquired earlier), and "animal" is an abstraction that subsumes a number of similar concepts. In a way, you glue concepts together. However, "husky, poodle, chihuahua" further differentiates the first-order concept "dog" so those concepts are not "made of" other concepts. But this is not a huge objection, so I think P2 is probably correct.

I will leave C1 alone for the moment, and turn to the matter of what a concept is good for. A concept, like "dog", serves a cognitive function, that it identifies an open-ended class of facts that you can perceive. A concept abstracts away from a specific instance, and allows you to identify all of those things that are of the same cognitive category, while being distinct from other things. So to have a concept, you have two or more things that are similar in a particular way yet different in irrelevant ways, and the group is distinct from some third thing.

The problem with "Buglump" is that there is no thing, much less a class of things, that are "Colorless red existing dog that is a cat and doesn't exist". The stimulus for a concept is some actual thing: it is useful to invent the concept "transistor", "syllable", "recursion" because there are real things out there that these concepts are about. There is no thing for the concept to be about; this broken concept fails to fulfill the cognitive function of a concept.

This may be what you mean when you say that the concepts of Buglump "fail to cohere and thus do not form a new idea".

There are words (especially in the political sphere) which don't actually refer to anything, rather they have an emotive function. You would not say that such words represent concepts: so it's not that all words represent concepts, rather, all concepts are represented by words.

I would suggest starting with a good grasp of what a concept is (and how it relates to ideas; what the function of a concept is, etc), for which I recommend How we know by Harry Binswanger.

« Last Edit: December 21, 2017, 07:02:20 PM by panini »

Offline panini

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Re: Do I understand this correctly
« Reply #3 on: December 22, 2017, 10:07:21 AM »
It's also possible that we believe our concepts are coherent but really do not have coherent or clear concepts at all. Consider back when people thought that whales were fish, and various other anecdotes like that.
When talking of language, I advocate not using the word "we" too liberally, to avoid the implication that there can be a collective mind. I will mention a student in intro who honestly (and at least at the moment) believed that penguins are mammals. In that case, that was simple factual error – but the error does not render the concept "bird" or "mammal" incoherent. The Supreme Court famously ruled that a tomato is not a fruit, despite the established scientific position that it is, again, that does not make the concept "fruit" incoherent. Whale-cum-fish is likewise not current scientific belief. In such cases, the concept is perfectly coherent, what is at issue is the exact class of units subsumed by the concept, as encapsulated by the definition.

I'm not advocating micro-cultural-relativity in defining "fish" or "fruit", I'm saying that from the perspective of scientific norms, which I usually support, people who believe that whales are fishes are wrong, but they are not incoherent. Incoherence comes from summing up individual definitions across minds.

However, there are certainly plenty of terms with no clear reference, which are incoherent. In contemporary English usage, I nominate "culture" and "fair".

 

Offline Daniel

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Re: Do I understand this correctly
« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2017, 12:50:19 PM »
I mentioned the tomato example in the linked slides, as well as others. Consider gold, which retained a narrower meaning vs pyrite, compared to jade, which always referred to two distinct minerals that are still now treated as one category. We as laymen don't always know what things mean and sometimes defer to expert judgments.

As for the last point and "we", that is discussed by Putnam (also source for the gold and jade examples) as discussed in my slides. There is some socially held aspect of lexica meaning in that individuals do not always know how to precisely determine membership into a category but act as if they do and defer to experts as relevant. Anyway, I meant "we" in a disjunctive sense: we may individually have some incoherent concepts, possibly. Especially if you consider variation. Like the student who thought penguins are mammals, maybe they did know about the eggs but not the lack of hair, hence a somewhat mixed concept? (Platypuses aside!) But even if not, I can imagine such a self-contradictory meaning existing for someone parallel to "oh I didn't know that spelling was the same as that other word I know how to pronounce", etc.

As for your last examples, good point. But are those really incoherent (self-contradictory) or just vague and/or polysemous?
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