Concepts & Trends

A Naturalistic Pro Extension of Collin Rice's Concept Hybrid Pluralism

I contrast and extend two competing views that explore the possibility that CONCEPT is a "unicorn". In the spirit of materialism I consider how real structure as representational vehicles might evolve over levels of concrete and functional
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  1 Phil 5900  –  M. Brian Palmer  –  Term Paper  –  Submitted December 7 th , 2017 A Naturalistic Pro Extension of Collin Rice’s Concept Hybrid Pluralism In Concepts as Pluralistic Hybrids 1  the background theory Collin Rice endorses in part, but through objections builds upon in another direction, is due to Eduard Machery. Both views are still aligned with long-standing approaches and favoured intuitions taken from the philosophy of mind. Both endorse that aspect of the classical view furthering the intuition that concepts need internal structure to play the central role in psychological processes such as categorization, inference, memory processes, learning, decision making, etc. it is assumed they do. Collectively these processes extensionally define COGNITION. The Naturalistic view, also espoused widely across Cognitive Science, often takes these representational states as realized by internal physical structures composed of one or more neurons and whatever coherent and reliable patterns of neural inter-connectivity and agency disposes them — already conceived as an abstraction from the basic structures that realize them — to function in ways that confer fitness to organisms; key in setting and achieving goals, often implicitly and unconsciously. Here cognitive processes are realised as functionally defined computations made over representational states, so materially and explicitly made both over and as the structures involved.  2 Novel and more complex concepts define necessary and sufficient conditions for membership in a category based on other simpler concepts, which act together like definitional filters to rule objects given to perception or thought into or out of possible categories. The most basic concepts, then, have whatever internal structure is causally associated with them also being the most basic representational states, but also encoding in the same definitional terms. Thus, it is essential to be clear about talk of structure in terms of penetrability, cognitive architecture, and primarily for this paper: levels of abstraction. In cases where the structure referred to is more abstract and prohibitive, as for very complex high-level concepts like JUSTICE, which likely involve use of many more basic neural structures and patterns realized very dynamically, often crossing scales from cellular to tissue levels of organization (and beyond for language), we need to be careful to differentiate structure that serves to describe the functional dispositions of such complexes from structure that provides a shared vehicular basis for the simplest kind of content. Machery’s and Rice’s views take a non -classical middle road between endorsing a wholesale one-basic-structure < — > one-basic-concept relation, while differently rejecting that CONCEPT forms a homogeneous class. This theoretical state of affairs results for two contrasting reasons: 1. Positing that concepts have internal definitional structure offers an impressively unified treatment for how concepts are acquired, how they categorize, and how their referents are  3 determined, and this view is well aligned with the venerated philosophical practice of conceptual analysis. 2. A stain on this approach has grown lately because no one conceptually analysed definition of the various concerted attempts made covers all the analytical or empirical evidence. Counter-examples are persistently creatable for every definition on offer, and many highly replicable and diverse results in experimental psychology entail the existence of classes of characteristic effects on cognition, such as typicality (whereby certain members of a category seem to be more exemplary than others) that classical theories simply don’t  anticipate or explain. As for the equally problematic analysis of KNOWLEDGE as justified true belief, that for CONCEPT remains largely a project with unsatisfying results, with more counter-examples and empty explanations on offer, than satisfying or unifying definitions. Not wanting to give up the powerful explanatory role that comes with assuming concepts have internal structure, which might gut classical theory, what becomes easiest to give up is the intuition that CONCEPT defines a natural kind. What best characterizes the difference between Machery ’s   and Rice’s  views is the further instability that giving up a “monist” view invites. The Interpretative Instability of Abandoning Concept Monism One way to go is to bite the bullet and declare CONCEPT a unicorn:  4 “ ... we ought to eliminate the term ‘concept’ from psychological theorizing and instead investigate the fundamental kinds of concepts and the distinct cognitive processes that operate on them.” 2 On this side of the instability CONCEPT fragments into independent sub-classes of objects requiring new labels and independent definitions of their own, but for Machery in a way that ties each to a proper psychological process. One supposes that CONCEPT was nothing more than a fuzzy umbrella class shining a coarse-grained light on what is more ontically fine-grained. On the other side a role for ‘concept’  subsists that still honours the tacit insistence for referential realism to underwrite concepts like JUSTICE despite similar problems of analysis. Instead of CONCEPT being bound by one comprehensive definition (or cluster) singularly encapsulated in its tokening’s as modifications of some singular basic kind of internal representational structure (or complex set), what unifies any concepts use is now whatever binds the plurality under the homogenous class COGNITION, so some kind of concretely fixed architecture and code, or more abstractly via the plurality’s shared appropriateness for i nput as context-sensitive information into higher cognitive processes. A Story within an Exegesis  5 In this paper, besides explicating the tipping point between Machery’s view and how Rice extends and improves on it, I will reciprocate with my own extension in a way that provides further support for a Pluralistic Hybrid model along the way Rice already objects to Machery, but in two distinct ways. First, while both place demands on the natural kind COGNITION to cash out their theories, the way Rice does fairs much better in avoiding a slippery slope to Cartesian thinking. Machery’s view is much more at risk of invoking an explanatory need for a Cartesian theatre if COGNITION is to be counted a homogeneous class. Secondly, by extending Rice ’s reply to Mach ery’s first general objection to hybrid theories— taking as concrete an approach as possible —I will improve on Rice’s too metaphorical reply to Machery’s more concrete cogent concern.  To do this I offer a brief prohibitive “phylogenetic” account of how the psychological aspects associated with the plural structures invoked emerge that is very consistent in a naturalistically self-affirming way that Rice opens the door for, but does cross the threshold. My thesis, stated in the most general terms, is that by invoking — as much as possible — a concrete naturalistic approach in extending Rice ’s theory , the baggage one risks accruing in sliding from talk of structure concretely to talk of structure more abstractly, and thus posed too metaphorically to be substantive, is avoided. The result is that Rice ’ s key interpretive tip and his reply to a main objection are better justified, shoring up the theory in a self-reinforcing fashion.
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