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Re: [xmca] concepts
On Apr 10, 2011, at 12:33 PM, Martin Packer wrote:
>>> Maybe the notion of a "concept" might be a bit like that of a "gene" in the sense that a gene is a sort of functional unit, but it has no simple material reality in itself.
Jay's opening sentence neatly illustrates the difficulty of eliminating 'concept.' He writes of 'the notion' of a concept - which is to say, to write about concepts he has to employ a concept, namely that of 'concept'! (If that seems odd, try reading some Frege!)
As the Stanford Encyclopedia article points out, no one has satisfactorily defined a concept. But the seeming unavoidability of invoking something like 'concept' follows from the fact that we humans (and perhaps animals too; another seemingly intractable debate) deal not so much with particularities as with generalities. We talk and write not about this think and that thing, but this 'kind' of thing and that 'type' of thing. We write not about the specific concept of 'rabbit,' but about 'the notion' of concept.
As Henry James once wrote, "The intellectual life of man consists almost wholly in his substitution of a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which his experience originally comes." One may disagree with the separation of the two order that James' words seems to suggest, but it seems implausible to deny that there are *two* orders.
Do this order of generalities involve complex interrelations or systems, as Jay suggests? Are they specified in practice, in ways that depend on context? Yes, of course. I am deep in the middle of chapter 6 of T&S, and LSV wrote of all this, 70 years ago. We have already discussed here his notion [!] of a system of generality, represented metaphorically by lines of longitude and latitude on a globe. He conceived of this system as operating in acts of thought that actively grasp their objects. He saw both the dependence of generalities on language, and their distinction.
Should we avoid, as Jay recommends, claiming that "there are concepts as such"? I'm not sure what this claim would amount to. There are, and can only be, "concepts for us." Should we avoid reifying concepts? Certainly! Should we remove the term from all scientific discourse, leaving it only as an "everyday locution"? That's a matter of taste, I suppose. But to sever completely the links between everyday discourse and scientific discourse would be to prevent the informing of the former by the latter that LSV found so important.
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