Camp, E. (2009): Putting thoughts to work: concepts, systematicity, and stimulus independence

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any representational abilities that can be systematically recombined are eo ipso conceptual (276; cf. §1)

Conceptual thought is essentially structured - What is meant by “structure” here? - Assumes that Evans’ Generality Constraint is broadly correct in identifying connections between exercises of underlying ability: conceptual thought is structured in the sense that it results from the exercise of distinct, systematically interacting representational abilities (278).

Tasks For Conceptual Thought

  1. Conceptual representations enable a creature to represent particular individuals and aspects of the world

  2. Conceptual representation explains the manifestation in a creature of complex patterns of behavior with respect to (i) the same stimulus in different contexts and (ii) different stimuli in relevant similar contexts

    For the attribution of any representational ability to be genuinely explanatory, that ability must be capable of being exercised on multiple occasions and in multiple contexts: as Bermudez (2003, 97) says, it must be “projectable.” (280)

  3. Conceptual abilities are such that, in addition to making a common contribution to distinct representational states, such cognitive abilities also underwrite transitions between states in virtue of their common contributions to them.

  4. Conceptual representation/abilities is abstract and flexible – their exercise is not tied to particular token perceptual inputs or behavioral outputs, but can be applied in a variety of possible combinations and context

  5. Conceptual representation (i.e. conceptual thought) is stimulus-independent, due to the intelligibility conditions on thinking:

    Because thoughts are at least partly constituted by their contents, understanding a thought requires grasping the conditions required for its satisfaction. But if a thinker really does grasp those conditions of satisfaction, as opposed to simply being confronted by the conditions themselves, then its grasp of those conditions should be relatively independent of its current circumstances. Otherwise, the world, and not the thinker, is shouldering the bulk of the representational burden. And if this is so, then that " thinker” really is just a passive reactor. (288)

Narrow-mindedness of Basic Cognition/Minimalism

Non-linguistic creatures are capable of basic cognition, thus satisfying the minimal conditions for conceptual thought. However, they are “narrow minded” in the sense that their thinking at a given time is largely controlled by stimuli (either internal or external) that they do not have personal-level control over.

there is another important sense in which creatures with just basic cognition are indeed passive reactors, at the mercy of their environments. It’s not what they are capable of representing at all, but rather which thoughts they can think at any given moment, that is controlled by the stimuli they encounter. The only thoughts that such creatures can think are either about states of affairs that are more or less directly indicated by the external stimuli presently impinging on them, or else are about states of affairs that immediately satisfy a present internal stimulus, like hunger or thirst. (290)

Camp then points out that this commits her to the view that narrow minded creatures may only satisfy the Generality Constraint “in principle” because their systematic abilities are counterfactually determined:

They may well satisfy the Constraint in principle, in the sense that if the relevant stimulus were to occur, then this would cause them to combine their representational abilities in the relevant manner. (290)

I actually find this totally plausible – as I argue with respect to Kant the issue is actual and possible representation, not just actual representation. And the possible can only be evaluated counterfactually.

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