Monday, March 12, 2007

Non-conceptual content?

Sometimes it is good advice to be skeptical about baroque and highly cooked theoretical claims, and follow the ordinary use of terms and concepts to guide one’s thoughts. There have always been, and, as long as the human species keeps on being suggestible, there will always be fancy misguiding theories that catch all reflectors from Main Street. I believe that theories of the so-called ‘non-conceptual content’ are among these. Everyone seems to note the contradiction in terms. If you are a content you’d better be the content of a concept. So how can you not be conceptual? Nonetheless, non-conceptual-content friends like to think that that is a problem of meager imagination. I believe otherwise. I think there’s no such thing as non-conceptual-content. But then I have to face the famous case on behalf of my fancy opponent: you can see red26 without having the concept ‘RED26’! I think there is a simple way to accept this without being a non-conceptual-content friend. First, there is no contradiction in claiming that all representational contents are conceptual and accepting that I can represent (through my very first experience of) red26 without every having that concept BEFORE this experience. Second, the only thing you need is a theory of concepts that tells you that concepts are part of our biological endowment, something that develops through experience. So here it is, the theory we need: ‘A theory of concepts as empirical structures that are born, grow up, and reproduce’. There you go, so whenever you face a new red26 or blue34, do not worry! The chances are that a somewhat new concept is taking place. Just like when you first learned how to identify orange things some years ago. Sometimes it is good advice not to follow fancy theories, because, like many other human projects, they aim at fame, and very few else.