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  • Cited by 3
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: July 2009

12 - Connecting Concepts to Each Other and the World


Consider two individuals, John and Mary, who each possess a number of concepts. How can we determine that John and Mary both have a concept of, say, Horse? John and Mary may not have exactly the same knowledge of horses, but it is important to be able to place their horse concepts into correspondence with one another, if only so that we can say things like, “Mary's concept of horse is much more sophisticated than John's.” Concepts should be public in the sense that they can be possessed by more than one person (Fodor, 1998; Fodor & Lepore, 1992), and for this to be the possible, we must be able to determine correspondences, or translations, between two individuals' concepts.

There have been two major approaches in cognitive science to conceptual meaning that could potentially provide a solution to finding translations between conceptual systems. According to an “external grounding” account, concepts' meanings depend on their connection to the external world (this account is more thoroughly defined in the next section). By this account, the concept Horse means what it does because our perceptual apparatus can identify features that characterize horses. According to what we will call a “Conceptual web” account, concepts' meanings depend on their connections to each other. By this account, Horse's meaning depends on Gallop, Domesticated, and Quadruped, and in turn, these concepts depend on other concepts, including Horse (Quine & Ullian, 1970).

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