File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2001/habermas.0102, message 58

Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2001 01:41:34 -0500
Subject: Re: HAB: conceptual thinking (concept vs. notion)

Thank you, Gary, for your long reply.

I must say that we agree on so much that I wonder what I can add.

There were indeed some misunderstandings, you noticed, and I can blame my
too brief interventions. I have made some seriously ambiguous interventions,
and that may be because english is a second language for me.

What is being a concept of some x? Let me call a particular concept DOORKNOB
(and let's say that many types of doorknobs are contained in the set). I
definitely think that a concept of this type (and most, maybe not all) has
some definitional properties. I can have a different concept for a
particular doorknob that I cherish fondly... But, we strive to put
definitions in the concept DOORKNOB so that we may use it for whatever we
find is good enough for us. So, what is it being a concept X may in part be
answered by what is it to possess one. I say in part, because I might be
partially convinced by a story where the emphasis is on some problems posed
by learnability. For example, it's hard to explain learnability if you rely
too heavily on hypothesis-testing. You always do hypothesis with something.
You form a kind of concept which you can test in the world. You can't do
hypotheses testing with a pack of furry balls. You need concepts. It might
not be just a "concept-ability" that's innate.

But I stop here to reaffirm that I do believe in definitional properties for
concepts, which can be called standard definitions, stereotypes, prototypes.
Nevertheless, wouldn't it be also possible that we are born with some innate
protoconcept of, say, "numeral"? In a highly cognitive operation, this is a
concept that we use with its definitions, but in a protoexperience we might
just need the protoconcept.

So this is just one problem for a definitional theory. There are others, but
I don't mind there being problems. They are not totally insoluble. I didn't
express myself clearly. I think that most chances are on the side of a
conceptual-role semantics. It's just that I performed some fallibility-tests
in a not-so-explicit way, about a conceptual-role theory implicitly

And Apel? I queried if it was right, that for him the FALLIBILITY concept
contains something like "infallibly sure that our way of thinking requires
it" as one of its properties. Let's assume that he accepts that concepts are
definitions; if I understood you well, you would reply by saying that this
definition itself is fallible. By introducing the idea of a concept becoming
a notion, I messed things up. I just wanted to point at a distinction
between what *must* be a definition as, ideally, a perfect property-naming
entity in a set of definitions of a concept (the concept itself referring to
the thing t), and the definition itself as how we use it (that I
idiosyncratically called a "notion").

I mean, if Apel is right, that the concept FALLIBILITY has the property
"infallibly, humans have a fallible practice", and that this fact proceeds
from our way of thinking, we have something like a transcendantal argument
taking some place occupied by the protoconcept story I just told. All this
has some sense to me, but I might be explaining it really badly.

And I think you're right: there would be some point in testing a theory of
concept in Habermas' work. This would be a highly speculative enterprise.

Misunderstandings can be creative!

Martin B

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