Thursday, November 29, 2007

Limitations vs Generality Constraint?

If I understod it right, in the first part of Pepa’s yesterday seminar Oscar talks about there was an argument from the limitation of discriminative powers of a given perceptual system of representation to the failure of generality constraint. I wasn’t clear however how the argument could succeed.

Suppose the pigeons discriminate between 40 pecks and 50 pecks but fail to discriminate between 48 pecks and 50 pecks, so that are able to think:

(1) 40 pecks is different from 50 pecks.

(2) 40 pecks is different from 48 pecks.

It seems true that due to the limits alluded to the pigeons can not think

(3) 48 pecks is different from 50 pecks

as opposed to

(3#) 50 pecks is different from 50 pecks.

But in order for generality constraint to be put in jeopardy it seems one would need the lack of ability to think (3) (and thus (3#)) period, and nothing about the limitation mentioned seems enough to substantiate this latter contention.

I might be misconstruing something in the situation, can anyone help?


Manolo Martínez said...

Dan, with "pigeons cannot think A as opposed to B" you mean something like "pigeons cannot distinguish thoughts A and B" don't you?

Your point has nothing to do with the fact that in 3# the number of pecks are the same, does it? Would your point come across equally well if 3# was "50 pecks is different from 48 pecks"?

Dan López de Sa said...

Thanks for comment! Yes and yes, I think. What I had in mind is merely that if they cannot discriminate between 50 and 48 then for them to be able to think (3) just is for them to be able to think (3#) or indeed your (say) (3##). But nothing suggests that they should lack this ability, so generality contraint seems safe.

Manolo Martínez said...

Yep, I think you are right.
After the talk, I asked Pepa again and, if I understood her right, she conceded the point in the case of human cognisers, because we have many ways to think about pecks; but she would also say that the fact that pigeons can't discriminate between 50 and 48 pecks, and given that they don't have alternative modes of presentation for "peck" (or something to that avail), is strong evidence that they can't really think any of 3, 3# and 3##.

Dan López de Sa said...

Oh I see, so maybe the challenge to generality constraint comes from somewhere else, is that the idea? I've just realized that Pepa is now here at The bLOGOS, welcome! Maybe she can help.

Pepa Toribio said...

The dialectic move in my talk was something like this: Let’s assume —for the sake of the argument— that the results in animal cognition that Beck draws on constitute a counterexample to the idea that meeting the GC is a necessary condition for thought. The real issue is whether we can actually grant Beck’s point, yet insist that the content of such thoughts is actually conceptual.
Ultimately, I’m trying to argue that showing that there is (genuine) thinking that violates the GC —when understood as involving essentially closure under recombination of constituents— falls short of establishing that the content of the representations involved in such thinking processes have a different kind of (nonconceptual) content. My argument here relies on the distinction between state and content nonconceptualism.
So, even if you are right and pigeons’ thoughts do not violate the GC, the truth of this claim will do nothing but reinforce the conclusion of my argument, although, I agree, it will do it via a different route.
I think that the issue of free-recombinability is a red herring in trying to decide whether the content of certain representations is conceptual or nonconceptual. The real issue lies elsewhere, namely in the compositional (or not) structure of the cognitive abilities perceptual experiences draw on. If the capacities we exercise in e.g. judging were structured in the same way as the capacities we exercise in experiencing (if, as McDowell says now: “the capacity whose exercise in judging accounts for the unity of the content of judgments —propositional unity— also accounts for a corresponding unity in the content of intuitions”), then the content of the representations involved would be conceptual. If they were not, the content would be nonconceptual.

Dan López de Sa said...

I just realized that Jacob Beck has made 'The Generality Constraint and the Structure of Thought' available at his website.