Ideas of Edouard Machery, by Theme

[French, fl. 2009, Professor at the University of Pittsburgh.]

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1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 5. Aims of Philosophy / a. Philosophy as worldly
Philosophy is empty if it does not in some way depend on matters of fact
     Full Idea: Save, maybe, for purely formal (e.g. logical) theories, philosophical claims whose correctness does not depend, however indirectly, on matters of fact are empty: they are neither true nor false.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], Intro)
     A reaction: I subscribe to this view. I'd even say that logic is empty if it is not answerable to the facts. The facts are nature, so this is a naturalistic manifesto.
7. Existence / E. Categories / 2. Categorisation
Are quick and slow categorisation the same process, or quite different?
     Full Idea: Are categorisation under time pressure and categorisation without time pressure ...two different cognitive competences?
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 5.1.1)
     A reaction: This is a psychologist's question. Introspectively, they do seem to be rather different, as there is no time for theorising and explaining when you are just casting your eyes over the landscape.
For each category of objects (such as 'dog') an individual seems to have several concepts
     Full Idea: I contend that the best available evidence suggests that for each category of objects an individual typically has several concepts. For instance, instead of having a single concept of dog, an individual has in fact several concepts of dog.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 3)
     A reaction: Machery's book is a sustained defence of this hypothesis, with lots of examples from psychology. Any attempt by philosophers to give a neat and tidy account of categorisation looks doomed.
A thing is classified if its features are likely to be generated by that category's causal laws
     Full Idea: A to-be-classified object is considered a category member to the extent that its features were likely to have been generated by the category's causal laws.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.4.4)
     A reaction: [from Bob Rehder, psychologist, 2003] This is an account of categorisation which arises from the Theory Theory view of concepts, of which I am a fan. I love this idea, which slots neatly into the account I have been defending. Locke would like this.
7. Existence / E. Categories / 5. Category Anti-Realism
There may be ad hoc categories, such as the things to pack in your suitcase for a trip
     Full Idea: There may be ad hoc categories, as when people think about the things to pack in a small suitcase for a trip abroad.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 1.4.1)
     A reaction: This seems to be obviously correct, though critics might say that 'category' is too grand a term for such a grouping.
9. Objects / A. Existence of Objects / 5. Individuation / a. Individuation
There may be several ways to individuate things like concepts
     Full Idea: Philosophers have rarely explained why they believe that there is a single correct way of individuating concepts. Many entities can be legitimately individuated in several ways.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 2.1.3)
     A reaction: I cite this under 'individuation' because I think that is a very garbled concept. I agree with this point, even though I don't really know exactly what individuation is supposed to be.
14. Science / B. Scientific Theories / 1. Scientific Theory
If a term doesn't pick out a kind, keeping it may block improvements in classification
     Full Idea: If a hypothesised natural kind term fails to pick out a natural kind, keeping this theoretical term is likely to prevent the development of a new classification system that would identify the relevant kinds.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 8.2.3)
     A reaction: I'm persuaded. This is why metaphysicians should stop talking about 'properties'.
Horizontal arguments say eliminate a term if it fails to pick out a natural kind
     Full Idea: Horizontal arguments for eliminativism of theoretical terms say that some terms should be eliminated if they do not pick out a natural kind.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 8.2.3)
     A reaction: This is the one Machery likes, but I would say that it is less obvious than the 'vertical' version, since picking out a natural kind may not be the only job of a theoretical term. (p.238: Machery agrees!)
Vertical arguments say eliminate a term if it picks out different natural kinds in different theories
     Full Idea: Vertical arguments for eliminativism of theoretical terms note that distinct types of generalisation do not line up with each other. ...It is argued that the theoretical term picks out more than one natural kind.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 8.2.3)
     A reaction: He mentions 'depression', as behavioural and cognitive; the former includes apes, and the latter doesn't. It is a nice principle for tidying up theories.
14. Science / C. Induction / 1. Induction
Psychologists use 'induction' as generalising a property from one category to another
     Full Idea: Typically, psychologists use 'induction' to refer to the capacity to generalise a property from a category (the source) to another category (the target).
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 7.1.1)
     A reaction: This is because psychologists are interested in the ongoing activities of thought. Philosophers step back a bit, to ask how the whole thing could get started. Philosophical induction has to start with individuals and single observations.
'Ampliative' induction infers that all members of a category have a feature found in some of them
     Full Idea: Induction is 'ampliative' when it infers that all or most members of a category possess a property from the fact that some of its members have this property.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 7.1.1)
     A reaction: This sounds like a simple step in reasoning, but actually it is more like explanation, and will involve overall coherence and probability, rather than a direct conclusion. This invites sceptical questions. The last one observed may be the exception.
17. Mind and Body / E. Mind as Physical / 4. Connectionism
Connectionist cannot distinguish concept-memories from their background, or the processes
     Full Idea: Connectionists typically do not distinguish between processes and memory stores, and, more importantly, it is unclear whether connectionists can draw a distinction between the knowledge stored in a concept and the background.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 1.1)
     A reaction: In other words connectionism fails to capture the structured nature of our thinking. There is an innate structure (which, say I, should mainly be seen as 'mental files').
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 1. Thought
We can identify a set of cognitive capacities which are 'higher order'
     Full Idea: Categorization, deduction, induction, analogy-making, linguistic understanding, and planning - all of these are higher cognitive capacities.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 1.1)
     A reaction: His 'lower' competences are perceptual and motor. I say the entry to the higher competences are abstraction, idealisation and generalisation. If you can't do these (chimpanzees!) you will not be admitted.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 1. Concepts / a. Nature of concepts
Concepts for categorisation and for induction may be quite different
     Full Idea: In general, concepts that are used when we categorise and concepts that are used when we reason inductively could have little in common.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 3.2.1)
     A reaction: In the end he is going to reject concepts altogether, so he would say this. Friends of concepts would be very surprised if the mind were so uneconomical in its activities, given that induction seems to be up to its neck in categorisation.
Concept theories aim at their knowledge, processes, format, acquisition, and location
     Full Idea: A theory of concepts should determine the knowledge stored in them, and the cognitive processes that use concepts. Ideally it should also characterise their format, their acquisition, and (increasingly) localise them in the brain.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4)
     A reaction: Machery reveals his dubious scientism in the requirement to localise them in the brain. That strikes me as entirely irrelevant to both philosophy and psychology. I want the format, acquisition and knowledge.
We should abandon 'concept', and just use 'prototype', 'exemplar' and 'theory'
     Full Idea: The notion of 'concept' ought to be eliminated from the theoretical vocabulary of psychology, and replaced by the notions of prototype, exemplar, and theory.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 8)
     A reaction: Machery's main thesis. I think similarly about 'property' in metaphysics. It embraces different ideas, and if we eliminated 'property' (and used predicate, class, fundamental power, complex power) we would do better. Psychologists have dropped 'memory'.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 1. Concepts / b. Concepts in philosophy
In the philosophy of psychology, concepts are usually introduced as constituents of thoughts
     Full Idea: In the philosophy of psychology, concepts are usually introduced as constituents, components, or parts of thoughts.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 1.4.3)
     A reaction: My instincts are against this. I take the fundamentals of concepts to be mental responses to distinct individual items in the world. Thought builds up from that. He says psychologists themselves don't see it this way. Influence of Frege.
In philosophy theories of concepts explain how our propositional attitudes have content
     Full Idea: A philosophical theory of concepts is a semantic theory for our propositional attitudes: it explains how our thoughts can have the content they have.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 2.1.2)
     A reaction: I suppose this is what I am interested in. I want to know in what way concepts form a bridge between content and world. I am more interested in the propositions, and less interested in our attitudes towards them.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 1. Concepts / c. Concepts in psychology
By 'concept' psychologists mean various sorts of representation or structure
     Full Idea: Psychologists use 'concept' interchangeably with 'mental representation', 'category representation', 'knowledge representation', 'knowledge structure', 'semantic representation', and 'conceptual structures'.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 1.1)
     A reaction: [Machery gives references for each of these] Machery is moving in to attack these, but we look to psychologists to give some sort of account of what a concept might consist of, such that it could be implemented by neurons.
Psychologists treat concepts as long-term knowledge bodies which lead to judgements
     Full Idea: In psychology, concepts are characterized as those bodies of knowledge that are stored in long-term memory and used most higher cognitive competences when these processes result in judgements.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], Intro)
     A reaction: Machery mounts an attack on this idea. I like the 'mental files' idea, where a concept starts as a label, and then acquires core knowledge, and then further information. The 'concept' is probably no more than a label, and minimal starter information.
Concept theorists examine their knowledge, format, processes, acquisition and location
     Full Idea: Psychological theories of concepts try to describe the knowledge stored in concepts, the format of concepts, the cognitive processes that use the concepts, the acquisition of concepts, and the localization of concepts in the brain.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], Intro)
     A reaction: I suppose it would the first two that are of central interest. What individuates a concept (its 'format') and what are the contents of a concept. The word 'stored' seems to imply a mental files view.
Do categories store causal knowledge, or typical properties, or knowledge of individuals
     Full Idea: Psychologists have attempted to determine whether a concept of a category stores some causal knowledge about the members, some knowledge about their typical properties, or some knowledge about specific members.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 1.3.2)
     A reaction: I take there to be a psychological process of 'generalisation', so that knowledge of individuals is not and need not be retained. I am dubious about entities called 'properties', so I will vote for causal (including perceptual) knowledge.
Psychologist treat concepts as categories
     Full Idea: Psychologists often use 'concept' and 'category' interchangeably.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 1.1)
     A reaction: Well they shouldn't. Some concepts are no more than words, and don't categorise anything. Some things may be categorised by a complex set of concepts.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 2. Origin of Concepts / c. Nativist concepts
The concepts OBJECT or AGENT may be innate
     Full Idea: Several concepts, such as OBJECT or AGENT, may be innate.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.1.4)
     A reaction: It is one thing to say that we respond to objects and agents, and another to say that we have those 'concepts'. Presumably birds, and even bees, have to relate to similar features. Add PROCESS?
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 4. Structure of Concepts / a. Conceptual structure
Concepts should contain working memory, not long-term, because they control behaviour
     Full Idea: We ought to reserve the term 'concept' for the bodies of knowledge in working memory, and not for our knowledge of long-term memory, because the former, and not the latter, 'control behaviour'.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 1.4.1)
     A reaction: [He cites the psychologist Barsalou 1993] Some more theoretical concepts can only be recalled with difficulty, and control our theorising rather than our behaviour. But we act on some theories, so there is no clear borderline.
One hybrid theory combines a core definition with a prototype for identification
     Full Idea: One hybrid theory of concepts says they have both a core and an identification procedure. The core is a definition (necessary and sufficient conditions), while the identification procedure consists of a prototype (the properties typical of a category).
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 3.3.1)
     A reaction: This combines the classical and prototype theories of concepts. I like it because it fits the idea of 'mental files' nicely (see Recanati). If concepts are files (as in a database) they will have aspects like labels, basic info, and further details.
Heterogeneous concepts might have conflicting judgements, where hybrid theories will not
     Full Idea: The Heterogeneity Hypothesis, but not the hybrid theory of concepts, predicts that the coreferential bodies of knowledge it posits will occasionally lead to conflicting outcomes, such as inconsistent judgements.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 3.3.2)
     A reaction: Machery's book champions the Heterogeneous Hypothesis. Hybrid views say the aspects of a concept are integrated, but Heterogeneity says there are separate processes. My preferred 'file' approach would favour integration.
Concepts as definitions was rejected, and concepts as prototypes, exemplars or theories proposed
     Full Idea: Since the rejection of the classical theory of concepts (that they are definitions), three paradigms have successively emerged in the psychology of concepts: the prototype paradigm, the exemplar paradigm, and the theory paradigm.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4)
     A reaction: I am becoming a fan of the 'theory theory' proposal, because the concepts centre around what explains the phenomenon, which fits my explanatory account of essentialism. Not that it's right because it agrees with me, of course.....
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 4. Structure of Concepts / b. Analysis of concepts
The concepts for a class typically include prototypes, and exemplars, and theories
     Full Idea: Across domains (such as biology and psychology) classes of physical objects, substances and events are typically represented by a prototype, by a set of exemplars, and by a theory.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 3.2.3)
     A reaction: In other words he thinks that all of the major psychological theories of concepts are partially correct, and he argues for extensive pluralism in the true picture. Bad news for neat philosophy, but real life is a right old mess.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 4. Structure of Concepts / c. Classical concepts
Many categories don't seem to have a definition
     Full Idea: For many categories there is simply no definition to learn (such as Wittgenstein's example of a 'game').
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.1.4)
Classical theory can't explain facts like typical examples being categorised quicker
     Full Idea: The nail in the coffin of the classical theory is its lack of explanatory power. For example it doesn't explain the fact that typical x's are categorised more quickly and more reliably than atypical x's.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.1.3)
     A reaction: [He cites Rosch and Mervis: 1975:ch 5] This research launched the 'prototype' theory, which has since been challenged by the 'exemplar' and 'theory theory' rivals (and neo-empiricism, and idealisation).
Classical theory implies variety in processing times, but this does not generally occur
     Full Idea: If a concept is defined by means of another, such as MURDER by means of KILL, then processing the former concept should take longer in the classical theory, but several experiments show that this is not the case.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.1.3)
     A reaction: For the philosopher there is no escaping the findings of neuroscience when it comes to the study of concepts. This invites the question of the role, if any, of philosophy. I take philosophy to concern the big picture, or it is nothing.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 4. Structure of Concepts / d. Concepts as prototypes
Knowing typical properties of things is especially useful in induction
     Full Idea: Knowing which properties are typical of a class is particularly useful when you have to draw inductions about the members of a class.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.2.1)
The term 'prototype' is used for both typical category members, and the representation
     Full Idea: The term 'prototype' is used ambiguously to designate the most typical members of a category, and the representation of a category. (I use the term in the second sense).
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.2.1 n25)
The prototype view predicts that typical members are easier to categorise
     Full Idea: The prototype paradigm of concepts makes the strong prediction that typical members should be easier to categorise than atypical members.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 6.4.1)
     A reaction: This is why philosophers should approach the topic of concepts with caution. Clearly empirical testing is going to settle this matter, not abstract theorising.
Prototype theories are based on computation of similarities with the prototype
     Full Idea: The most important property of prototype theories is that cognitive processes are assumed to involve the computation of the similarity between prototypes and other representations.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.2.3)
     A reaction: [He cites J.A.Hampton 1998, 2006] This presumably suits theories of the mind as largely computational (e.g. Fodor's account, based on the Turing machine).
Prototype theorists don't tell us how we select the appropriate prototype
     Full Idea: We are typically not told how prototypes are selected, that is, what determines whether a specific prototype is retrieved from memory in order to be involved in the categorisation process.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.2.4)
     A reaction: One of the aims of this database is to make people aware of ideas that people have already thought of. This one was spotted 2,400 years ago. It's the Third Man problem. How do you even start to think about a particular thing?
Maybe concepts are not the typical properties, but the ideal properties
     Full Idea: Barsalou (1983,1985) introduced the idea of ideals instead of prototypes. An ideal is a body of knowledge about the properties a thing should possess (rather than its typical actual properties). ... A 'bully' might be perfect, rather than typical.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.5.3)
     A reaction: [compressed] Machery offers this as an interesting minor variant, with little experimental support. I take idealisation to be of the three key mental operations that enable us to think about the world (along with abstraction and generalisation).
It is more efficient to remember the prototype, than repeatedly create it from exemplars
     Full Idea: Instead of regularly producing a prototype out of the exemplars stored in long-term memory, it seems more efficient to extract a prototype from category members during concept learning and to use this prototype when needed.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 6.3.2)
     A reaction: [This is a critique of Barsalou's on-the-fly proposal for prototypes] If the exemplar theory is right, then some of summary must occur when faced with a new instance. So this thought favours prototypes against exemplars.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 4. Structure of Concepts / e. Concepts from exemplars
Concepts as exemplars are based on the knowledge of properties of each particular
     Full Idea: The exemplar paradigm of concepts is built around the idea that concepts are sets of exemplars. In turn, an exemplar is a body of knowledge about the properties believed to be possessed by a particular member of a class.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.3.1)
     A reaction: I like the fact that this theory is rooted in particulars, where the prototype theory doesn't seem to say much about how prototypes are derived. But you have to do more than just contemplate a bunch of exemplars.
Exemplar theories need to explain how the relevant properties are selected from a multitude of them
     Full Idea: Exemplar theories have a selection problem. Given that individuals have an infinite number of properties, they need to explain why exemplars represent such and such properties, instead of others.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.3.1)
     A reaction: I have the impression that this idea rests on the 'abundant' view of properties - that every true predicate embodies a property. A sparse view of properties might give a particular quite a restricted set of properties.
In practice, known examples take priority over the rest of the set of exemplars
     Full Idea: An object that is extremely similar to a specific known category member, but only moderately similar to others, is more likely to be categorised as a category member than an object that is moderately similar to most known category members.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.3.3)
     A reaction: This research finding is a problem for the Exemplar Theory, in which all the exemplars have equal status. It is even a problem for the Prototype Theory, since the known member may not be like the prototype.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 4. Structure of Concepts / f. Theory theory of concepts
The theory account is sometimes labelled as 'knowledge' or 'explanation' in approach
     Full Idea: The theory paradigm is sometimes called 'the knowledge approach' (Murphy 2002) or 'explanation-based views' (Komatsu 1992).
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4)
     A reaction: The word 'explanation' is music to my ears, so I am immediately sympathetic to the theory theory of concepts, even if it falls at the final hurdle.
Theory Theory says category concepts are knowledge stores explaining membership
     Full Idea: According to theory theorists, a concept of a category stores some knowledge that can explain the properties of the category members.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.4.1)
     A reaction: This is the account of essentialism which I defended in my PhD thesis. So naturally I embrace a theory of the nature of concepts which precisely dovetails with my view. I take explanation to be the central concept in metaphysics.
Theory Theory says concepts are explanatory knowledge, and concepts form domains
     Full Idea: The two core ideas of the Theory Theory are that concepts are bodies of knowledge that underlie explanation, where explanation rests on folk examples, and concepts are organised in domains which use similar knowledge.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.4.1)
     A reaction: Folk explanation is opposed to scientific explanation, as expounded by Hempel etc. This sounds better and better, since the domains reflect the structure of reality. Machery defends Theory Theory as part of the right answer, but it's my favourite bit.
Theory theorists rely on best explanation, rather than on similarities
     Full Idea: Theory theorists deny that categorisation depends on similarity; they often propose that categorisation involves some kind of inference to the best explanation.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 6.5.1)
     A reaction: Love it. Any theory of concepts should, in my view, be continuous with a plausible account of animal minds, and best explanations are not their strong suit. Maybe its explanations for slow categorising, and something else when it's quick.
If categorisation is not by similarity, it seems to rely on what properties things might have
     Full Idea: It seems that when subjects are not categorising by similarity, they are relying on what properties objects can and cannot have - that is, on some modal knowledge.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 6.5.1)
     A reaction: I would call this essentialist categorisation, based on the inner causal powers which generate the modal profile of the thing. We categorise bullets and nails very differently, because of their modal profiles.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 5. Concepts and Language / a. Concepts and language
The word 'grandmother' may be two concepts, with a prototype and a definition
     Full Idea: If a prototype of grandmothers represents them as grey-haired old women, and a definition of grandmothers represents them as being necessarily the mother of a parent ....we may fail to recognise that 'grandmother' represents two distinct concepts.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 3.3.4)
     A reaction: He is referring to two distinct theories about what a concept is. He argues that both theories apply, so words do indeed represent several different concepts. Nice example.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 5. Concepts and Language / b. Concepts are linguistic
For behaviourists concepts are dispositions to link category members to names
     Full Idea: Behaviourists identified concepts with a mere disposition to associate category members with a given name.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 4.1.1)
     A reaction: This is one reason why the word 'disposition' triggers alarm bells in the immediately post-behaviourist generation of philosophers. The proposal is far too linguistic in character.
19. Language / B. Reference / 3. Direct Reference / b. Causal reference
Americans are more inclined to refer causally than the Chinese are
     Full Idea: Tests suggest that American subjects were significantly more likely than Chinese subjects to have intuitions in line with causal-historical theories of reference.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 8.1.3)
     A reaction: This is an example of 'experimental philosophy' in action (of which Machery is a champion). The underlying idea is that Americans are generally more disposed to think causally than the Chinese are. So more scientific? What do the Hopi do?
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 1. Natural Kinds
Artifacts can be natural kinds, when they are the object of historical enquiry
     Full Idea: Some artifacts are the objects of inquiry in the social sciences ...such as prehistoric tools ...and hence, artifacts are bona fide natural kinds.
     From: Edouard Machery (Doing Without Concepts [2009], 8.2.1)
     A reaction: Presumably if a bird's nest can be a natural kind, then so can a flint axe, but then so can a mobile phone, for an urban anthropologist. 'Natural' is, to put it mildly, a tricky word.