Two Accounts of Concept Possession

Mark J. Cain



In this paper I examine the conflict between two radically different accounts of concept possession, one due to Ludwig Wittgenstein and the other due to Jerry Fodor. That conflict centres around the viability of atomism and mentalism. Wittgenstein’s rejection of atomism opens him to a version of Fodor’s familiar objection to non-atomistic positions. J argue that there is little prospect of blunting the force of this objection. Moreover, on closer inspection, atomism turns out not to be as implausible as is often thought. With respect to mentalism, Wittgenstein’s frequent criticisms of mentalist theorising suggests a parallel objection to Fodor’s position. The power of this objection ultimately depends upon whether concepts and rules have normative properties that preclude their being grounded in causal and mechanical phenomena. On this point I argue that there are grounds for the Fodorian to be optimistic. In the light of all this I conclude that Fodor’s account of concept possession is to be preferred to Wittgenstein’s.


concept possesion; Fodor; concept atomism; mentalism; normativity;

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