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Getting Clear on One of Smith's Core Argument in Part I of Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality

(Rough Draft)

In this post, I'd like to try to get clear on the master argument of Smith's critique of naturalistic accounts of concept acquisition in Part I of Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality.  

Smith's master argument in Part I relies on his own picture of concept acquisition, correction, and application, so it's crucial to get clear on the latter first. Unfortunately, Smith's account is never explicitly laid out, relying on several illustrative examples in lieu of such. His account is thus frustratingly under-explicated. But we can extract from Smith's examples a programmatic sketch of his account of concept acquisition and application in terms of the following five phases, adding labels to each one for ease of reference:
Phase 1: Acquaintance: One becomes directly aware of the entity (for knowledge of an individual), or of a sufficiently large quantity of particular tokens of a type of entity (for knowledge of kinds of entity), in an unvarnished, pre-conceptual mode of presentation. 

Phase 2: Feature-Noticing and Labeling: One notices the features of the entity (or a series of entities, for knowledge of kinds of entity) and labels (i.e., associates a term with) them.
Phase 3: Object/Kind Recognition and Abstraction: One begins to recognize which features of the entity (or kind of entity) are individuative of it (or them) -- at least at a level sufficient for practical purposes.  
Phase 4: Comparison and Correction:  When needed, one compares the object (or tokens of the type of object) with the concept to determine if the concept needs correction. In at least some cases (esp. borderline cases/"close calls"), this process relies upon (i) a capacity to compare object to concept to determine whether they "match", which in turn relies upon (ii) the capacity for introspective awareness of one's concept and (iii) the capacity for non-conceptual awareness of one's current experience and non-conceptual recall of one's past experiences. This process is, in at least some cases, (iv) a conscious, intentional process, not sub-personal and automatic.

Phase 5: Competent Application: One is able to regularly and successfully apply the concept to the entity (or tokens of that type of entity). In at least some cases (esp. borderline cases/"close calls"), this process relies upon(i) a capacity to compare object to concept to determine whether they "match", which in turn relies upon (ii) the capacity for introspective awareness of one's concept and (iii) the capacity for non-conceptual awareness of one's current experience and non-conceptual recall of one's past experiences. This process is, in at least some cases, (iv) a conscious, intentional process, not sub-personal and automatic.
So that's Smith's account of concept formation, acquisition, and correction. With his account in mind, we can express his master argument in Part I simply, as follows:

1. All of Phases 1-5 (of Smith's account) are required for genuine concept acquisition, correction, and application as we find them in humans 
2. Naturalistic accounts don't have the materials to account for all of Phases 1-5.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3. Therefore, naturalistic accounts can't explain genuine concept acquisition, correction, and application as we find them in humans.

So that's the master argument against naturalistic concept acquisition. Why should we accept the premises? Smith's grounds for 2 consist in a critique of what he takes to be a representative sampling of the most promising naturalistic accounts of knowledge on offer. 

What about premise 1: Why should we accept it? That is, why think all five of Smith's phases are required for genuine concept formation, correction, and application? Smith doesn't say much about Phases 2 and 3, but I find them relatively plausible. Furthermore, we've already seen Smith's rationale for Phase 1 in our discussion of ch. 1., viz. that without direct awareness of the external referents of perception, one falls prey to radical skepticism about perceptual knowledge, as one can never be sure that one's internal representations of them are caused by them and accurately represent them.[1] 

What about Phases 4 and 5? Recall that Smith thinks both phases require three capacities:
(i) a capacity to compare object to concept to determine whether they "match".
 which in turn relies upon 
(ii) the capacity for introspective awareness of one's concept.
 and 
(iii) the capacity for non-conceptual awareness of one's current experiences and non-conceptual recall of one's past experiences. 
Finally, Smith thinks that 
(iv) this process is, in at least some cases, a conscious, intentional process, not sub-personal and automatic.
I'm inclined to agree with Smith that (iv) is prima facie plausible. But why are we supposed to think (i)-(iii) are required? We'll go into these in some detail in a future post, but for now I want to note that Smith's core rationale is that otherwise we can't be sure if our concepts are accurate. Thus, the same assumption is at the heart of Smith's objections to naturalistic accounts of both percepts and concepts: knowledge of external referents is impossible if an intermediary stands between mind and world -- sense data in the case of perceptions of the world, and concepts in the case of conceptualizations of the world. In short, Smith's core assumption is that naked, unmediated access to the world and our experience of it are required for knowledge.

Our reconstruction of Smith's master argument in Part I reveals three core issues to explore in evaluating it: one for premise 1 and two for premise 2:

Re: premise 1: (a) Are all five of Smith's phases of concept acquisition required? In particular, does concept acquisition regarding the external world require unmediated, unconceptualized access to both it and our introspective states?

Re: premise 2: (b) Are the naturalistic accounts of knowledge Smith criticizes representative? (c) If they are representative, are his criticisms successful?

That's it for now. Next time, I'll explore question (a).
----------------------------------------------------
[1] We discussed the merits (or lack thereof) of Smith's response to the epistemic externalist's reply on this score in the post on ch. 1.

Comments

Rayndeon said…
Does Smith address non-representationalist versions of naturalism (Sellars, Price, and others come to mind here) in his discussion? They wouldn't accept what seems to be a key premise in Smith's extended argument: that the mind is fundamentally a mirror of the world.
exapologist said…
Hi Rayndeon,

You beat me to the punch. I plan on discussing this worry and others in the next post.

Best,
EA

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