Seminar #34: Enactive Definitions
On Wednesday, 27th Feb. 2008, 16:30 – 18:00, Room Arundel 204
Joel Parthemore, from COGS, Sussex will be talking about:
Classical definitionism, for all that it long held sway, fell prey to the problem, as Jerry Fodor bluntly put it, that no one has ever
managed to come up with any knock-down definitions. But did the baby get thrown out with the bath water? Perhaps the biggest error with classical definitionism was the focus on *static* definitions. If we treat concepts as dynamic entities, constantly (if often only incrementally) in flux as an agent interacts with her environment and the other members of her society, might there be some more mileage in an old idea? Rather than being a priori representations, concepts might be seen as continually enacted: synchronized patterns of association between the mental world of an agent and the organization of her environment, dependent both on how the agent is situated and embodied. In discussing these enactive definitions, the goal need not be a complete account of concepts but only one important component in such an account: an account that may also leave room for an updated version of imagism, that other longstanding tradition in theories of concepts.
Perhaps a good metaphor here would be a dictionary where the words are constantly in motion: look at a definition, look away, look again and the definition has subtly changed. Offering a definition, in the usual sense of the word, becomes an attempt to fix the concept, to take a snapshot: something is captured, but something more (in particular, the movement) is lost.
This presentation will try out some preliminary ideas and hopefully foster discussion. One of the key ideas I would like to put forward is that, for all of the problems of classical definitionism and imagism, both of these long-standing traditions have something useful to offer to a modern theory of concepts.