Toward a Theory of Concept Mastery
Gabriel Rabin (Australian National University)

March 13, 2014, 12:15pm - 2:15pm
Department of Philosophy, University of Melbourne

Old Physics G16 (Jim Potter Room)
Parkville Campus
Melbourne 3010

Topic areas


Concepts are the basic units of thought. The thought OSTRICHES LIKE CHOCOLATE is composed of the concepts OSTRICHES, LIKE, and CHOCOLATE. An agent possesses a concept when he or she can think thoughts of which the concept is a component. An agent has mastery of a concept when he or she fully understands that concept. One can possess a concept without having mastery. Many people use technical concepts that have worked their way into public consciousness without fully understanding them (examples include DARK MATTER, CHAOS THEORY, CLOUD COMPUTING, TRANSISTOR, and HEDGE FUND). A theory of concept mastery must answer the following question: “Under what conditions does an agent have mastery of a concept?” This is the question I hope to answer, at least in part, in this talk. I argue against three views of concept mastery, according to which concept mastery is a matter of holding certain beliefs, being disposed to make certain inferences, or having certain intuitions. None of these attitudes is either necessary or sufficient for concept mastery. I propose and respond to objections to my own ``meaning postulate view'' of the conditions under which a thinker has concept mastery, according to which mastery of a concept is a matter of taking certain core rules to govern the use of the concept.

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