A "concept" itself seems not completely sharply defined, for example does it require verbal ability or could a highly autistic person who never developed the ability to understand language be said to have "concepts"?
|Rover, an ymago. He is smiling,|
|Wildcat, an ymago. Stipulated:|
wildcats do not normally wear
caps sideways. They wear them
backward, like everyone else.
The capacity to form percepts is called (wait for it) perception. It is common to at least all higher animals and, perhaps to some degree in all animals. They may differ in their range of senses. Rats are virtually blind and perceive a world primarily of smells. Rattlesnakes perceive heat; dolphins, sonar echos.
|Rinty and Rusty,|
Perceptions are always of concrete singulars: Rover, Fido, Spot, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin. (Yo, Rinty!) This dog, that dog, the other dog over there. Perceptions are the precursors to the sensitive appetites, which are the desires for things perceived. (In the negative sense, these might be revulsions.) For example, hunger or fear. These appetites, also called emotions, are the precursors to motion, which is a movement toward or away from the perceived object; e.g., "fight or flight."
From the inner senses proceed to the emotional reactions to the motive powers to the response (R). There is also a short-cut called the autonomous nervous system directly to the motive power.
(This all sits atop, and is integrated with, the vegetative soul and atop the form of inanimate matter. Animals possess the vegetative powers of reproduction, development, homeostasis, and metabolic control. And they are made of otherwise in-animate matter that possesses the powers of electromagnetism, gravity, strong, and weak nuclear forces. These need not detain us here.)
Now, here is the thing.
The powers of the imagination are considerable. For example, Jesse mentions:
[A] bird in [a] video which figures out that it can get a bucket out of a tube by bending a piece of wire to form a hook--presumably it had something like a visual flash of insight that a wire could be reshaped in this way before it purposefully bent it, is there some absolutely clear definition of a "concept" that allows us to say whether or not this means it had a "concept" of a hook?There is nothing in the bird's behavior that cannot be explained by perception of concrete singulars. This piece of wire, that bucket, and so forth. It then manipulated concrete singulars to accomplish a concrete task. As long as we associate "intelligence" with technology and problem-solving, we will always mistake this kind of behavior for intelligent behavior. But notice that there is no necessary evidence of abstraction. Ockham's razor comes into play: that which can be explained with fewer entities should not be explained with more.
|Which one of these is dog?|
But which of Rover, Fido, Spot, Lassie, or the indomitable Rinty is dog? Dog is not a concrete particular. It is an abstract universal. But if dog is not a concrete particular, we cannot sense dog, and we cannot perceive dog. If dog were material, we could sense it, perhaps with instruments. So, it must be immaterial. Where did dog come from?
It is not merely a name for a bunch of particulars (Rover, Fido, et al.) That is the absurdity of nominalism. (Boo.) Why a mere name for Rover, Fido, Spot, Lassie, and Rinty, but not for Rover, Fido, Spot, Lassie, and Puss-in-boots? The name only makes sense if there were something in the particulars in virtue of which they were all dogs.
|The Old Stagerite|
So dog must exist somehow as a real thing. This is realism, either Platonic or Aristotelian. Let's go with the Old Stagerite.
Aristotle discerned a rational soul that is incorporated into the animal soul. In addition to the animal powers aforesaid, it includes two additional, rational powers: Intellect and Will. And here at long last (yay!) we get to the answer to Jesse's plaintive queries.
The intellect reflects on the concrete particulars of perception and abstracts from them the abstract universals of conception. Ed Feser writes:
What intellect involves, for the A-T tradition, is the ability to grasp abstract concepts (such as the concept man or the concept being mortal), to put them together into complete thoughts (such as the thought that all men are mortal), and to reason from one thought to another in accordance with the laws of logic (as when we infer from All men are mortal and Socrates is a man to Socrates is mortal). All of this differs in kind, and not just in degree, from the operations of sensation and imagination, which we share with non-human animals. Concepts have a universality and determinateness that no sensation or mental image can have even in principle.
|An ymago of a triangle. What? |
Were you expecting a gold
The concept triangularity, for example, has a universality that even the most general mental image of a triangle cannot have, and an unambiguous or determinate content that the auditory or visual image of the English word “triangle” (whose meaning is entirely conventional) cannot have. Indeed, concepts have a universality and determinacy that nothing material can have. So while the A-T tradition holds, in common with materialism and against some forms of dualism, that sensation and imagination have a material basis, it also holds that intellectual activity -- grasping concepts, putting them together into judgments, and reasoning from one judgment to another -- is necessarily immaterial.
So why the confusion?
Confusion means to 'fuse together' and many problems people have in understanding conception versus imagination is that
- Although the concepts we grasp are immaterial, we must abstract them from mental images derived ultimately from sensation; and imagination and sensation are material.
- Even when we grasp an abstract concept, we always do so in conjunction with mental imagery
|Ymago of an angry red equilateral triangle. |
What? Were you expecting a white
The concept triangularity is not identical with either the word “triangle” (since people who have never heard this English word still have the concept of triangularity) or with any particular mental image of a triangle (since any such image will have features -- a certain color, say, or being scalene -- that do not apply to all triangles in the way that the concept does). Still, we cannot entertain the concept of triangularity without at the same time forming a mental image of some sort or other, whether a visual image of some particular triangle, a visual or auditory image of the word “triangle” or of the corresponding word in some other language, or what have you.
|Which one is "dog." No, wait, I mean "triangle"|
Now gorillas and perhaps even birds can form mental images; but they do not form concepts. As Walker Percy wrote in The Message in the Bottle,
The word ball is a sign to my dog and a symbol to you. If I say ball to my dog, he will respond like a good Pavlovian organism and look under the sofa and fetch it. But if I say ball to you, you will simply look at me and, if you are patient, finally say, "What about it?" The dog responds to the word by looking for the thing: you conceive the ball through the word ball.Thus, it is not relevant to conception that a gorilla might be trained to recognize various symbols or that a trainer might enthusiastically interpret the gorilla's use of the symbols. (Koko's AOL chat room conversation was an embarrassment. The handler was clearly reading meanings into Koko's efforts to obtain a reward.)
|Asker of serious and |
Quaestiones de Jesse super conceptionem
does it require verbal ability or could a highly autistic person who never developed the ability to understand language be said to have "concepts"?
Verbal ability is a sign; but a man with his tongue torn out is still a rational animal. We'd go with the natural capacity. I know of no evidence that autistics cannot form concepts; quite the contrary. Consider Helen Keller, who did not develop language until fairly late. The lack of a language may inhibit conceptualization just as the lack of a leg may inhibit dancing. But we still say man is a two-legged animal and do not deprive Peg-Leg Pete of his humanity.
|A sapient? Or a wily manipulator|
of susceptible adults?
A baby is not a thing, but a part of a thing; viz., a temporal part, a stage in the development of a thing (an adult human). In the common course of nature, the baby will move toward its natural end as an adult human.
A similar question would be "Is a sleeping man sapient?" The answer is also yes.that there must have been a distinct first sapient hominid, which certainly isn't a mainstream scientific conclusion
No doubt. But it isn't actually a scientific question in the first place. Natural science deals only with the metrical properties of physical bodies. But the intellect - and so conceptualizing - is immaterial, and thus not grounded in any material body. When science talks about hominids, she is talking about biological hominids, not metaphysical hominids. Undoubtedly, the first human to conceptualize was biologically indistinguishable from his companions.apes have been taught to use signs in a way that isn't just responding to human cues, and shows that they have at least associated specific signs with specific objects, and they sometimes seem to combine them in meaningful ways even if they don't possess true grammar.
"Seem" is the correct verb. To associate specific signs with specific objects is exactly what we would expect from perception/imagination, as we described above. Heck, these animals would not be trainable if they could not.
We are oft confused because humans are also animals and so also display imaginative, as well as intellective behaviors. Citing Walker Percy again, When the fisherman in one canoe cries out "Mackerel here!" and the other canoes paddle over toward that spot, we are witnessing the sort of stimulus-response reaction as when a baboon up in the tree makes the call that indicates leopard here. We can't say the first baboon thought, "I must warn the others!" He only did what a good Darwinian baboon would do. Those baboons who failed to make the sound or to respond to the sound in the proper way have long since ceased to contribute to the baboonish gene pool. We could say that first baboon has "communicated" to the second baboon in the same way that a disease is communicated.
|Baboon leaving gene pool|
Edward Selfe Photography
What baboons do not do is sit around the bar griping to one another about the Leopard Menace or whether there are good leopards and bad leopards.