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Hume Studies Volume XXIII, Number 2, November 1997, pp. 315-335 Reid: Conception, Representation and Innate Ideas ROGER D. GALLIE Section I of this paper begins with a presentation of Thomas Reid's doctrine of the signification of words, of what words signify or represent. That presentation serves to introduce a problem of interpretation, namely, what Reid thinks the connection is between conceiving something and grasping what a term for it signifies. It is pointed out that even if Reid maintains that what a word signifies is conceived by both speaker and hearer when that word is understood, this is a far cry from the position that he takes the stronger view, whether for all or only for some things, that their being conceived involves the understanding of a term or terms. The position that he does indeed take this stronger, although moderate, view is defended in sections II, III and IV. In sections II and III it is argued that, in Reid's view, for an adequate conception of an individual, real or imaginary, a conception of its attributes is needed. In section IV it is argued that the possession of general conceptions (in distinction from their formation), without which conception of attributes is impossible, requires appropriate understanding of general terms. So since for the conception of an individual a conception of its attributes is needed, and since for the conception of attributes appropriate understanding of general terms is required, we arrive at a textually well-founded position: for the conception of most things, in Reid's view, understanding of terms is indispensable. Roger D. Gallie is at the Department of Philosophy, Nottingham University, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD UK. email: Roger.Gallie@nottingham.ac.uk 316 Roger D. Gallie The remainder of the paper considers the following question: to what extent, if any, Reid is committed to acceptance of nativist views on concept possession? To answer, in section V we consider to what extent Reid's moderate position on the possession of conceptions commits him to accepting Jerry Fodor's representational theory of mind (RTM) for propositional attitudes. It is clear that the view that a propositional attitude state such as belief involves some relation between a person and a representation such as a significant word, phrase or sentence of a natural language such as English can fairly be attributed to Reid. But it is also clear that Reid cannot be an adherent of the view that persons have a functional cum computational relation to Fodorean mental representations, so he cannot be an adherent of any nativism ex- plicitly contained in such a view. But it is to be noted that in his Inquiry, Chapter IV, Reid argues by a different route that in order to acquire a language such as English prior mastery of a system of significant signs is required. In section VI Keith Lehrer's argument in criticism of a reductionist interpretation of a position such as Fodor's is presented: that for a sign to signify something to someone presupposes that that person has a conception of what is signified. It is however pointed out that since there is a case for not viewing Fodor's position as reductionist overall Fodor can accept Lehrer's argument. Lehrer's innatist position, which he both claims to follow easily from this critical argument and to be a correct interpretation of Reid, is then presented: that we must presuppose an innate understanding of some signs to account for our learning the meaning of any signs. The objection that Reid too must accept the alleged innatist implications of Lehrer's critical argument in view of the implications of his moderate position on the possession of conceptions is considered and rebutted. In section VIII argue that while Lehrer makes a respectable case for innate principles of formation of conceptions such as that of hardness, something that Reid clearly endorses in his Inquiry, Chapter V, he does not succeed in making a case for there being any innate possession of conceptions. Finally, in section VIII, Reid's mature views in the Intellectual Powers, Essay VI, on how conceptions come to be possessed are expounded, and are fleshed out with some...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 315-336
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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