Whether the conceptual and semantic contents of a certain notion coincide or may be dissimilar, is worth mentioning in the list of ambiguous questions in philosophy. In one respect, assessing the information value of a name is impossible without specifying the concept, for which the name stands; there is no subject to investigate otherwise. To the contrary, concepts can have several semantic interpretations, which, consequently, makes it unreasonable to equalize the latter to the former. The paper introduces and analyzes the relevant arguments to show that the information value of notions does not come down to their conceptual contents.
Presenting the Argument
The idea of identifying the semantic content with its conceptual equivalent is associated with the name of Frege. Salmon apparently was among the first to polemize with the thinker; it is worth noting, however, that he refers to the earlier work by Putnam (66). The argument to which he appeals rests on two assumptions. First, the concepts that a person grasps depend on the state, in “purely psychological” sense, of his or her consciousness (Putnam 700). Second, if a given piece of information regards a particular topic and is integral to a bigger array, the latter also is the data concerning that topic. However, the proposition, simply stated, the detail that the given piece encodes, may differ from one case to another; thus, the statement may be or not be true.
The above drives to the conclusion that two persons in the identical state of consciousness doubtlessly will grasp the same concepts, in the sense that they will identify the denoted objects correctly. The value of the particular information about those objects, meanwhile, not necessarily will be similar, as semantic contents depend on the circumstances (Putnam 704). For clarity, it may be helpful to present the argument if a form of the following list of premises:
- Two individuals in the same state of consciousness grasp the same concepts.
- If a piece of information A regards a concept Y and is a component of a piece of information B, then B also regards Y.
- The piece A, hence the piece B, may correspond or not correspond to reality.
Conclusion: The informational value of the pieces depends on their factuality and is not equal to their conceptual contents.
Defending the Argument
The first premise is valid since, although the state of consciousness is quite a multicomponent term, any factor that determines it is associated with a specific set of concepts, in which it actually manifests itself. For instance, people with common experience most probably share memories as well, and completely wakeful and calm individuals with no cognitive impairments respond to outer signals in comparable ways.
Putnam explains and specifies the second premise with the following example. If a statement about Socrates is integral to a certain piece of information, that piece, for instance, an article or a textbook, also regards Socrates (701). This doubtlessly is a plausible assumption; the practice of using keywords as well as hashtags to simplify searching through huge data collections can serve as a bright illustration.
The validity of the last premise is quite apparent as well. Putnam (703) offers the following thought experiment to highlight it. Two indicative women are perfect duplicates of each other up to having practically identical husbands. The only difference is that one man weighs exactly 165 pounds, while another a billionth part more. In such a case, both wives will proclaim that the weight of their spouses equals 165, as the deviation is too small to notice and consider, but only one of them will be right.
Evaluating the Argument
All of the above is quite sound but applicable exclusively to the active state of consciousness, in which a person is awake. Meanwhile, sleeping individuals, as well as those transiting from one state to another, are probable not to grasp concepts identically. Therefore, conceptual contents may be dissimilar as well; the following list demonstrates this.
- Different people have different dreams, as those result from the activity of subconsciousness.
- The processes of awakening as well as falling asleep not necessarily occur in similar ways since they depend on the environment, the person’s physical state, and other.
Conclusion: in a state of consciousness other than active, individuals may grasp concepts differently.
The subconscious presumably plays the biggest role in the possible dissimilarities. Even the people with identical streams of consciousness may find themselves different in deeper layers of the brain. This may determine the disparities in their cognition when they are not completely awake. Sleeping in unequal conditions, for instance, in a comfortable bed and in a bus, can influence the state as well. In the second case, the person probably will stay between wakefulness and sleep longer, being more tired and stressed in addition. All of these factors can distort his or her perception of reality, hence the way he or she grasps concepts.
The above criticism of the initial premise in Salmon’s argument targets to highlight that the state of consciousness is a more variable notion than he considers it in his work. The goal is accomplished; while Salmon apparently regards solely the active state, where a person can think and make assumptions deliberately, the previous paragraph reminds on the other possible options. Among those are sleep and transitions, in which the cognition is different from that of an awake individual.
Putnam, Hilary. “Meaning and Reference.” Journal of Philosophy, no. 70, 1973, pp. 699-711.
Salmon, Nathan. Frege’s Puzzle. Ridgeview Publishing Company, 1986.