Although there may be the danger of reifying concepts; there's also the danger of not reifying concepts.
Let's just say that concepts aren't only brain states or only abstract objects. Though they aren't only “capacities” either.
Say that brain states are part of the story. That story wouldn't be complete without capacities or human practices. And, possibly, that story wouldn't be complete without there being abstract objects as well.
We don't need a single underpinning for/to the nature of concepts.
Of course as soon as you see concepts as abstract objects, there's the danger that you'll be accused of reifying concepts.
Thus X wrote:
“Treating concepts in this way reifies them when in fact possession of a concept is not the acquisition of any particular object at all.”
It's easy to see the problems with reification. Some philosophers have spent their lives arguing against such a thing. Others reject the existence of any abstract objects. Despite that, I'm not convinced.
Sure, concepts aren't like cups or dogs. They aren't even like atoms. Nonetheless, they may be like numbers or propositions. In other words, sometimes we reify because we have no (philosophical) choice but to do so.
In other words, “the acquisition of a concept”, for example, is the acquisition of something. It can't be acquisition (or capacity or “use”) alone.
If concepts exist before their application, then what kind of existence do they have?
Philosophers often use the words “abstract object”.
Are abstract objects things? Are concepts abstract objects? All I can say is many things which are said about propositions, numbers and even equations can, perhaps, also be said about concepts.
Or is it a “category mistake” to fuse concepts with, say, propositions?
On a Fregean reading (as far as I recall), concepts play their parts in what Frege called Thoughts (basically, abstract atemporal propositions) and thus they must be equally abstract.
In other words, some philosophers don't seem to distinguish concepts from features which are simply related to concepts: such as the criteria for the “possession” or “mastery” of concepts.
For example, X wrote:
“To possess the concept green is to be capable of applying the concept in ways that other concept users would accept as viable and the only way that such application can be achieved is via representations.”
That's about the use or “mastery” of concepts; which is a different question to: What are concepts? If we're to “apply” concepts, then surely they must already exist.
Perhaps this is a indirect argument (if an unconvincing one) against Wittgenstein's use-theory position on words - as it is now applied to concepts.
In discussions on representations (in relation to concepts) it's sometimes unclear what people mean by that word.
If one assumes that representations exist in the mind-brain, then they can't be “manifested publicly”. Thus representations, on this reading, must be the vocal or written expressions of concepts.
At an initial level, one can see why mental representations have to do some work in a theory of concepts. After all, even if someone claims that concepts are abstract objects like propositions (in that they're “available to all” regardless of their particular expressions), it would still need to be the case that individuals have access to them via some medium – i.e., a mental or other kind of representation. And that representation, if mental, must surely must be encoded in the brain.
So we can move from brain-state, to representation and then to the vocal expression of a concept; though the concept itself can still be deemed as an abstract object in the sense that it's available to all. (Anything that's only a representation - or brain state - can't be available to all.)
Just as it can be argued that concepts aren't abstract objects, so it can also be argued that representations aren't brain states. Here again reification is rejected and “capacities” enter the picture. In other words,
If “concepts are capacities”, then representations are also capacities.
Or as X puts it:
“Where many theorists take representations to be objects of fact I take capacities to represent to be instrumental. So I reject inner representation as such.”
This argument seems similar to Gilbert Ryles' position on what are seen to be (in folk psychology) “mental faculties”: such as “will” and “intelligence”. To put it basically, the will or intelligence isn't a part of the brain as such. It is, to use this terminology, a “capacity”.
However, don't concepts and representations both belong to different species to that of will or intelligence? Intelligence is a kind of collective term; whereas a representation or a concept can be singular. Another way of putting this (as Ryle did) is to say that one must display intelligence in order to be intelligent. However, must we display concepts and representations in order for them to exist?
There is a problem with the idea of concepts actually being what people call “capacities”.
Isn't it that concepts are displayed or used - and that constitutes the capacity? We determine the meaning of a concept through our concept-using capacities. However, that would mean that concepts can't be the same thing as capacities. They are used - or displayed - by what are called our capacities.
Basically, is the argument this? -
concepts = capacities
(i.e. concepts and capacities are numerically identical)
It can now be said, as someone did say, that “one learns of the concept itself and the capacity of what the concept relates in one fell swoop”.
However, I can't see how that works. There must be something which pre-dates the capacity and even which proceeds “what the concept relates [to]”.
If the concept is learned through use; then what was it before you learned what it is through its use? In other words, the concept [cat] can only be involved in use or a capacity if it already exists and has some kind of meaning or identity.
Basically, something (or some things) pre-dates both use and our capacities.
The interesting thing is how this ties in with what's said about concepts-in-use or as they're known through “procedures”. In that sense, all reasoning about those issues needn't concern itself with the metaphysical (or ontological) questions of the existence (or the kind of existence) of concepts.
“Concepts are applied via procedures (hence the relevance of Wittgenstein's insights regarding meaning and use).”
Isn't it more a case that concepts (or words) gain their identity - or even their meaning - through what some people call “procedures”? (Excuse my use of the word “identity” in this context; though it seems like an apt word.)
Then again, in order to be applied it can be said that concepts must already have a meaning - or identity - which is separable from that identity coming entirely through their use (or through procedure). What I mean by that is that in order to use a concept within a certain procedure (or set thereof), it must already have an identity of some kind otherwise how would we know how to use it? Sure, it can gain a modified - or new – identity/meaning within particular acts of use; though before that it must have some kind of identity.