As a consequence of my growing interest in epistemology, I recently read some articles about concepts. The authors were originating from different fields, such as philosophy of mind, language and knowledge. Some were psychologists.
It seems to be well known to everybody working on concepts that only a few (if any) uncontroversial claims can be made about them. However, the following claims seem to be quite widely accepted, at least by philosophers:
(1) Concepts are the building blocks of thought.
(2) We refer to concepts using words.
(3) Concepts are the basis by which we categorize the world.
(4) Communication is possible only to the extent that we share concepts.

Now what is puzzling me is how claims (2) to (4), taken together, can make genuine philosophical disagreements possible. Let me illustrate my concern with an example:
Given the concept that I name "science", I may start to wonder what exact set of practices fall under this concept (this is a formulation of the so-called demarcation problem). Let's say that, after reflection, I come to consider that psychology deserves to fall under the concept "science". Let's also suppose that Alice, a competent English speaker, asks herself the same question and come to believe that psychology is not a science. Then the extension of our respective concepts that we name "science" differ. But for our disagreement to be more than merely verbal (which I believe is true), our "science" concepts must be the same. That means that concepts are not individuated by their extension (this claim seems also to be relatively uncontroversial).
My question is therefore: if concepts are not individuated by their extension, on which basis should I attribute a concept possession to other speakers ? If Alice says that physics are not a science, should I consider that she possesses the concept I name "science" ?
I know that some philosophers have suggested to make a distinction between concepts and conceptions of concepts. But then, my question can be rephrased to: "How do I know that Alice and I are refering to two different conceptions of the same concept, and not two distinct concepts (which would be a case of verbal dispute) ?".

Thank you very much for your help.

  • "Share" does not mean "agree". As long as you are both aware of connotations, demarcation controversies, etc., you both share concept "science" even if you disagree as to what its scope should be. The criterion is understanding each other's sentences that employ shared concepts, not agreeing with them. Understanding means recognizing the same sentences as well-formed and sensibly connected to other sentences, with charitable allowances for variation in background assumptions, metaphor, errors, etc. And there nothing wrong with people having somewhat distinct concepts of "science" either. – Conifold Sep 21 at 22:07
  • @Conifold Thank you for your answer. To illustrate it, can you provide an example of a situation in which I would be entitled to consider that Alice and I do not share the concept I name "science" ? – user47679 Sep 22 at 17:23
  • For example, if she utters sentences like "this science is bigger than the other science I saw yesterday" and indicates meaning them literally. – Conifold Sep 22 at 17:48
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    Sharing is a vague and relative notion, so there are clear cases and borderline cases, and what counts depends on the context of application. Putnam identified four "dimensions" of meaning: syntactic role, semantic qualifiers, stereotype (minimal recognition criteria) and extension, others also add inferential role. In colloquial contexts sharing the stereotype is typically enough. Normally, if extensions do not overlap then concepts clearly are not "shared", but one can probably contrive error ridden scenarios where shared, in some partial sense, concepts produce such an anomalous result. – Conifold Sep 26 at 19:25
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    But a stereotype of "fractal" or "entropy" would not be enough for doing mathematics and physics, technical arguments applying stereotypes will be marked as erroneous by the teacher. On the other hand, if "sharing" is approached with too fine grained a comb then no two people will share anything, each person's concept will be uniquely theirs. See Putnam, The Meaning of "Meaning" and IEP, Conceptual Role Semantics. – Conifold Sep 26 at 19:36

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