I was reading Jerry Fodor’s “Concepts: a potboiler“, and got the impression – perhaps wrong – that an important problem is that we are missing a way to discover or make (not sure which of them) true concept definitions. By true, It looks like he means definitions of concepts in the mind, or what a concept is in the mind.
He closes by saying that “Concepts are the constituents of thoughts; as such, they are the most elementary mental objects that have both causal and representational properties.”
I’m not sure why all concepts would be the most elementary mental objects. When we design and engineer new things, such as new software for example, we make up new abstractions that have representational properties (they refer to other physical or abstract objects) and causal properties (they designate specific inferences, or patterns of thought). So these new abstractions seem to be concepts in the above sense, but since they are defined from other abstractions, they do not seem to be elementary.
Often the process of engineering ontologies for information systems amounts to assert precisely that the new abstractions are not elementary, but references to physical objects (such as all items of a product currently in an actual warehouse) and/or references to other abstractions (such as the concept of barcode, not the instance of it, which would be a particular barcode), and/or references to reasoning we can do of/with/about these physical objects and abstractions (for example, that a barcode can be a unique identifier for a set of actual physical products, and that if we scan a barcode when a product arrives, we can record that in some database and keep track of inventory levels). These non-elementary concepts are, so to speak, abbreviations of other, perhaps elementary concepts.