One way to get to these contents [of the infantile mind] might be to treat Hans as forming a community of one. The meaning of “widdler” would then be given by what Hans does and would call a “widdler.” The focus on Hans’s actual and potential use will give us Hans’s dispositions to call things “widdler”. But there is a problem which confronts any attempt to determine what this disposition is. Would Hans call an elephant’s trunk a widdler? An anteater’s nose? A large draining cyst? An octopus’s tendril? We have no way of answering these questions. We may see a certain coherence in Hans’s way of going on, but it is not sufficient for us to feel confident that we can go on to use the expression in respect to these problematic cases. More importantly, there does not seem to be any way to investigate what the disposition is without possibly altering it. Suppose, for instance, that Hans had called an elephant’s trunk a widdler. Is there any room for thinking that he might have made a mistake, even by his own lights? Suppose that we pointed out to Hans that this elephant also had a penis or a vagina; suppose, too, that we showed Hans that the elephant urinated through his penis, and that he used his trunk both as an olfactory and as a prehensile organ. It is not clear how Hans would respond. He might decide that the elephant has two widdlers. But let us suppose that he revises his original judgment: he comes to deny that the trunk is a widdler and asserts that the penis is one. There is no way to decide whether Hans has corrected a mistake in his own use of widdler or whether he has revised the concept of a widdler in the light of our teaching.
There is, then, a severe limit to the extent to which anyone can go native in a tribe that consists of one three-and-a-half-year-old speaker. Any attempt to focus in on what he means will to some extent draw his attention to our perceptions of salience. In trying to enter his linguistic community, we inevitably draw him into ours. There seems to be a gap that cannot be completely closed between the conceptual content of a mental state and the content of an infant’s mind.
Jonathan Lear – Love and Its Place in Nature p.102