By Jim Virtel
The latest issue of BBS includes a précis of Edouard Machery’s Doing Without Concepts
—the book that boldly argues that the term “concept” should be eliminated from psychology. The fourth tenet of Machery’s Heterogeneity Hypothesis (HH) proposes that prototypes, exemplars, and theories
—three types of concept
—are used in distinct cognitive processes. Gualtiero Piccinini and I wrote a short response arguing that Machery has not provided enough evidence that prototypes and exemplars are used in distinct cognitive processes. If we are right, then Machery’s argument for concept eliminativism as he presents it doesn’t go through.
Interestingly, Machery chooses to respond to us by weakening his argument. Machery maintains that even if exemplars and prototypes are used in the same cognitive processes, theories are used in different cognitive processes from exemplars and prototypes. Thus, Machery concludes, “there are no generalizations about how concepts are used in cognitive processes” (2010, 237).
But Machery’s response is less satisfying than it may appear. Our commentary focused on prototypes and exemplars because that’s where Machery made his strongest case for differences in the cognitive processes. Machery offers little, if any, support for the claim that theories are used in distinct cognitive processes from prototypes and exemplars. In fact, everything Machery says is consistent with the hypothesis that theories are prototypes plus some causal information of a category (incidentally, many psychologists also believe that theories are enriched versions of prototypes). If theories are just augmented prototypes (i.e., a kind of prototype), then a fortiori they are used in the same cognitive processes. The burden is on Machery to provide evidence that theories are truly distinct from prototypes and are used in distinct cognitive processes.
Unless, of course, theories are seen as what Piccinini (forthcoming) calls “linguistic concepts”.