Experimental Philosophy and Concepts

I have finished a paper (here) that uses some experimental methods to examine a question that has agitated for a few years the philosophy of concepts: Does the class of concepts fragment into several very heterogeneous kinds?


Here is the abstract:

Psychologists of concepts’ traditional assumption that there are many properties common to all concepts has been subject to devastating critiques in psychology and in the philosophy of psychology. However, it is currently unclear what approach to concepts is best suited to replace this traditional assumption. In this article, we compare two competing approaches, the Heterogeneity Hypothesis and the hybrid theories of concepts, and we present an empirical argument that supports the former over the latter.

Comments are as usual welcome.

(I also note that this paper illustrates that experimental philosophy is not bound to studying people’s intuitive judgments in thought-experiments.)

Cross posted on Experimental Philosophy.


6 Comments

  1. In the metaphysics of properties we are witnessing a turning point from those theories sugesting that properties are an all-or-nothing business toward a more vectorial approach, even in concepts (Churchland vectorial space notion of conceptual representation)

    Are you commited to the idea of simple concepts?

  2. Edouard Machery

    Thanks for these comments. A few quick replies:

    Anibal,

    I do not know what you mean by “simple concepts”, so it is difficult to answer your question. Keep in mind that by “concept”, I mean, roughly, the bodies of knowledge people use to categorize, reason, etc.

    If you are interested in vectorial approach to concepts, instead of referring to Churchland, which is frankly outdated, I recommend Rogers and McClelland, Semantic Cognition.

    Arnold,

    Thanks for these references. I will have a look at them. Prima facie, neurological evidence is relevant to my views, but of course much hangs on the details.

    Edouard

  3. edouard machery

    Thanks for these comments. A few quick replies:

    Anibal,

    I do not know what you mean by “simple concepts”, so it is difficult to answer your question. Keep in mind that by “concept”, I mean, roughly, the bodies of knowledge people use to categorize, reason, etc. 

    If you are interested in vectorial approach to concepts, instead of referring to Churchland, which is frankly outdated, I recommend Rogers and McClelland, Semantic Cognition.

    Arnold,

    Thanks for these references. I will have a look at them. Prima facie, neurological evidence is relevant to my views, but of course much hangs on the details.

    Edouard

  4. By “simple concepts” i mean the atomistic view held by people such as Fodor, that say not only that concepts are innate, but also that they are mutually exclusive in their contents.

    Thanks for the recomendation, but does not Churchland belongs to the connectionist tradition Rogers and McClelland represents?

  5. edouard machery

    Anibal,

    Yes you are right about Rogers and McClelland’s connectionist affiliation. 
    Wrt Fodor’s simple concepts, I happen to think that when they theorize about the nature of concepts, Fodor (and many other philosophers) are not referring to what psychologists refer to when they study concepts. In other words, “concept” does not mean the same thing in psychology (e.g., in Rosch’s, Hampton’s, Medin’s work) and in philosophy (see Chapter 2 of my book Doing without Concepts, which will be out in January 2009). For that reason, issues around atomism are orthogonal to the questions that interest me.
    e

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