A CONCEPT is an abstract idea representing the type and fundamental characteristics of some set of objects in one's mind. _ When the mind makes a generalization such as the concept of tree_, it extracts similarities from numerous examples; the simplification enables higher-level thinking .
Concepts arise as abstractions or generalisations from experience; from the result of a transformation of existing ideas; or from innate properties. A concept is instantiated (reified) by all of its actual or potential instances, whether these are things in the real world or other ideas .
Concepts are studied as components of human cognition in the cognitive science disciplines of linguistics , psychology and philosophy , where an ongoing debate asks whether all cognition must occur through concepts. Concepts are used as formal tools or models in mathematics , computer science , databases and artificial intelligence where they are sometimes called classes , schema or categories . In informal use the word _concept_ often just means any idea , but formally it involves the abstraction component. Concepts are sometimes known by other names in everyday language such as "kinds", "types" or "sorts", as in "an oak is a kind of tree", or "this object is a kind of tree".
In metaphysics , and especially ontology , a concept is a fundamental category of existence . In contemporary philosophy , there are at least three prevailing ways to understand what a concept is:
* Concepts as mental representations , where concepts are entities that exist in the brain (mental objects) * Concepts as abilities , where concepts are abilities peculiar to cognitive agents (mental states) * Concepts as Fregean senses (see sense and reference ), where concepts are abstract objects , as opposed to mental objects and mental states
Concepts can be organized into a hierarchy, higher levels of which are termed "superordinate" and lower levels termed "subordinate". Additionally, there is the "basic" or "middle" level at which people will most readily categorize a concept. For example, a basic-level concept would be "chair", with its superordinate, "furniture", and its subordinate, "easy chair".
* 1 Abstract objects
* 2 Issues in concept theory
* 2.1 A priori concepts * 2.2 Embodied content * 2.3 Ontology
* 5 Notable theories on the structure of concepts
* 5.1 Classical theory
* 5.1.1 Arguments against the classical theory
* 5.2 Prototype theory * 5.3 Theory-theory
* 6 Ideasthesia * 7 Etymology * 8 See also * 9 References * 10 Further reading * 11 External links
Main article: Abstract object
In a platonist theory of mind, concepts are construed as abstract objects. This debate concerns the ontological status of concepts – what they are really like.
There is debate as to the relationship between concepts and natural language . However, it is necessary at least to begin by understanding that the concept "dog" is philosophically distinct from the things in the world grouped by this concept – or the reference class or extension . Concepts that can be equated to a single word are called "lexical concepts".
Study of concepts and conceptual structure falls into the disciplines of linguistics , philosophy , psychology , and cognitive science .
In the simplest terms, a concept is a name or label that regards or treats an abstraction as if it had concrete or material existence, such as a person, a place, or a thing. It may represent a natural object that exists in the real world like a tree, an animal, a stone, etc. It may also name an artificial (man-made) object like a chair, computer, house, etc. Abstract ideas and knowledge domains such as freedom, equality, science, happiness, etc., are also symbolized by concepts. It is important to realize that a concept is merely a symbol, a representation of the abstraction. The word is not to be mistaken for the thing. For example, the word "moon" (a concept) is not the large, bright, shape-changing object up in the sky, but only _represents_ that celestial object. Concepts are created (named) to describe, explain and capture reality as it is known and understood.
ISSUES IN CONCEPT THEORY
A PRIORI CONCEPTS
Kant declared that human minds possess pure or _a priori _ concepts.
Instead of being abstracted from individual perceptions, like
empirical concepts, they originate in the mind itself. He called these
concepts categories , in the sense of the word that means predicate ,
attribute, characteristic, or quality . But these pure categories are
predicates of things _in general_, not of a particular thing.
According to Kant, there are 12 categories that constitute the
understanding of phenomenal objects. Each category is that one
predicate which is common to multiple empirical concepts. In order to
explain how an _a priori_ concept can relate to individual phenomena,
in a manner analogous to an _a posteriori _ concept, Kant employed the
technical concept of the schema . He held that the account of the
concept as an abstraction of experience is only partly correct. He
called those concepts that result from abstraction "a posteriori
concepts" (meaning concepts that arise out of experience). An
empirical or an _a posteriori_ concept is a general representation
(_Vorstellung_) or non-specific thought of that which is common to
several specific perceived objects (
A concept is a common feature or characteristic. Kant investigated the way that empirical _a posteriori_ concepts are created.
The logical acts of the understanding by which concepts are generated as to their form are:
* _comparison_, i.e., the likening of mental images to one another in relation to the unity of consciousness; * _reflection_, i.e., the going back over different mental images, how they can be comprehended in one consciousness; and finally * _abstraction_ or the segregation of everything else by which the mental images differ ...
In order to make our mental images into concepts, one must thus be able to compare, reflect, and abstract, for these three logical operations of the understanding are essential and general conditions of generating any concept whatever. For example, I see a fir, a willow, and a linden. In firstly comparing these objects, I notice that they are different from one another in respect of trunk, branches, leaves, and the like; further, however, I reflect only on what they have in common, the trunk, the branches, the leaves themselves, and abstract from their size, shape, and so forth; thus I gain a concept of a tree. — Logic, §6
Main article: Embodied cognition
In cognitive linguistics , abstract concepts are transformations of
concrete concepts derived from embodied experience. The mechanism of
transformation is structural mapping, in which properties of two or
more source domains are selectively mapped onto a blended space
(Fauconnier see conceptual blending ). A common class of blends are
metaphors . This theory contrasts with the rationalist view that
concepts are perceptions (or _recollections_, in
Main article: Ontology
Gottlob Frege , founder of the analytic tradition in philosophy, famously argued for the analysis of language in terms of sense and reference. For him, the sense of an expression in language describes a certain state of affairs in the world, namely, the way that some object is presented. Since many commentators view the notion of sense as identical to the notion of concept, and Frege regards senses as the linguistic representations of states of affairs in the world, it seems to follow that we may understand concepts as the manner in which we grasp the world. Accordingly, concepts (as senses) have an ontological status (Morgolis:7).
According to Carl Benjamin Boyer , in the introduction to his _The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development_, concepts in calculus do not refer to perceptions. As long as the concepts are useful and mutually compatible, they are accepted on their own. For example, the concepts of the derivative and the integral are not considered to refer to spatial or temporal perceptions of the external world of experience. Neither are they related in any way to mysterious limits in which quantities are on the verge of nascence or evanescence, that is, coming into or going out of existence. The abstract concepts are now considered to be totally autonomous, even though they originated from the process of abstracting or taking away qualities from perceptions until only the common, essential attributes remained.
CONCEPT SHARING AND LEARNING
Can two people ever come to learn exactly the same concept? If person
A has seen 100 trees and person B has seen a different 100 trees, they
will not always generalize the same set of features in their concept
of trees. The two concepts are sometimes written as TREE_A and TREE_B
to emphasise their difference. If A and B have these different
concepts, and intend them by their use of the English word, "tree",
then how can they ever have a meaningful debate to decide the truth of
a statement about "trees"? A statement that is true of TREE_A may be
false of TREE_B, and the two parties will talk past one another.
The situation becomes even more complex when reasoning about other
people's beliefs. For example, is the statement "George Bush thinks
conservatism is bad" true or false? Bush presumably possesses some
concept in his own mind, CONSERVATISM_BUSH, but the reasoner (eg. ones
self) does not have access to this exact concept. If the reasoner is a
liberal, it is likely that their concept CONSERVATISM_REASONER will be
defined differently to that of Bush. It is likely that it will contain
many properties which are bad. The reasoner can conclude that
"CONSERVATISM_REASONER is bad", and might even have reason to believe
that if this version of the concept was explained to Bush, then Bush
would also think it is bad. But the reasoner has no access to Bush's
own concept and can therefore assign no deep truth value to statements
about it. They might have heard Bush say "conservatism is good" and
thus have evidence that "Bush thinks CONSERVATISM_BUSH is good", but
this is only a weak statement about the
Fregean sense of the concept
and not its (deep) referent.
Main article: Mental representation
In a physicalist theory of mind , a concept is a mental representation, which the brain uses to denote a class of things in the world. This is to say that it is literally, a symbol or group of symbols together made from the physical material of the brain. Concepts are mental representations that allow us to draw appropriate inferences about the type of entities we encounter in our everyday lives. Concepts do not encompass all mental representations, but are merely a subset of them. The use of concepts is necessary to cognitive processes such as categorization , memory , decision making , learning , and inference .
Concepts are thought to be stored in long term cortical memory , in contrast to episodic memory of the particular objects and events which they abstract, which are stored in hippocampus . Evidence for this separation comes from hippocampal damaged patients such as patient HM . The abstraction from the day's hippocampal events and objects into cortical concepts is often considered to be the computation underlying (some stages of) sleep and dreaming. Many people (beginning with Aristotle) report memories of dreams which appear to mix the day's events with analogous or related historical concepts and memories, and suggest that they were being sorted or organised into more abstract concepts. ("Sort" is itself another word for concept, and "sorting" thus means to organise into concepts.)
NOTABLE THEORIES ON THE STRUCTURE OF CONCEPTS
Main article: Definitionism
The classical theory of concepts, also referred to as the empiricist
theory of concepts, is the oldest theory about the structure of
concepts (it can be traced back to
The classical theory persisted for so long unquestioned because it
seemed intuitively correct and has great explanatory power. It can
explain how concepts would be acquired, how we use them to categorize
and how we use the structure of a concept to determine its referent
class. In fact, for many years it was one of the major activities in
philosophy – concept analysis .
Arguments Against The Classical Theory
Given that most later theories of concepts were born out of the rejection of some or all of the classical theory, it seems appropriate to give an account of what might be wrong with this theory. In the 20th century, philosophers such as Wittgenstein and Rosch argued against the classical theory. There are six primary arguments summarized as follows:
* It seems that there simply are no definitions – especially those based in sensory primitive concepts. * It seems as though there can be cases where our ignorance or error about a class means that we either don't know the definition of a concept, or have incorrect notions about what a definition of a particular concept might entail. * Quine 's argument against analyticity in Two Dogmas of Empiricism also holds as an argument against definitions. * Some concepts have fuzzy membership. There are items for which it is vague whether or not they fall into (or out of) a particular referent class. This is not possible in the classical theory as everything has equal and full membership. * Rosch found typicality effects which cannot be explained by the classical theory of concepts, these sparked the prototype theory. See below. * Psychological experiments show no evidence for our using concepts as strict definitions.
Main article: Prototype theory
Prototype theory came out of problems with the classical view of conceptual structure. Prototype theory says that concepts specify properties that members of a class tend to possess, rather than must possess. Wittgenstein , Rosch , Mervis, Berlin , Anglin, and Posner are a few of the key proponents and creators of this theory. Wittgenstein describes the relationship between members of a class as _family resemblances_. There are not necessarily any necessary conditions for membership, a dog can still be a dog with only three legs. This view is particularly supported by psychological experimental evidence for prototypicality effects. Participants willingly and consistently rate objects in categories like 'vegetable' or 'furniture' as more or less typical of that class. It seems that our categories are fuzzy psychologically, and so this structure has explanatory power. We can judge an item's membership to the referent class of a concept by comparing it to the typical member – the most central member of the concept. If it is similar enough in the relevant ways, it will be cognitively admitted as a member of the relevant class of entities. Rosch suggests that every category is represented by a central exemplar which embodies all or the maximum possible number of features of a given category. According to Lech, Gunturkun, and Suchan explain that categorization involves many areas of the brain, some of these are; visual association areas, prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia, and temporal lobe.
Theory-theory is a reaction to the previous two theories and develops them further. This theory postulates that categorization by concepts is something like scientific theorizing. Concepts are not learned in isolation, but rather are learned as a part of our experiences with the world around us. In this sense, concepts' structure relies on their relationships to other concepts as mandated by a particular mental theory about the state of the world. How this is supposed to work is a little less clear than in the previous two theories, but is still a prominent and notable theory. This is supposed to explain some of the issues of ignorance and error that come up in prototype and classical theories as concepts that are structured around each other seem to account for errors such as whale as a fish (this misconception came from an incorrect theory about what a whale is like, combining with our theory of what a fish is). When we learn that a whale is not a fish, we are recognizing that whales don't in fact fit the theory we had about what makes something a fish. In this sense, the Theory–Theory of concepts is responding to some of the issues of prototype theory and classic theory.
According to the theory of ideasthesia (or "sensing concepts"), activation of a concept may be the main mechanism responsible for creation of phenomenal experiences. Therefore, understanding how the brain processes concepts may be central to solving the mystery of how conscious experiences (or qualia ) emerge within a physical system e.g., the sourness of the sour taste of lemon. This question is also known as the hard problem of consciousness . Research on ideasthesia emerged from research on synesthesia where it was noted that a synesthetic experience requires first an activation of a concept of the inducer. Later research expanded these results into everyday perception.
There is a lot of discussion on the most effective theory in concepts. Another theory is semantic pointers, which use perceptual and motor representations and these representations are like symbols.
The term "concept" is traced back to 1554–60 (Latin _conceptum_ –
"something conceived"), but what is today termed "the classical
theory of concepts" is the theory of
Concept and object
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