Concepts are the fundamental building blocks of our thoughts and beliefs. They play an important role in all aspects of cognition.
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.[unreliable source?] 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. 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:[See talk page]
Concepts as mental representations, where concepts are entities that
exist in the mind (mental objects)
Concepts as abilities, where concepts are abilities peculiar to
cognitive agents (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 Concepts in the representational theory of mind 2 Nature of concepts
2.1 A priori concepts 2.2 Embodied content 2.3 Ontology
3 Mental representations 4 Notable theories on the structure of concepts
4.1 Classical theory
4.1.1 Arguments against the classical theory
4.2 Prototype theory 4.3 Theory-theory
5 Ideasthesia 6 Etymology 7 See also 8 References 9 Further reading 10 External links
Concepts in the representational theory of mind Within the framework of the representational theory of mind, the structural position of concepts can be understood as follows: Concepts serve as the building blocks of what are called mental representations (colloquially understood as ideas in the mind). Mental representations, in turn, are the building blocks of what are called propositional attitudes (colloquially understood as the stances or perspectives we take towards ideas, be it "believing", "doubting", "wondering", "accepting", etc.). And these propositional attitudes, in turn, are the building blocks of our understanding of thoughts that populate everyday life, as well as folk psychology. In this way, we have an analysis that ties our common everyday understanding of thoughts down to the scientific and philosophical understanding of concepts. Nature of concepts Main article: Abstract object A central question in the study of concepts is the question of what concepts are. Philosophers construe this question as one about the ontology of concepts – what they are really like. The ontology of concepts determines the answer to other questions, such as how to integrate concepts into a wider theory of the mind, what functions are allowed or disallowed by a concept's ontology, etc. There are two main views of the ontology of concepts: (1) Concepts are abstract objects, and (2) concepts are mental representations. Platonist views of the mind construe concepts as abstract objects, 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. A priori concepts Main articles: A priori and a posteriori and Category (Kant) 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 twelve 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 (Logic, I, 1., §1, Note 1) 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 & Turner, 1995; see conceptual blending). A common
class of blends are metaphors. This theory contrasts with the
rationalist view that concepts are perceptions (or recollections, in
Plato's term) of an independently existing world of ideas, in that it
denies the existence of any such realm. It also contrasts with the
empiricist view that concepts are abstract generalizations of
individual experiences, because the contingent and bodily experience
is preserved in a concept, and not abstracted away. While the
perspective is compatible with Jamesian pragmatism, the notion of the
transformation of embodied concepts through structural mapping makes a
distinct contribution to the problem of concept formation.[citation
Main article: Ontology
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
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
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
^ Chapter 1 of Laurence and Margolis' book called Concepts: Core
Readings. ISBN 9780262631938
^ Carey, S. (1991). Knowledge Acquisition: Enrichment or Conceptual
Change? In S. Carey and R. Gelman (Eds.), The Epigenesis of Mind:
Essays on Biology and
Armstrong, S. L., Gleitman, L. R., & Gleitman, H. (1999). what
some concepts might not be. In E. Margolis, & S. Lawrence,
Concepts (pp. 225–261). Massachusetts: MIT press.
Carey, S. (1999). knowledge acquisition: enrichment or conceptual
change? In E. Margolis, & S. Lawrence, concepts: core readings
(pp. 459–489). Massachusetts: MIT press.
Fodor, J. A., Garrett, M. F., Walker, E. C., & Parkes, C. H.
(1999). against definitions. In E. Margolis, & S. Lawrence,
concepts: core readings (pp. 491–513). Massachusetts: MIT
Fodor, J., & LePore, E. (1996). the pet fish and the red Herring:
why concept still can't be prototypes. cognition, 253–270.
Hume, D. (1739). book one part one: of the understanding of ideas,
their origin, composition, connexion, abstraction etc. In D. Hume, a
treatise of human nature. England.
Murphy, G. (2004). Chapter 2. In G. Murphy, a big book of concepts
(pp. 11 – 41). Massachusetts: MIT press.
Murphy, G., & Medin, D. (1999). the role of theories in conceptual
coherence. In E. Margolis, & S. Lawrence, concepts: core readings
(pp. 425–459). Massachusetts: MIT press.
Prinz, J. J. (2002). Desiderata on a Theory of Concepts. In J. J.
Prinz, Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and their Perceptual Basis
(pp. 1–23). Massachusetts: MIT press.
Putnam, H. (1999). is semantics possible? In E. Margolis, & S.
Lawrence, concepts: core readings (pp. 177–189). Massachusetts:
Quine, W. (1999). two dogmas of empiricism. In E. Margolis, & S.
Lawrence, concepts: core readings (pp. 153–171). Massachusetts:
Rey, G. (1999). Concepts and Stereotypes. In E. Margolis, & S.
Laurence (Eds.), Concepts: Core Readings (pp. 279–301).
Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Rosch, E. (1977). Classification of real-world objects: Origins and
representations in cognition. In P. Johnson-Laird, & P. Wason,
Thinking: Readings in Cognitive Science (pp. 212–223).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rosch, E. (1999). Principles of Categorization. In E. Margolis, &
S. Laurence (Eds.), Concepts: Core Readings (pp. 189–206).
Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Schneider, S. (2011). Concepts: A Pragmatist Theory. In S.Schneider,
Look up concept in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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