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 brain,
- Concepts as abilities, where concepts are abilities peculiar to cognitive agents, and
- Concepts as abstract objects, where objects are the constituents of propositions that mediate between thought, language, and referents.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Abstract objects
- 3 Issues in concept theory
- 4 Mental representations
- 5 Notable theories on the structure of concepts
- 6 Ideasthesia
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
EtymologyThe 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 Aristotle on the definition of terms. The meaning of "concept" is explored in mainstream information science, cognitive science, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind. In computer and information science contexts, especially, the term 'concept' is often used in unclear or inconsistent ways.
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 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 conceptsKant 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 (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:
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.
- 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 ...
— Logic, §6
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.
Notable theories on the structure of concepts
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. Concept analysis is the act of trying to articulate the necessary and sufficient conditions for the membership in the referent class of a concept.
Arguments against the classical theoryGiven 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 Rosch and Wittgenstein 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.
Theory-theoryTheory-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.
IdeasthesiaAccording 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.
- Class (philosophy)
- Concept and object
- Concept learning
- Concept map
- Conceptual art
- Conceptual blending
- Conceptual clustering
- Conceptual framework
- Conceptual history
- Conceptual model
- Conversation theory
- Conveyed concept
- Formal concept analysis
- Fuzzy concept
- Hypostatic abstraction
- Notion (philosophy)
- Object (philosophy)
- Schema (Kant)
- Social construction
- Symbol grounding problem
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|Look up concept in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Concept.|
- Concept at PhilPapers
- Concept entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Concept at the Indiana Philosophy Ontology Project
- Concept entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Theory-Theory of Concepts entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Classical Theory of Concepts entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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