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Carey, Susan. The Origin of Concepts
2009, Oxford: Oxford University Press
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Added by: Björn Freter, Contributed by: Saranga Sudarshan

Publisher’s Note: Only human beings have a rich conceptual repertoire with concepts like tort, entropy, Abelian group, mannerism, icon and deconstruction. How have humans constructed these concepts? And once they have been constructed by adults, how do children acquire them? While primarily focusing on the second question, in The Origin of Concepts , Susan Carey shows that the answers to both overlap substantially.

Carey begins by characterizing the innate starting point for conceptual development, namely systems of core cognition. Representations of core cognition are the output of dedicated input analyzers, as with perceptual representations, but these core representations differ from perceptual representations in having more abstract contents and richer functional roles. Carey argues that the key to understanding cognitive development lies in recognizing conceptual discontinuities in which new representational systems emerge that have more expressive power than core cognition and are also incommensurate with core cognition and other earlier representational systems. Finally, Carey fleshes out Quinian bootstrapping, a learning mechanism that has been repeatedly sketched in the literature on the history and philosophy of science. She demonstrates that Quinian bootstrapping is a major mechanism in the construction of new representational resources over the course of childrens cognitive development.

Carey shows how developmental cognitive science resolves aspects of long-standing philosophical debates about the existence, nature, content, and format of innate knowledge. She also shows that understanding the processes of conceptual development in children illuminates the historical process by which concepts are constructed, and transforms the way we think about philosophical problems about the nature of concepts and the relations between language and thought.

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Millikan, Ruth Garrett. A common structure for concepts of individuals, stuffs, and real kinds: More Mama, more milk, and more mouse
1997, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 21 (1):55-65.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Juan R. Loaiza

Abstract: Concepts are highly theoretical entities. One cannot study them empirically without committing oneself to substantial preliminary assumptions. Among the competing theories of concepts and categorization developed by psychologists in the last thirty years, the implicit theoretical assumption that what falls under a concept is determined by description () has never been seriously challenged. I present a nondescriptionist theory of our most basic concepts, which include (1) stuffs (gold, milk), (2) real kinds (cat, chair), and (3) individuals (Mama, Bill Clinton, the Empire State Building). On the basis of something important that all three have in common, our earliest and most basic concepts of substances are identical in structure. The membership of the category like that of is a natural unit in nature, to which the concept does something like pointing, and continues to point despite large changes in the properties the thinker represents the unit as having. For example, large changes can occur in the way a child identifies cats and the things it is willing to call without affecting the extension of its word The difficulty is to cash in the metaphor of in this context. Having substance concepts need not depend on knowing words, but language interacts with substance concepts, completely transforming the conceptual repertoire. I will discuss how public language plays a crucial role in both the acquisition of substance concepts and their completed structure

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Nersessian, Nancy. Creating Scientific Concepts
2008, MIT Press.
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Added by: Laura Jimenez

Publisher’s Note: How do novel scientific concepts arise? In Creating Scientific Concepts, Nancy Nersessian seeks to answer this central but virtually unasked question in the problem of conceptual change. She argues that the popular image of novel concepts and profound insight bursting forth in a blinding flash of inspiration is mistaken. Instead, novel concepts are shown to arise out of the interplay of three factors: an attempt to solve specific problems; the use of conceptual, analytical, and material resources provided by the cognitive-social-cultural context of the problem; and dynamic processes of reasoning that extend ordinary cognition. Focusing on the third factor, Nersessian draws on cognitive science research and historical accounts of scientific practices to show how scientific and ordinary cognition lie on a continuum, and how problem-solving practices in one illuminate practices in the other.

Comment: Nersessian’s book has a two-fold foundation, first, the empirical analysis of two cases of scientific thinking (one from Maxwell and one from a verbal protocol of a scientist); second, philosophical and cognitive analysis of the overall picture of meaning change in science that is the result of her work. The book presents her argument via an introductory chapter, followed by five chapters that develop the argument. Chapter 4 is particularly interesting for the cognitive-scientist: in this chapter Nersessian develops her account of the basic cognitive processes that underlie model-based reasoning. The new approach to mental modeling and analogy, together with Nersessian’s cognitive-historical approach, make Creating Scientific Concepts equally valuable to cognitive science and philosophy of science. The book is accessible and well-written, and should be a relatively quick read for anyone with a previous background in the mentioned fields. It is mainly recommended for postgraduate courses.

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Nida-Rumelin, Martine. Grasping phenomenal properties
2006, In Torin Alter & Sven Walter (eds.), Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge: New Essays on Consciousness and Physicalism. Oxford University Press.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Nora Heinzelmann

Abstract: I will present an argument for property dualism. The argument employs a distinction between having a concept of a property and grasping a property via a concept. If you grasp a property P via a concept C, then C is a concept of P. But the reverse does not hold: you may have a concept of a property without grasping that property via any concept. If you grasp a property, then your cognitive relation to that property is more intimate then if you just have some concept or other of that property. To grasp a property is to understand what having that property essentially consists in.

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