Concepts are defined as abstract ideas or general notions that occur in the mind, in speech, or in thought. They are understood to be the fundamental building blocks of thoughts and beliefs. They play an important role in all aspects of cognition.As such, concepts are studied by several disciplines, such as linguistics, psychology, and philosophy, and these disciplines are interested in the logical and psychological structure of concepts, and how they are put together to form thoughts and sentences. The study of concepts has served as an important flagship of an emerging interdisciplinary approach called cognitive science.
In contemporary philosophy, there are at least three prevailing ways to understand what a concept is:
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".
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.
A central question in the study of concepts is the question of what they are. Philosophers construe this question as one about the ontology of concepts—what they are 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.
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.
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.)
The semantic view of concepts suggests that concepts are abstract objects. In this view, concepts are abstract objects of a category out of a human's mind rather than some mental representations.
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.
Kant maintained the view 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
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.
Platonist views of the mind construe concepts as abstract objects.Plato was the starkest proponent of the realist thesis of universal concepts. By his view, concepts (and ideas in general) are innate ideas that were instantiations of a transcendental world of pure forms that lay behind the veil of the physical world. In this way, universals were explained as transcendent objects. Needless to say this form of realism was tied deeply with Plato's ontological projects. This remark on Plato is not of merely historical interest. For example, the view that numbers are Platonic objects was revived by Kurt Gödel as a result of certain puzzles that he took to arise from the phenomenological accounts.
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.
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.
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 Aristotle ), and was prominently held until the 1970s. The classical theory of concepts says that concepts have a definitional structure. Adequate definitions of the kind required by this theory usually take the form of a list of features. These features must have two important qualities to provide a comprehensive definition. Features entailed by the definition of a concept must be both necessary and sufficient for membership in the class of things covered by a particular concept. A feature is considered necessary if every member of the denoted class has that feature. A feature is considered sufficient if something has all the parts required by the definition. For example, the classic example bachelor is said to be defined by unmarried and man . An entity is a bachelor (by this definition) if and only if it is both unmarried and a man. To check whether something is a member of the class, you compare its qualities to the features in the definition. Another key part of this theory is that it obeys the law of the excluded middle , which means that there are no partial members of a class, you are either in or out.
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. For example, Shoemaker's classic "Time Without Change" explored whether the concept of the flow of time can include flows where no changes take place, though change is usually taken as a definition of time.
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:
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 of 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. 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.
The Prototype perspective is proposed as an alternative view to the Classical approach. While the Classical theory requires an all-or-nothing membership in a group, prototypes allow for more fuzzy boundaries and are characterized by attributes.Lakeoff stresses that experience and cognition are critical to the function of language, and Labov's experiment found that the function that an artifact contributed to what people categorized it as. For example, a container holding mashed potatoes versus tea swayed people toward classifying them as a bowl and a cup, respectively. This experiment also illuminated the optimal dimensions of what the prototype for "cup" is.
Prototypes also deal with the essence of things and to what extent they belong to a category. There have been a number of experiments dealing with questionnaires asking participants to rate something according to the extent to which it belongs to a category.This question is contradictory to the Classical Theory because something is either a member of a category or is not. This type of problem is paralleled in other areas of linguistics such as phonology, with an illogical question such as "is /i/ or /o/ a better vowel?" The Classical approach and Aristotelian categories may be a better descriptor in some cases.
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. Theory-theory also postulates that people's theories about the world are what inform their conceptual knowledge of the world. Therefore, analysing people's theories can offer insights into their concepts. In this sense, "theory" means an individual's mental explanation rather than scientific fact. This theory criticizes classical and prototype theory as relying too much on similarities and using them as a sufficient constraint. It suggests that theories or mental understandings contribute more to what has membership to a group rather than weighted similarities, and a cohesive category is formed more by what makes sense to the perceiver. Weights assigned to features have shown to fluctuate and vary depending on context and experimental task demonstrated by Tversky. For this reason, similarities between members may be collateral rather than causal.
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").
Abstraction in its main sense is a conceptual process where general rules and concepts are derived from the usage and classification of specific examples, literal signifiers, first principles, or other methods.
The philosophy of perception is concerned with the nature of perceptual experience and the status of perceptual data, in particular how they relate to beliefs about, or knowledge of, the world. Any explicit account of perception requires a commitment to one of a variety of ontological or metaphysical views. Philosophers distinguish internalist accounts, which assume that perceptions of objects, and knowledge or beliefs about them, are aspects of an individual's mind, and externalist accounts, which state that they constitute real aspects of the world external to the individual.‹See TfM› The position of naïve realism—the 'everyday' impression of physical objects constituting what is perceived—is to some extent contradicted by the occurrence of perceptual illusions and hallucinations and the relativity of perceptual experience as well as certain insights in science. Realist conceptions include phenomenalism and direct and indirect realism. Anti-realist conceptions include idealism and skepticism.
Thought encompasses an "aim-oriented flow of ideas and associations that can lead to a reality-oriented conclusion". Although thinking is an activity of an existential value for humans, there is still no consensus as to how it is adequately defined or understood.
In cognitive linguistics, conceptual metaphor, or cognitive metaphor, refers to the understanding of one idea, or conceptual domain, in terms of another. An example of this is the understanding of quantity in terms of directionality or the understanding of time in terms of money.
Categorization is an activity that consists of putting things into categories based on their similarities or common criteria. It allows humans to organize things, objects, and ideas that exist around them and simplify their understanding of the world. Categorization is something that humans and other organisms do: "doing the right thing with the right kind of thing." The activity of categorizing things can be nonverbal or verbal. For humans, both concrete objects and abstract ideas are recognized, differentiated, and understood through categorization. Objects are usually categorized for some adaptive or pragmatic purposes.
In metaphysics, abstract and concrete are classifications that denote whether the object that a term describes has physical referents. Abstract objects have no physical referents, whereas concrete objects do. They are most commonly used in philosophy and semantics. Abstract objects are sometimes called abstracta and concrete objects are sometimes called concreta. An abstract object is an object that does not exist at any particular time or place, but rather exists as a type of thing—i.e., an idea, or abstraction. The term abstract object is said to have been coined by Willard Van Orman Quine.
A conceptual system is a system that is composed of non-physical objects, i.e. ideas or concepts. In this context a system is taken to mean "an interrelated, interworking set of objects".
Conceptual semantics is a framework for semantic analysis developed mainly by Ray Jackendoff in 1976. Its aim is to provide a characterization of the conceptual elements by which a person understands words and sentences, and thus to provide an explanatory semantic representation. Explanatory in this sense refers to the ability of a given linguistic theory to describe how a component of language is acquired by a child.
Prototype theory is a mode of graded categorization in cognitive science, where some members of a conceptual category are more central than others. In this theory, any given concept in any given language has a real world example that best represents this concept. For example: when asked to give an example of the concept furniture, a couch is more frequently cited than, say, a wardrobe. Prototype theory has also been applied in linguistics, as part of the mapping from phonological structure to semantics.
Eleanor Rosch is an American psychologist. She is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in cognitive psychology and primarily known for her work on categorization, in particular her prototype theory, which has profoundly influenced the field of cognitive psychology.
The intentional stance is a term coined by philosopher Daniel Dennett for the level of abstraction in which we view the behavior of an entity in terms of mental properties. It is part of a theory of mental content proposed by Dennett, which provides the underpinnings of his later works on free will, consciousness, folk psychology, and evolution.
Here is how it works: first you decide to treat the object whose behavior is to be predicted as a rational agent; then you figure out what beliefs that agent ought to have, given its place in the world and its purpose. Then you figure out what desires it ought to have, on the same considerations, and finally you predict that this rational agent will act to further its goals in the light of its beliefs. A little practical reasoning from the chosen set of beliefs and desires will in most instances yield a decision about what the agent ought to do; that is what you predict the agent will do.
Cognitive semantics is part of the cognitive linguistics movement. Semantics is the study of linguistic meaning. Cognitive semantics holds that language is part of a more general human cognitive ability, and can therefore only describe the world as people conceive of it. It is implicit that different linguistic communities conceive of simple things and processes in the world differently, not necessarily some difference between a person's conceptual world and the real world.
In philosophy of mind, the computational theory of mind (CTM), also known as computationalism, is a family of views that hold that the human mind is an information processing system and that cognition and consciousness together are a form of computation. Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts (1943) were the first to suggest that neural activity is computational. They argued that neural computations explain cognition. The theory was proposed in its modern form by Hilary Putnam in 1967, and developed by his PhD student, philosopher and cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Despite being vigorously disputed in analytic philosophy in the 1990s due to work by Putnam himself, John Searle, and others, the view is common in modern cognitive psychology and is presumed by many theorists of evolutionary psychology. In the 2000s and 2010s the view has resurfaced in analytic philosophy.
A mental representation, in philosophy of mind, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science, is a hypothetical internal cognitive symbol that represents external reality, or else a mental process that makes use of such a symbol: "a formal system for making explicit certain entities or types of information, together with a specification of how the system does this".
Concept learning, also known as category learning, concept attainment, and concept formation, is defined by Bruner, Goodnow, & Austin (1967) as "the search for and listing of attributes that can be used to distinguish exemplars from non exemplars of various categories". More simply put, concepts are the mental categories that help us classify objects, events, or ideas, building on the understanding that each object, event, or idea has a set of common relevant features. Thus, concept learning is a strategy which requires a learner to compare and contrast groups or categories that contain concept-relevant features with groups or categories that do not contain concept-relevant features.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to thought (thinking):
Conceptual change is the process whereby concepts and relationships between them change over the course of an individual person's lifetime or over the course of history. Research in four different fields – cognitive psychology, cognitive developmental psychology, science education, and history and philosophy of science - has sought to understand this process. Indeed, the convergence of these four fields, in their effort to understand how concepts change in content and organization, has led to the emergence of an interdisciplinary sub-field in its own right. This sub-field is referred to as “conceptual change” research.
Embodied cognition is the theory that many features of cognition, whether human or otherwise, are shaped by aspects of the entire body of the organism. The features of cognition include high level mental constructs and performance on various cognitive tasks. The aspects of the body include the motor system, the perceptual system, bodily interactions with the environment (situatedness), and the assumptions about the world that are built into the structure of the organism.
A conceptual space is a geometric structure that represents a number of quality dimensions, which denote basic features by which concepts and objects can be compared, such as weight, color, taste, temperature, pitch, and the three ordinary spatial dimensions. In a conceptual space, points denote objects, and regions denote concepts. The theory of conceptual spaces is a theory about concept learning first proposed by Peter Gärdenfors. It is motivated by notions such as conceptual similarity and prototype theory.
Exemplar theory is a proposal concerning the way humans categorize objects and ideas in psychology. It argues that individuals make category judgments by comparing new stimuli with instances already stored in memory. The instance stored in memory is the "exemplar". The new stimulus is assigned to a category based on the greatest number of similarities it holds with exemplars in that category. For example, the model proposes that people create the "bird" category by maintaining in their memory a collection of all the birds they have experienced: sparrows, robins, ostriches, penguins, etc. If a new stimulus is similar enough to some of these stored bird examples, the person categorizes the stimulus in the "bird" category. Various versions of the exemplar theory have led to a simplification of thought concerning concept learning, because they suggest that people use already-encountered memories to determine categorization, rather than creating an additional abstract summary of representations.
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