Department of Psychology
Thinking and Talking About Kinds and Their Instances
Lexically expressible concepts typically provide multiple intricate and abstract perspectives from which to think and talk. For example, the concept DOG provides a perspective from which to think and talk about a particular thing as one of indefinitely many things that are of the same kind. In taking this perspective, we also think of some of the properties of the instance to be true of it by virtue of its being the kind of thing it is, and thus explainable by reference to the kind of thing the instance is (e.g., That has four legs because it is a dog). These properties are also understood to be properties that instances of the kind are supposed to have, and instances that lack them are judged to be defective (e.g., A dog with three legs is not merely atypical, but defective). The concept DOG also provides a perspective from which to think and talk about an abstract entity — the kind dog, as such (e.g., Dogs evolved from wolves). Furthermore, DOG, NECKLACE, BOOK, PAPERCLIP, POEM, OBITUARY, ANIMAL, ROOK, FURNITURE and WOOD each belong to a distinct class of concepts that provide a distinct set of perspectives.
The abstractness, intricacy and variety of perspectives provided by even the simplest lexically expressible concepts raises a number of puzzles including: (i) How are perspectives represented? (ii) How do children acquire these perspectives? (iii) How do children know which perspectives should be mapped onto a given word? (iv) How do we learn the linguistic means by which one or another perspective provided by a concept is selected? (v) Insofar as concepts in animals are not perspectival in this way, how did they evolve?
In this talk, I provide a fragment of a formal system for generating the perspectives provided by a large range of kind concepts. The formal structure of a concept specifies the perspectives provided by the concept by providing instructions on how to think about the contentful elements of the concept. It is argued that such a generative system can help ameliorate the acquisition problems by constraining the perspectives learners consider when forming a new concept, and the evolution problem by replacing the need to explain how a large variety of perspectives evolved with how the generative system evolved. The formal system also helps account for the stability, normativity, and intersubjectivity of perspectival conceptual knowledge. Experimental evidence for many aspects of the proposed structure of kind representations will be discussed
A pizza lunch will be served at 11:45am. The seminar will begin at 12:00pm.