How (not) to give a theory of concepts

This paper presents the lineaments of a new account of concepts. The foundations of the account are four ideas taken from recent cognitive science, though most of them have important philosophical precursors. The first is the idea that human conceptuality shares important continuities with psychological faculties of other animals, and indeed that there is a well-distinguished hierarchy of such faculties that extend up and down the phylogenetic scale. While it would very likely be a mistake to look at some conglomeration of these simpler abilities and assert that we have produced a reductive account of human conceptuality, an examination of these will lend insights into essential features of human conceptuality in a non-reductive, non-exhaustive manner. The second idea is that an important function of both human concepts and of their protoconceptual ancestors in the animal kingdom is to make distinctions or discriminations. We shall thus look at the human conceptual apparatus as being, in large part, a discrimination engine. How are these discriminations realized in humans and other beings? Presumably, some discriminative mechanisms are innate, while others are acquired through learning. But how is learning accomplished? The third idea from cognitive science is that adaptive discrimination is realized through neural networks, and that the properties of this realizing system explains familiar features of human thought that seem puzzling when viewed through other lenses, such as the logical analysis of language. The fourth and.
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