Abstraction and the Origin of General Ideas

Philosophers' Imprint 12 (19):1-22 (2012)
Abstract
Philosophers have often claimed that general ideas or representations have their origin in abstraction, but it remains unclear exactly what abstraction as a psychological process consists in. We argue that the Lockean aspiration of using abstraction to explain the origins of all general representations cannot work and that at least some general representations have to be innate. We then offer an explicit framework for understanding abstraction, one that treats abstraction as a computational process that operates over an innate quality space of fine-grained general representations. We argue that this framework has important philosophical implications for the nativism-empiricism dispute, for questions about the acquisition of unstructured representations, and for questions about the relation between human and animal minds.
Keywords Abstraction  Concepts  Conceptual development  Nativism  Empiricism  Locke
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