Concept Appraisal

Cognitive Science 45 (5):e12978 (2021)
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This paper reports the first empirical investigation of the hypothesis that epistemic appraisals form part of the structure of concepts. To date, studies of concepts have focused on the way concepts encode properties of objects and the way those features are used in categorization and in other cognitive tasks. Philosophical considerations show the importance of also considering how a thinker assesses the epistemic value of beliefs and other cognitive resources and, in particular, concepts. We demonstrate that there are multiple, reliably judged, dimensions of epistemic appraisal of concepts. Four of these dimensions are accounted for by a common underlying factor capturing how well people believe they understand a concept. Further studies show how dimensions of concept appraisal relate to other aspects of concepts. First, they relate directly to the hierarchical organization of concepts, reflecting the increase in specificity from superordinate to basic and subordinate levels. Second, they predict inductive choices in category-based induction. Our results suggest that epistemic appraisals of concepts form a psychologically important yet previously overlooked aspect of the structure of concepts. These findings will be important in understanding why individuals sometimes abandon and replace certain concepts; why social groups do so, for example, during a “scientific revolution”; and how we can facilitate such changes when we engage in deliberate “conceptual engineering” for epistemic, social, and political purposes.



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Author Profiles

Jake Quilty-Dunn
Washington University in St. Louis
Joulia Smortchkova
University Of Oxford
Nicholas Shea
School of Advanced Study, University of London
1 more