Bridging the Gap between Similarity and Causality: An Integrated Approach to Concepts
Oxford University Press
The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
A growing consensus in the philosophy and psychology of concepts is that while theories such as the prototype, exemplar, and theory theories successfully account for some instances of concept formation and application, none of them successfully accounts for all such instances. I argue against this ‘new consensus’ and show that the problem is, in fact, more severe: the explanatory force of each of these theories is limited even with respect to the phenomena often cited to support it, as each fails to satisfy an important explanatory desideratum with respect to these phenomena. I argue that these explanatory shortcomings arise from a shared assumption on the part of these theories, namely, they take similarity judgements and application of causal knowledge to be discrete elements in a theory of concepts. I further propose that the same assumption carries over into alternative theories offered by proponents of the new consensus: pluralism, eliminativism, and hybrid theories. I put forth a sketch of an integrated model of concept formation and application, which rejects this shared assumption and satisfies the explanatory desiderata I discuss. I suggest that this model undermines the motivation for hybrid, pluralist, and eliminativist accounts of concepts.