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Similarity‐based theories of concepts have a broad intuitive appeal and have been successful in accounting for various phenomena related to the formation and application of concepts. Their adequacy as theories of concepts has been questioned, however, as similarity is often taken as too flexible, too unconstrained, to be explanatory of categorization. In this article, I propose an account of similarity that takes the "foil" against which the target items are measured as integral to the process of comparison, making the similarity relation a fundamentally triadic one. I argue that this account delivers more internal constraints on the process of comparison than the traditional, dyadic account of similarity does. Finally, I propose that this account is advantageous for a similarity‐based theory of concepts, as it easily integrates with the notion of conceptual taxonomy and uses it to deliver additional constraints on categorization. On such a theory of concepts, the foil, whose variability is in large part responsible for the flexible nature of similarity judgements, is turned within the framework of conceptual taxonomy to the very element that constrains similarity judgements in categorization. Therefore, this notion of similarity mitigates the worry that similarity is too flexible to be explanatory of categorization.


Accepted version. Theoria : A Swedish Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 1 (February 2021): 31-68. DOI. © 2021 Wiley. Used with permission.

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