, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 1-22

The ‘Platforms’ for Comparing Incommensurable Taxonomies: A Cognitive-Historical Analysis

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Abstract

This paper examines taxonomy comparison from a cognitive perspective. Arguments are developed by drawing on the results of cognitive psychology, which reveal the cognitive mechanisms behind the practice of taxonomy comparison. The taxonomic change in 19th-century ornithology is also used to uncover the historical practice that ornithologists employed in the revision of the classification of birds. On the basis of cognitive and historical analyses, I argue that incommensurable taxonomies can be compared rationally. Using a frame model to represent taxonomy, I show how rational comparisons were achieved in the historical case through compatible contrast sets and attribute lists. Through analyzing the cognitive processes of classification and concept representation, I further explain how rival taxonomies in the historical case could be rationally compared on ‘platforms’ rooted in such cognitive mechanisms as relational assumptions and preferences for body parts in conceptual processing.

This revised version was published online in August 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.