Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 269–277 | Cite as

How to cut a concept? Review of doing without concepts by Edouard Machery

  • Hugo MercierEmail author
Book Review


As the title “Doing without Concepts” suggests Edouard Machery argues that psychologists should stop using the notion of concept because: (1) the only interesting generalizations about concepts can be drawn at the level of types of concepts (prototypes, exemplars and theories) and not the level of concept in general; and (2) competences such as categorization or induction can rely on these different types of concepts (there is not a one to one correspondence between type of concept and competence). I try to make the point that these two elements are not wholly compatible. If several types of concepts are used to perform a given competence (point (2)), then they have to be well regulated (e.g. which type is activated when, which type wins in case of conflict). These regulatory mechanisms can then be the basis for interesting generalizations (against point (1)). On the other hand, it is possible that point (1) applies to competences as well: that there are no interesting generalizations to be drawn about categorization in general. In which case different types of categorization are likely to be underlain by different types of concepts (against point (2)). Even though the arguments laid out in the book are forceful and well supported by empirical evidence, a more positive thesis might have been both more successful rhetorically and more interesting scientifically.


Concepts Multi-process theories Philosophy and psychology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy, Politics and Economics ProgramUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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