Philosophical Studies

, Volume 140, Issue 3, pp 359–384

The origins of concepts

Article

Abstract

Certain of our concepts are innate, but many others are learned. Despite the plausibility of this claim, some have argued that the very idea of concept learning is incoherent. I present a conception of learning that sidesteps the arguments against the possibility of concept learning, and sketch several mechanisms that result in the generation of new primitive concepts. Given the rational considerations that motivate their deployment, I argue that these deserve to be called learning mechanisms. I conclude by replying to the objections that these mechanisms cannot produce genuinely new content and cannot be part of genuinely cognitive explanations.

Keywords

Concepts Learning Acquisition Nativism Innateness Language of thought 

References

  1. Antony, L. M. (2001). Empty heads. Mind and Language, 16, 193–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ariew, A. (2007). Innateness. In M. Matthen & C. Stephens (Eds.), Handbook of the philosophy of biology (pp. 567–584). Amsterdam: North Holland.Google Scholar
  3. Barsalou, L. W. (1999). Perceptual symbol systems. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 577–609.Google Scholar
  4. Bateson, P. (1990). Is imprinting such a special case? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B, 329, 125–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bateson, P. (2000). What must be known in order to understand imprinting? In C. Heyes, & L. Huber (Eds.), The evolution of cognition (pp. 85–102). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bloom, P. (2000). How children learn the meanings of words. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bolhuis, J. J. (1991). Mechanisms of avian imprinting: A review. Biological Reviews, 66, 303–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carruthers, P. (2002). The cognitive functions of language. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 657–674.Google Scholar
  9. Cowie, F. (1999). What’s within? Nativism reconsidered. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Devitt, M., & Sterelny, K. (1999). Language and reality (2nd ed.). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  11. Fodor, J. (1975). The language of thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Fodor, J. (1981). The present status of the innateness controversy. In Representations (pp. 257–316). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  13. Fodor, J. (1994). Concepts: A potboiler. Cognition, 50, 95–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fodor, J. (1998). Concepts. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Fodor, J. (2001). Doing without What’s Within: Fiona Cowie’s critique of nativism. Mind, 110, 99–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gardner, T. J., Naef, F., & Nottebohm, F. (2005). Freedom and rules: The acquisition and reprogramming of a bird’s learned song. Science, 308, 1046–1049.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gibson, J. J., & Gibson, E. J. (1955). Perceptual learning: Differentiation or enrichment? Psychological Review, 62, 32–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Goldstone, R. L. (1998). Perceptual learning. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 585–612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hampton, J. A. (1995). Similarity-based categorization: The development of prototype theory. Psychologica Belgica, 35, 103–125.Google Scholar
  20. Jackendoff, R. (1983). Semantics and cognition. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  21. Jackendoff, R. (1992a). What is a concept, that a person may grasp it? In Languages of the Mind (pp. 21–52). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  22. Jackendoff, R. (1992b). Word meanings and what it takes to learn them. In Languages of the Mind (pp. 53–67). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  23. Jackendoff, R. (1997). The architecture of the language faculty. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  24. Jeshion, R. (2004). Descriptive descriptive names. In M. Reimer & A. Bezuidenhout (Eds.), Descriptions and beyond (pp. 591–612). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Juszyk, P. (1997). The discovery of spoken language. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  26. Katz, J. J. (1992). The new intensionalism. Mind, 101, 689–719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kroon, F. W. (1985). Theoretical terms and the causal view of reference. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 63, 143–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. LaBerge, D. (1973). Attention and the measurement of perceptual learning. Memory and Cognition, 1, 268–276.Google Scholar
  29. Landy, D., & Goldstone, R. L. (2005). How we learn about things we don’t already understand. Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, 17, 343–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Laurence, S., & Margolis, E. (2002). Radical concept nativism. Cognition, 86, 25–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Levinson, S. C. (2003). Language and mind: Let’s get the issues straight! In D. Gentner & S. Goldin-Meadow (Eds.), Language in mind: Advances in the study of language and thought (pp. 25–46). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  32. Margolis, E. (1998). How to acquire a concept. Mind and Language, 13, 347–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Miller, G. A., & Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1976). Language and perception. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Millikan, R. G. (2000). On clear and confused ideas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Nazzi, T., & Gopnik, A. (2001). Linguistic and cognitive abilities in infancy: When does language become a tool for categorization? Cognition, 80, B11–B20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nosofsky, R. M. (1986). Attention, similarity, and the identification-categorization relationship. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 115, 39–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Piattelli-Palmarini, M. (1989). Evolution, selection, and cognition: From “learning” to parameter setting in biology and the study of language. Cognition, 31, 1–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Prinz, J. (2002). Furnishing the mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  39. Pustejovsky, J. (1995). The generative lexicon. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  40. Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1984). Computation and cognition. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  41. Reimer, M. (2004). Descriptively introduced names. In M. Reimer & A. Bezuidenhout (Eds.), Descriptions and beyond (pp. 613–629). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Rey, G. (1992). Semantic externalism and conceptual competence. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 82, 315–334.Google Scholar
  43. Roelofs, A. (1997). A case for nondecomposition in conceptually driven word retrieval. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 26, 33–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rosch, E., Mervis, C. B., Gray, W. D., Johnson, D. M., & Boyes-Braem, P. (1976). Basic objects in natural categories. Cognitive Psychology, 8, 382–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rupert, R. (2001). Coining terms in the language of thought: Innateness, emergence, and the lot of Cummins’ argument against the causal theory of mental content. Journal of Philosophy, 98, 499–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Samet, J. (1986). Troubles with Fodor’s nativism. In P. French, T. E. Uehling Jr., & H. Wettstein (Eds.), Midwest studies in philosophy: Studies in the philosophy of mind (Vol. 10, pp. 575–594). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  47. Schank, R. C., Collins, G. C., & Hunter, L. E. (1986). Transcending inductive category formation in learning. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9, 639–686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Schyns, P. G., Goldstone, R. L., & Thibaut, J.-P. (1998). The development of features in object concepts. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 1–54.Google Scholar
  49. Staddon, J. E. R. (2003). Adaptive behavior and learning. Retrieved 5/1/2007, from http://psychweb.psych.duke.edu/department/jers/abl/TableC.htmGoogle Scholar
  50. Sterelny, K. (1989). Fodor’s nativism. Philosophical Studies, 55, 119–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. ten Cate, C. (1994). Perceptual mechanisms in imprinting and song learning. In: J. A. Hogan & J. J. Bolhuis (Eds.), Causal mechanisms of behavioural development (pp. 116–146). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  52. van Kempen, H. S. (1996). A framework for the study of filial imprinting and the development of attachment. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 3, 3–20.Google Scholar
  53. Viger, C. (2005). Learning to think: A response to the Language of Thought argument for innateness. Mind and Language, 20, 313–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Waxman, S. R. (1990). Linguistic biases and the establishment of conceptual hierarchies. Cognitive Development, 5, 123–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Waxman, S. R. (1999). The dubbing ceremony revisited: Object naming and categorization in infancy, early childhood. In D. L. Medin & S. Atran (Eds.), Folkbiology (pp. 233–284). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  56. Waxman, S. R., & Gelman, R. (1986). Preschoolers’ use of superordinate relations in classification and language. Cognitive Development, 1, 139–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Weiskopf, D. A. (2007a). Atomism, pluralism, and conceptual content. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  58. Weiskopf, D. A. (2007b). Concept empiricism and the vehicles of thought. Journal of Consciousness Studies (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  59. Xu, F. (2002). The role of language in acquiring object kind concepts in infancy. Cognition, 85, 223–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

Personalised recommendations