, Volume 193, Issue 1, pp 145–166 | Cite as

A frame-based approach for theoretical concepts

  • Stephan Kornmesser


According to a seminal paper by Barsalou (Frames, fields, and contrasts, 1992), frames are attribute-value-matrices for representing exemplars or concepts. Frames have been used as a tool for reconstructing scientific concepts as well as conceptual change within scientific revolutions (Andersen and Nersessian, in Philos Sci 67:224–241, 2000; Chen and Barker, in Philos Sci 67:208–223, 2000; Chen, in Philos Sci 70:962–974, 2003; Barker et al., in Thomas Kuhn, 2003; Andersen et al., in The cognitive structure of scientific revolutions, 2006; Votsis and Schurz, in Stud Hist Philos Sci 43:105–114, 2012, in Concept types and frames. Application in language, cognition, and science, 2014). In the frame-based representations of scientific concepts developed so far the semantic content of concepts is (partially) determined by a set of attribute-specific values. This way of representing semantic content works best for prototype concepts and defined concepts of a conceptual taxonomy satisfying the no-overlap principle. In addition to the semantic content of prototype concepts and defined concepts, frames can also contain empirical knowledge that is represented as constraints between the values of the frame. Beside prototype concepts and defined concepts, theoretical concepts that are multiply operationalized play an important role in science. However, so far no frame-based representation of theoretical concepts has been proposed. In this paper, it will be shown that theoretical concepts can be represented by frames and that frame-based representations of prototype concepts and defined concepts have another structure than frame-based representations of theoretical concepts. In order to explicate this difference, we will develop a frame-based method for representing all three kinds of concepts by means of mathematical graph-theory. One important consequence will be that the constraints of a frame representing a theoretical concept are entailed by the structure of the frame, as opposed to a frame representing defined or prototype concepts.


Frame Prototype concepts Defined concepts Theoretical concepts Multiple operationalizations Graph theory 



For valuable comments I am indebted to Michael Schippers, Mark Siebel, and two anonymous referees.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PhilosophyCarl von Ossietzky Universität OldenburgOldenburgGermany

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