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Frames and concepts in the philosophy of science

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In the philosophy of science, the frame model is used in order to represent and analyze scientific concepts and conceptual change. However, the potential of the frame model is far from being fully exploited: Up to now, the frame model is only applied to a rather small set of different kinds of concepts and important advantages of the frame model for reconstructing and analyzing concepts have been neglected. In this article, we will essentially extend the frame model in the following way: We will develop a frame-based approach for representing a comprehensive class of different kinds of concepts including conjunctively and disjunctively defined concepts, family resemblance concepts, prototype concepts, operationalized concepts, dual concepts integrating two different ways of concept determination, and theoretical concepts. In order to do so, we will define different kinds of frames with respect to the logical structure of the kind of concept that is represented by a particular frame. We will exemplify our approach by means of ten frames applied to standard cases of conceptual analyses in philosophy and cognitive science as well as to scientific concepts of political science, psychology, linguistics and physics.

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  1. See Kornmesser (2016) for a frame-based analysis of a qualitative theoretical concept.

  2. The attributes are partial functions if a frame represents prototype concepts or family resemblance concepts, and functions otherwise (see below).

  3. If there are untypical birds that do not have a round or a pointed beak or that even do not have a beak at all, then the attribute beak is a partial function.

  4. Of course, there are other forms of definitions not considered in this paper like, for example, implicit definitions.

  5. We do not intend to provide a comprehensive conceptual analysis of the concept game. Maybe, there even are necessary conditions for being a game. However, the frame is supposed to exemplify Wittgenstein’s notion of family resemblance by means of his paradigmatic analysis of the concept game.

  6. For a graph-theoretical definition of a prototype frame, see Kornmesser (2016).

  7. However, there might be untypical birds that, for example, do not have legs. Thus, the attributes of a prototype frame are partial functions.

  8. However, there might be concepts that are determined by both reduction sentences and bilateral reduction sentences. In this case, we have a dual concept, according to the dual theory of concepts (see section 7).

  9. For a graph-theoretical definition of an operationalizing frame for mbr-concepts, see Kornmesser (2016).

  10. The list of constituency test introduced here is incomplete. There are further tests like coordination, pseudo-cleft sentence formation etc. (for example, see Borsley 1991, 23–26).

  11. In the next section, we will reconstruct the concept constituent as a dual concept, referring to Burton-Roberts (1997, 15-17). According to Borsley (1991, 26) and Poole (2002, 29), the constituency tests are considered to be neither necessary nor sufficient for a sequence of words to be a constituent. Rather, the tests are an instrument to identify the constituent structure of a sentence “with a considerable degree of confidence” (Borsley 1991, 26). Hence, the constituency tests can be considered to have a high cue validity that a sequence of words within a sentence is a constituent of the sentence in question, given that it passes a constituency test.

  12. Actually, there are two different operationalizations concerning the shape of basic level objects (Rosch et al. 1976, 398–405). However, for the sake of brevity, we subsume both under one single operationalization.

  13. Note that each constrained frame is a frame. Hence, the frame of Fig. 7 satisfies Def-mbrOF-(1).

  14. In a frame, the values referring to are summarized in one node of values.

  15. In order to do so, we will refer to Halliday et al. (2008, 561-627). However, the presentation of electrostatics can also be found in almost all other introductory textbooks of physics. The electrostatic force \( \overrightarrow{F} \) is a vector and the electric field \( \overrightarrow{E} \) is a vector field. In order to keep the mathematical description as simple as possible, we will refer to the magnitude F of the electrostatic force \( \overrightarrow{F} \) and to the magnitude E of the electric field \( \overrightarrow{E} \).

  16. For this point, I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer of this article.


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For valuable comments I am indebted to two anonymous referees.

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Correspondence to Stephan Kornmesser.

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Kornmesser, S. Frames and concepts in the philosophy of science. Euro Jnl Phil Sci 8, 225–251 (2018).

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