Journal for General Philosophy of Science

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 1–22 | Cite as

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

  • Xiang Chen


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.

Kuhn incommensurability taxonomy theory choice 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiang Chen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCalifornia Lutheran UniversityThousand OaksUSA

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