BARBERIS Sergio Daniel
congresos y reuniones científicas
Do concepts constitute a natural kind?
Villa General Belgrano
Workshop; I Coloquio sobre Conceptos y Percepción; 2010
Institución organizadora:
Universidad Nacional de Córdoba
In his recent book Doing without Concepts (2009), Edouard Machery criticizes the so-called natural kind assumption, according to which the psychological entities that fall under the extension of “concept” constitute a natural kind. Both cognitive psychologists and philosophers of psychology have endorsed this assumption. Prinz (2002) and Weiskopf (2009) explicitly held it. Machery’s argument from explanatory necessity aims to demonstrate that our best cognitive theories about concepts postulate different kinds of theoretical entities for the functional role of concepts – namely, prototypes, exemplars and theories – and that those entities “have too little in common” to group together in a non-arbitrary (natural) kind. Machery’s objection is simply mistaken. In many cases, the properties that we use to identify a kind are the same that result scientifically relevant to establish that kind as a “natural” one. Let us consider the case of the dog class. Obviously, we identify dogs by properties such as being quadruped, barking, having a tail, behaving in such-and-such way, etc. But those are the same properties that tend to be shared by the members of the species in virtue of underlying causal mechanisms (DNA configuration, selective pressures, etc.) and, therefore, those are the properties that are relevant for determining that dog picks up a natural kind. Machery’s argument is trapped in a confusion between identifying the kind of concepts and defining the kind of concepts. He seems to be implying that the C-properties cannot be used to vindicate the natural kind assumption because those properties are definitional features of “concept”, just like being a dog and being white are definitional properties of the “white dog” class. But this analogy is doomed to failure. The C-properties are not components of a definition of “concept” but parts of a philosophical elucidation of “concept” that, precisely, exhibits the common features to prototypes, exemplars and theories.