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Volume 30, 2013

Concepts - Contemporary and Historical Perspectives

Marcello Frixione
Pages 152-166
DOI: 10.5840/protosociology2013308

Concepts and Fat Plants
Non-Classical Categories, Typicality Effects, Ecological Constraints

During the last decades it has emerged that concepts probably do not constitute a homogeneous set of entities from a psychological point of view. Various divides can be drawn between different types of concepts. Probably, the main empirical achievement in this field has been the inadequacy of the so-called “classical view”: most concepts cannot be characterised in terms of sets of necessary and sufficient conditions; rather, they exhibit typicality effects. In this chapter I will suggest that typicality effects, far from being a symptom of some homogeneous underlying cognitive structure, are more plausibly the consequence of some “ecological constraints” acting on the mind. In other words, typicality effects could be the effect of some form of “convergent evolution” between heterogeneous mental structures. This should have important consequences on the role of the notion of “concept” itself: the status of the concept of “concept” in cognitive science should be similar to that of the concept of “fat plant” in botany, which can be of some utility in certain cases, but does not correspond to a genuine botanical kind.

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