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Concept


A concept is an abstract idea representing the fundamental characteristics of what it represents. Concepts arise as abstractions or generalisations from experience or the result of a transformation of existing ideas. The concept is by all of its actual or potential instances, whether these are things in the real world or other ideas. Concepts are treated in many if not most disciplines both explicitly, such as in linguistics, psychology, philosophy, etc., and implicitly, such as in mathematics, physics, etc. In use the word concept often just means any idea, but formally it involves the abstraction component. These concepts are then stored in long term memory

In metaphysics, and especially ontology, a concept is a fundamental category of existence. In contemporary philosophy, there are at least three prevailing ways to understand what a concept is:

There are hierarchical organizations of concepts and they are at the top, superordinate, the middle basic level categories, and at the bottom, subordinate categories. It would go furniture, chair, and easy chair.

The term "concept" is traced back to 1554–60 (Latin – "something conceived"), but what is today termed "the classical theory of concepts" is the theory of Aristotle on the definition of terms. The meaning of "concept" is explored in mainstream information science,cognitive science, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind. In computer and information science contexts, especially, the term 'concept' is often used in unclear or inconsistent ways.

In a platonist theory of mind, concepts are construed as abstract objects. This debate concerns the ontological status of concepts – what they are really like.



  • It seems that there simply are no definitions – especially those based in sensory primitive concepts.
  • It seems as though there can be cases where our ignorance or error about a class means that we either don't know the definition of a concept, or have incorrect notions about what a definition of a particular concept might entail.
  • Quine's argument against analyticity in Two Dogmas of Empiricism also holds as an argument against definitions.
  • Some concepts have fuzzy membership. There are items for which it is vague whether or not they fall into (or out of) a particular referent class. This is not possible in the classical theory as everything has equal and full membership.
  • Rosch found typicality effects which cannot be explained by the classical theory of concepts, these sparked the prototype theory. See below.
  • Psychological experiments show no evidence for our using concepts as strict definitions.
  • Armstrong, S. L., Gleitman, L. R., & Gleitman, H. (1999). what some concepts might not be. In E. Margolis, & S. Lawrence, Concepts (pp. 225–261). Massachusetts: MIT press.
  • Carey, S. (1999). knowledge acquisition: enrichment or conceptual change? In E. Margolis, & S. Lawrence, concepts: core readings (pp. 459–489). Massachusetts: MIT press.
  • Fodor, J. A., Garrett, M. F., Walker, E. C., & Parkes, C. H. (1999). against definitions. In E. Margolis, & S. Lawrence, concepts: core readings (pp. 491–513). Massachusetts: MIT press.
  • Fodor, J., & LePore, E. (1996). the pet fish and the red Herring: why concept still can't be prototypes. cognition, 253–270.
  • Hume, D. (1739). book one part one: of the understanding of ideas, their origin, composition, connexion, abstraction etc. In D. Hume, a treatise of human nature. England.
  • Murphy, G. (2004). Chapter 2. In G. Murphy, a big book of concepts (pp. 11 – 41). Massachusetts: MIT press.
  • Murphy, G., & Medin, D. (1999). the role of theories in conceptual coherence. In E. Margolis, & S. Lawrence, concepts: core readings (pp. 425–459). Massachusetts: MIT press.
  • Prinz, J. J. (2002). Desiderata on a Theory of Concepts. In J. J. Prinz, Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and their Perceptual Basis (pp. 1–23). Massechusettes: MIT press.
  • Putnam, H. (1999). is semantics possible? In E. Margolis, & S. Lawrence, concepts: core readings (pp. 177–189). Massachusetts: MIT press.
  • Quine, W. (1999). two dogmas of empiricism. In E. Margolis, & S. Lawrence, concepts: core readings (pp. 153–171). Massachusetts: MIT press.
  • Rey, G. (1999). Concepts and Stereotypes. In E. Margolis, & S. Laurence (Eds.), Concepts: Core Readings (pp. 279–301). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Rosch, E. (1977). Classification of real-world objects: Origins and representations in cognition. In P. Johnson-Laird, & P. Wason, Thinking: Readings in Cognitive Science (pp. 212–223). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Rosch, E. (1999). Principles of Categorization. In E. Margolis, & S. Laurence (Eds.), Concepts: Core Readings (pp. 189–206). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Schneider, S. (2011). Concepts: A Pragmatist Theory. In S.Schneider, The Language of Thought: a New Direction. Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Wittgenstein, L. (1999). philosophical investigations: sections 65–78. In E. Margolis, & S. Lawrence, concepts: core readings (pp. 171–175). Massachusetts: MIT press.
  • The History of Calculus and its Conceptual Development, Carl Benjamin Boyer, Dover Publications,
  • The Writings of William James, University of Chicago Press,
  • Logic, Immanuel Kant, Dover Publications,
  • A System of Logic, John Stuart Mill, University Press of the Pacific,
  • Parerga and Paralipomena, Arthur Schopenhauer, Volume I, Oxford University Press,
  • Kant's Metaphysic of Experience, H. J. Paton, London: Allen & Unwin, 1936
  • Conceptual Integration Networks. Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner, 1998. Cognitive Science. Volume 22, number 2 (April–June 1998), pages 133–187.
  • The Portable Nietzsche, Penguin Books, 1982,
  • Stephen Laurence and Eric Margolis "Concepts and Cognitive Science". In Concepts: Core Readings, MIT Press pp. 3–81, 1999.
  • Birger Hjørland. (2009). Concept Theory. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 60(8), 1519–1536
  • Georgij Yu. Somov (2010). Concepts and Senses in Visual Art: Through the example of analysis of some works by Bruegel the Elder. Semiotica 182 (1/4), 475–506.
  • Daltrozzo J, Vion-Dury J, Schön D. (2010). Music and Concepts. Horizons in Neuroscience Research 4: 157–167.
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