Doing without Concepts

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Over recent years, the psychology of concepts has been rejuvenated by new work on prototypes, inventive ideas on causal cognition, the development of neo-empiricist theories of concepts, and the inputs of the budding neuropsychology of concepts. But our empirical knowledge about concepts has yet to be organized in a coherent framework. In Doing without Concepts, Edouard Machery argues that the dominant psychological theories of concepts fail to provide such a framework and that drastic conceptual changes are required to make sense of the research on concepts in psychology and neuropsychology. Machery shows that the class of concepts divides into several distinct kinds that have little in common with one another and that for this very reason, it is a mistake to attempt to encompass all known phenomena within a single theory of concepts. In brief, concepts are not a natural kind. Machery concludes that the theoretical notion of concept should be eliminated from the theoretical apparatus of contemporary psychology and should be replaced with theoretical notions that are more appropriate for fulfilling psychologists' goals. The notion of concept has encouraged psychologists to believe that a single theory of concepts could be developed, leading to useless theoretical controversies between the dominant paradigms of concepts. Keeping this notion would slow down, and maybe prevent, the development of a more adequate classification and would overshadow the theoretical and empirical issues that are raised by this more adequate classification. Anyone interested in cognitive science's emerging view of the mind will find Machery's provocative ideas of interest. The book is careful and provocative. Machery provides an excellent review of major issues in the psychological literature on concepts and categorization and a very useful discussion of the contrasting goals of the philosophers who study concepts and the psychologists who do. - Barbara C. Malt, Mind and Language I thoroughly enjoyed Doing without Concepts and found it immensely illuminating. Its claims about concepts brought a number of important issues into sharper focus for me...Further, Machery's discussion of categorization is among the best that I have seen. As a result of reading the book, I feel that I have a better grasp of what the reigning theories say, and of the experimental motivation for them. I also think that the book makes a genuine scientific advance. - Christopher S. Hill, Philosophical Studies Machery has written a bold, original and important book. If he's right, and I suspect that he is, then both philosophers and psychologists who write about concepts will have to do some quite fundamental rethinking. The book is an excellent example of what interdisciplinary work by a philosopher can and should be. It is philosophically sophisticated, clearly and carefully argued, and exceptionally well informed about a wide variety of empirical research. -Stephen Stich, Board of Governors Professor of Philosophy & Cognitive Science, Rutgers University Arguing that cognitive scientists should do away with concepts is like arguing that biologists should do away with genes. Machery's devastating assault has major implications for philosophy and psychology-it rattles forcefully at the foundations of these fields, and dashes the hopes of those who think we'll ever find a unified theory of thought. But it is much more than a demolition job. Machery offers a masterful, up-to-the-minute, polemical tour or recent work on learning, induction, and categorization. His bountiful insights and arguments pave a clear and promising path for the journey beyond concepts. -Jesse Prinz, CUNY Graduate Center