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Perception and Inference in the Acquisition of Simple Concepts
Monday, January 26, 2009, 01:00pm - 02:00pm
Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University
In this talk, we explore a theory of concept acquisition that aims to
appease tensions in the debate between Concept Empiricism and Concept
Nativism. The debate focuses on lexical concepts -ideas of kinds and
properties that tend to be named with single words in natural languages
(concepts like APPLE, CAT, LADDER, JUMP, FURRY). Presently the discussion
is limited to lexical concepts of natural kinds, and only those of objects
and substances whose instances are perceptible. According to the theory I
offer, the Baptism of Mental Terms (BMT), many such concepts can be
acquired by forming a mental description that appeals to clusters of
objects in perceptual experience. Instead of taking the cluster or its
description to be the concept, as many theorists do, I suggest that the
cluster is used by agents as an indication of an underlying essence or
natural kind. By assigning a new simple mental name to the essence/kind
that is picked out by the mental description, this model resolves tensions
in the concepts debate. The theory is a result of considerations from the
philosophical, psychological, and artificial intelligence debates on the
relationship between perception and concepts.