Generics as reflecting conceptual knowledge

James A. Hampton
2012 Recherches Linguistiques de Vincennes  
Generics are proposed to reflect the content of the conceptual system, whose prototype structure and vague boundaries make an unreliable basis for traditional treatments of truth and logic. Examples from the psychological literature are used to illustrate the relation between generics, similarity-based reasoning and concepts. Statements that we make about the world are generic statements (including this one). Although we may state them with confidence, and we may be taken to be telling the
more » ... be telling the truth by our listeners, yet if interpreted as expressing a universal truth, then they may very likely be false. Our knowledge of the world depends on an informational structure that is constructed from individual concept representations. These representations themselves contain or point to information that is considered germane and relevant to an understanding and familiarity with that concept. Such information includes fundamental or ontological features, such as that water is H 2 O and a liquid, but also information about the common or typical form that exemplars of the concept may take (ice, steam, fog), and any other information that it is important for someone to know (water freezes at zero degrees Celsius). One method that psychologists have used to explore conceptual contents is the "feature listing" task. Hampton (1979) developed an elaborated version of this task, aimed at making explicit the conceptual content underlying the meaning of some familiar category names such as Fruits, Sports and Vehicles. Participants were interviewed and asked seven different
doi:10.4000/rlv.2036 fatcat:noog7k4qo5c7nkz5oh4r5btn4y