A common structure for concepts of individuals, stuffs, and real kinds: More Mama, more milk, and more mouse

Ruth Garrett Millikan
1998 Behavioral and Brain Sciences  
I present a nondescriptionist theory of the nature of our most basic empirical concepts, concepts of what Aristotle called "substances": stuffs (gold, milk), real kinds (cat, chair) and individuals (Mama, Mount Washington). Surprisingly, our root concepts of these are identical in structure. Their extensions are natural units in nature, to which concepts do something like pointing, bypassing reference to properties the thinker represents them as having and theories about them. The difficulty,
more » ... . The difficulty, of course, is to cash out the metaphor of "pointing" in this context (c.f., Putnam's "indexicality"). A second aim is to show how this kind of concept interacts with language. ABSTRACT Concepts, taken as items that the psyche "acquires", are highly theoretical entities. There is no way to study them empirically without committing oneself to substantial preliminary assumptions about their nature. One aim of this paper is to show how, throughout the changing variety of competing theories of concepts and categorization developed by psychologists in the last thirty years, the implicit theoretical assumption of descriptionism has never seriously been challenged. I present a nondescriptionist theory of the nature of the most basic concepts that we possess, concepts of what I will call "substances," following Aristotle.
doi:10.1017/s0140525x98000405 fatcat:hqvlpgned5fmbbeveyujj6egc4