Concepts as Representations for Essences: Evidence from Use of Generics

Iris OvedUniversity of California, San Diego
Pierina CheungUniversity of Waterloo
David BarnerUniversity of California, San Diego

Abstract

This paper compares descriptivist approaches for concept acquisition with essentialist approaches by exploring the conditions under which people use generic sentences (sentences such as ‘Apples are round’ which contrast with sentences about particulars like ‘All/most of the apples are round’). It fleshes out the essentialist approach in terms of the Baptism theory of concept acquisition (Oved, 2009; 2014), which is made precise with an implementation in which concepts are values of latent variables in a Bayesian network, posited as explanations for observed patterns in objects’ perceptible properties (Oved & Fasel, 2011). Two experiments measuring the use of generics are described and used as support for this essentialist approach over descriptivist approaches.

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