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In Defense of Concept Variability

Visser, Alnica (2023) In Defense of Concept Variability. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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I present and defend the thesis of Concept Variability, the view that concepts can admit of variation in their representational contents without thereby losing their identity. I argue that the variability of concepts is central to their role in enabling cognition and thus that a concept’s content variability is, despite philosophical orthodoxy to the contrary, a feature of cognition and not a bug.
I begin by arguing for the thesis negatively, by rejecting two prominent forms of Concept Stability, according to which concepts represent a stable set of representational contents. The first is Criterial Stability, according to which concepts represent the stable criteria of their own reference (e.g. criterial definitions or criterial essences). The second is Type Stability, according to which concepts represent stable types (e.g. prototypes or stereotypes). In each case, I argue that the Stability theses fail to capture the true scope of the sorts of contents that show up in how we use our everyday concepts. I close by providing two positive arguments for Concept Variability. The first is an abductive argument, according to which Concept Variability offers a better explanation than existing competitors for the range of empirical evidence showing persistence through content variation in concept use. The second is a deductive argument, according to which content variability is a necessary condition for concepts to enable cognition, and thus retain their status as the building blocks of thought.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Visser, Alnicaalv46@pitt.edualv460000-0002-2948-9490
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairShaw, Jamesjrs164@pitt.edujrs164
Committee MemberGupta, Anilagupta@pitt.eduagupta
Committee MemberStanton, Katekatehazelstanton@pitt.edukatehazelstanton
Committee MemberWeiskopf,
Date: 6 September 2023
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 27 June 2023
Approval Date: 6 September 2023
Submission Date: 27 June 2023
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 170
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: concepts, content, cognition
Date Deposited: 07 Sep 2023 01:27
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2023 01:27


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