The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Conceptual Holism

Inspired by Willard Quine's holism (“Two Dogmas of Empiricism”, 1951), the US psychologist Frank Keil argues that concepts are always related to other concepts. No concept can be understood in isolation from all other concepts. Concepts are not simple sets of features.  Concepts embody "systematic sets of causal beliefs" about the world and contain implicit explanations about the world. Concepts are embedded in theories about the world, and they can only be understood in the context of such theories. 

In particular, natural kinds (such as “gold”) are not defined by a set of features or by a prototype: they derive their concept from the causal structure that underlies them and explains their superficial features. They are defined by a "causal homeostatic system", which tends to stability over time in order to maximize categorizing. 

Nominal kinds (e.g., "odd numbers") and artifacts (e.g., "cars") are similarly defined by the theories they are embedded in, although such theories are qualitatively different. There is a continuum between pure nominal kinds and pure natural kinds with increasing “well-definedness” as we move towards natural kinds.

What develops over time is the awareness of the network of causal relations and mechanisms that are responsible for the essential properties of a natural kind. The theory explaining a natural kind gets refined over the years.

 


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