Hypothesis formation and testing in the acquisition of representationally simple concepts

Philosophical Studies 172 (1):227-247 (2015)
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Observations from philosophy and psychology heavily favor the Empiricist tenet that many lexical concepts are learned. However, many observations also heavily favor the Nativist tenet that such concepts are representationally atomic. Fodor Representations: Philosophical essays on the foundations of cognitive science, 1981, LOT2: The language of thought revisited, 2008) has famously argued that representationally atomic concepts cannot be learned, at least not learned by hypothesis formation and testing. Concept theorists who want to preserve observations about concept learning have developed acquisition models on which the acquired concepts are either non-atomic or are acquired by a process that doesn’t involve hypothesis formation and testing. I offer a model, Baptizing Meanings for Concepts, in which representationally atomic concepts are learned by hypothesis formation and testing. The concepts are learned by the agent’s hypothesizing the existence of a latent/hidden/imperceptible property in objects to explain the objects’ perceptible similarities. Once a hidden property is hypothesized, a new atomic mental name is assigned to it, and this atomic name becomes the concept. Any connections between the name and the representations involved in linking the name to its referent are stored as contingent. Further experience may give the agent reason to revise its hypotheses about latent properties as explanations for its observations. I discuss a software robot implementation of the BMC process that uses a Bayesian learning network. The implementation provides an existence proof of the possibility of learning representationally atomic concepts by hypothesis formation and testing



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Iris Oved
University of Arizona

References found in this work

The Language of Thought.Jerry A. Fodor - 1975 - Harvard University Press.
Naming and Necessity: Lectures Given to the Princeton University Philosophy Colloquium.Saul A. Kripke - 1980 - Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Edited by Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel.
Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference.Judea Pearl - 2000 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
The origin of concepts.Susan Carey - 2009 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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