Essentialism as a Generative Theory of Classification

Bob Rehder

in Causal Learning

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780195176803
Published online April 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199958511 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Series in Cognitive Development

Essentialism as a Generative Theory of Classification

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Essentialism is the view that kinds are defined by underlying properties or characteristics (an essence) that is shared by all category members and by members of no other categories and that are presumed to generate, or cause, perceptual features. Although unobservable, essential features can nonetheless affect classification by changing the evidence that observable features provide for category membership. This chapter proposes treating essentialized categories as a generative causal model and provides evidence for four phenomena that follow from this view: (a) classification as diagnostic reasoning; (b) classification as prospective reasoning; (c) boundary intensification; and (d) the effect of coherence on classification. The chapter also characterizes the development of conceptual knowledge in terms of an evolving set of causal models.

Keywords: essentialism; classification; conceptual development; concept representation; diagnostic reasoning; generative models

Chapter.  10644 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Developmental Psychology

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