chapter  9
14 Pages

LEARNING AND CONCEPT FORMATION

As we learn to make our way in the world, we learn to recognise individual things as instances of certain kinds. Animals can do this as well; their ability to recognise sources of food, danger and so on is essential to their well-being and survival. But in human beings this recognitional ability is not only more complex, it is also largely bound up with the use of language. In acts of judgement, questioning, wishing, promising and so on, we make distinctions that underpin our ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood, between compliance and non-compliance, between fulfilment and non-fulfilment and between sincerity and insincerity. Animal recognitional abilities, together with nondiscursive agreements in judgement, form the bedrock of the complex of discursive concept-using abilities that are exercised in everyday life.1 Learning, then, involves the acquisition and the exercise of these complex recognitional abilities, both discursively and also in non-linguistic acts of judgement, etc. which are nevertheless language dependent. These abilities are essential to both the practical and the theoretical side of our life. These recognitional abilities are called concepts and it is the acquisition of concepts that forms the subject of this chapter. On this matter there is a significant divergence between Cartesianism and empiricism, although both traditions locate the acquisition of concepts within the mind of an ab initio solitary, rather than an individual born into a social milieu. Both traditions remain influential, although they have been challenged, notably by philosophers working in a Wittgensteinian tradition.2 More recently, there have been attempts both to revive the Cartesian tradition and to redefine empiricism with some help from the Cartesian tradition.3