What is the Role of Conceptual Analysis in Cognitive Science?


Cognitive scientists sometimes find themselves embroiled in debates over the precise definitions of high-level concepts in their fields – COGNITION, EMOTION, SENSE, and so on. The idea behind these debates seems to be that achieving a precise definition of these concepts will be a boon to scientific inquiry. We argue that these efforts of conceptual analysis would benefit from greater appreciation of the importance of such high-level concepts in supporting association or semantic priming, as opposed to deduction. In this associative role, they provide the basis for making connections between related concepts, connections that can then be explored by empirical methods, which in turn yield more precise, but often quite novel, concepts. In combination with well-established work in cognitive psychology on the non-classical structure of natural concepts, this perspective suggests that researchers should be cautious about investing substantial time and energy in attempts to precisely define concepts like COGNITION.

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