Event Detail

Fri Feb 11, 2011
5101 Tolman, 11 AM–1 PM
Institute of Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Michael Strevens (NYU)
Theoretical Terms without Definitions

How are new theoretical terms – such as ‘magnetism’, ‘phlogiston’, ‘phylum’, ‘gene’, ‘general intelligence’, ‘symbolic capital’ – introduced into science? The classical view is that a term is introduced by framing a definition. The currently most popular view is different, but still involves something like a definition (a ‘stipulative truth’). But there is reason to think that many scientific theories contain few or no definitions or other stipulative truths, suggesting that the terms in these theories got there some other way. How? I look for answers in recent work on the psychology of natural kind concepts, and posit a new kind of scientific speech act that is capable of simultaneously saying something empirically contentful (not making a mere stipulation) while also conferring semantic significance of a sort on a term that appears for the first time in the assertion in question. The talk will be about one-half philosophy and one-half psychology.