Call for papers: Res per nomen 6 – Abstract categories and reference

Abstract categories and reference

The Res per nomen conferences are traditionally devoted to reference, i.e. the necessary link between language and our common and individual experience of the world. Res per nomen 6 will deal with the question of categories, especially abstract categories. There are three traditional ways of approaching categories. The most intuitive, which is also the most ancient as it goes back to Antiquity, is usually labelled realist or logical: categories are the names of sets of natural objects, for example trees or fish. Membership of such or such a set is then assigned by deciding whether an individual occurrence is endowed with the necessary and sufficient conditions typical of the set. Yet this approach generates a number of problems, especially ontological (what is the worldly nature of categories?) and functional (how do we decide whether or not palm-trees are trees and whales fish?). It was challenged from the middle of the XXth onward by a more cognitive approach according to which categories are concepts located in the brain either by nature or by learning, or both, which we project onto the world: if whales can be put into same category as fish, it is because they look very much alike. According to the third approach, the nominalist approach, there are no categories in the universe, there are only individual occurrences. The category is then a meta-linguistic construct built from a very specific use of names, i.e. their capacity of referring to a variety of objects which seem to bear a resemblance, thus lumping them together into a category.

Abstract categories are even more difficult to specify than real-world ones: to what entities do words such as beauty, truth, love and freedom refer? Res per nomen 6 intends to dwell on this particular aspect of categories, as usual from both linguistic and / or philosophical points of view. Most theories address abstract categories as a sort of extension of real-world categories, not always very convincingly. Maybe the time has come to take stock of the problem, and this is why all theories will be welcome as long as they deal centrally with the question of abstract categories.

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