Non-elementary concepts

I was reading Jerry Fodor’s “Concepts: a potboiler“, and got the impression – perhaps wrong – that an important problem is that we are missing a way to discover or make (not sure which of them) true concept definitions. By true, It looks like he means definitions of concepts in the mind, or what a concept is in the mind.

He closes by saying that “Concepts are the constituents of thoughts; as such, they are the most elementary mental objects that have both causal and representational properties.”

I’m not sure why all concepts would be the most elementary mental objects. When we design and engineer new things, such as new software for example, we make up new abstractions that have representational properties (they refer to other physical or abstract objects) and causal properties (they designate specific inferences, or patterns of thought). So these new abstractions seem to be concepts in the above sense, but since they are defined from other abstractions, they do not seem to be elementary.

Often the process of engineering ontologies for information systems amounts to assert precisely that the new abstractions are not elementary, but references to physical objects (such as all items of a product currently in an actual warehouse) and/or references to other abstractions (such as the concept of barcode, not the instance of it, which would be a particular barcode), and/or references to reasoning we can do of/with/about these physical objects and abstractions (for example, that a barcode can be a unique identifier for a set of actual physical products, and that if we scan a barcode when a product arrives, we can record that in some database and keep track of inventory levels). These non-elementary concepts are, so to speak, abbreviations of other, perhaps elementary concepts.

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Ivan Jureta

I hold the Senior Researcher (Chercheur qualifié) position with the Belgian national research fund (Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique – FNRS, Brussels) and am Associate Professor with the Department of Business Administration, University of Namur. My principal research interest is in method engineering and method automation, focusing on the elicitation, modeling and analysis of knowledge that human experts apply in problem solving and decision making, the engineering of ontologies and processes capturing that knowledge, and the automation of the said processes. This interest falls within the various research fields concerned with the transfer, preservation and automation of knowledge. I am the author of “Analysis and Design of Advice” (Springer, 2011) and have published over 50 research papers on these topics within the fields of requirements engineering, business analysis, and conceptual modeling of information systems. I organize and chair the series of International Workshops on Modeling and Reasoning for Business Intelligence (MORE-BI), held in Brussels in 2011 and Florence in 2012. I serve on scientific committees of the IEEE International Requirements Engineering Conference (RE), the International Conference on Advanced Information Systems Engineering (CAiSE), and the International Conference on Conceptual Modeling (ER). In parallel, I am / have been involved with several startups at CxO level and have held lead roles in Product Design for web and digital services that today serve more than 500.000 people every day.