Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Dual character concepts and the normative dimension of conceptual representation

Knobe, J., Prasada, S., & Newman, G. E. (2013).
Cognition, 127(2), 242–257. 


Five experiments provide evidence for a class of ‘dual character concepts.’ Dual character concepts characterize their members in terms of both (a) a set of concrete features and (b) the abstract values that these features serve to realize. As such, these concepts provide two bases for evaluating category members and two different criteria for category membership. Experiment 1 provides support for the notion that dual character concepts have two bases for evaluation. Experiments 2–4 explore the claim that dual character concepts have two different criteria for category membership. The results show that when an object possesses the appropriate concrete features, but does not fulfill the appropriate abstract value, it is judged to be a category member in one sense but not in another. Finally, Experiment 5 uses the theory developed here to construct artificial dual character concepts and examines whether participants react to these artificial concepts in the same way as naturally occurring dual character concepts. The present studies serve to define the nature of dual character concepts and distinguish them from other types of concepts (e.g., natural kind concepts), which share some, but not all of the properties of dual character concepts. More broadly, these phenomena suggest a normative dimension in everyday conceptual representation.

Here is my summary of the research, which has its current critics:

This research challenged traditional understandings of categorization and evaluation. Dual character concepts, exemplified by terms like "artist," "scientist," and "teacher," possess two distinct dimensions:

Concrete Features: These are the observable, physical attributes or characteristics that members of the category share.

Abstract Values: These are the underlying goals, ideals, or purposes that the concrete features serve to realize.

Unlike other types of concepts, dual character concepts allow for two distinct bases for evaluation:

Good/Bad Evaluation: This assessment is based on how well the concrete features of an entity align with the expected characteristics of a category member.

True/False Evaluation: This judgment is based on whether the abstract values embedded in the concept are fulfilled by the concrete features of an entity.

This dual-pronged evaluation process leads to intriguing consequences for categorization and judgment. An object may be deemed a "good" category member based on its concrete features, yet not a "true" member if it fails to uphold the abstract values associated with the concept.

The researchers provide compelling evidence for the existence of dual character concepts through a series of experiments. These studies demonstrate that people have two distinct ways of characterizing category members and that dual character concepts influence judgments of category membership.

The concept of dual character concepts highlights the normative dimension of conceptual representation, suggesting that our concepts not only reflect the world but also embody our values and beliefs. This normative dimension shapes how we categorize objects, evaluate entities, and make decisions in our daily lives.