Theory of categorization to be reviewed

by Ralph Dumain

Rescher, Nicholas; Grim, Patrick. Theory of Categories: Key Instruments of Human Understanding. London, New York: Anthem Press, 2023.

“This book offers a revisionist approach to categories, arguing that the standard philosophical approach is substantially correct in some respects, but markedly mistaken in others. The result is a distinctly pragmatic approach to categories and categorization, with implications regarding philosophical problematic and paradox in philosophy of mind, epistemology and metaphysics, philosophy of science, social philosophy and ethics.”

There are two predecessors in this collaborative effort:

•• Beyond Sets: A Venture in Collection-Theoretic Revisionism (Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag, 2010).

•• Reflexivity: From Paradox to Consciousness (Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag, 2012).

Note that the category theory of mathematical logic is not addressed in this book, but set theory is, as well as ‘deviant logics’ (Haack’s term). All levels of categorization are addressed, from perception all the way up to ethical and political, and to scientific and further up to philosophy. This is of keen interest to me for a number of reasons, including the relationship of the different levels of categorization.

The authors intend among other things to counter these misconceptions:

•• Categories are set-like entities.

•• Categories are defined by necessary and sufficient conditions.

•• Relations of similarity are to be defined in terms of category co-membership.

•• We first recognize individuals and then group them into categories.

•• Categories are to be judged in terms of whether they cut nature at its joints.

•• Categorical classifications form tree-like structures of exclusive and exhaustive sub- categories.

This makes this book even more intriguing. One thing the authors address is the inescapability of categorization even in perception. I was hoping to see Borges referenced here, and I was not disappointed (p. 21):

It is a tempting mistake to view the role of categories in generalization as a second-order operation on a predetermined first-order level of atomic individuals. Steven Harnad, a leading cognitive science researcher on categories, outlines such a view in terms of Jorge Luis Borges’s story of Ireneo Funes (Harnad 2005).

Borges’ Funes has a complete eidetic memory of every experienced detail:

[Borges’ “Funes the Memorious” quoted here]

What the story of Funes shows, Harnad concludes, is that “living in the world requires the capacity to forget or at least ignore what makes every instant infinitely unique, and hence incapable of exactly recurring.” (Harnad 2005). Categorization is the essential tool of the required generalization.

“To the extent that Funes’ experience and memory approaches that of a world of atomic particulars, however, both Funes’ and Borges’ description of that experience will be impossible. At that extreme, neither Funes nor Borges could appropriately characterize his experience as that of each leaf on a tree, nor of a particular dog from a particular angle. “Leaf,” “dog”, and “angle” are all general categories. Nor could Borges characterize Locke’s impossible language as one in which each individual has a proper name. The process of individuation itself, crucial for recognizing two things as distinct or two things rather than one, employs a mechanism to which categories are essential.

Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings is also referenced (p. 26).

Paradoxes are also addressed, and ‘dialectic’ only in the sense of argumentation. Nevertheless, dialectic in the larger philosophical senses (Hegel, Marx, etc.) are quite relevant to this subject matter, its capstone, generally speaking.

Additional works of interest by Nicholas Rescher:

Rescher, Nicholas. Aporetics: Rational Deliberation in the Face of Inconsistency. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009.

____________. Dialectics: A Controversy-Oriented Approach to the Theory of Knowledge. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977.

____________. Knowledge at the Boundaries. Cham: Springer, 2020. (Logic, Epistemology, and the Unity of Science; vol. 48) See, e.g.:

 Leibniz and “The Liar”, Chapter 10, pp. 105-111.

Did Leibniz Anticipate Gödel?” Chapter 11, pp. 113-134.

This fascinating article is especially revelatory about the issues treated and inadvertently suggests something about the temptation to resort to idealism when one confronts the problems of self-reference, paradox, and the mismatch between continuity and the discrete.

____________.“Leibniz’s Quantitative Epistemology,” Studia Leibnitiana, Bd. 36, H. 2 (2004), pp. 210-231.

____________. The Strife of Systems: An Essay on the Grounds and Implications of Philosophical Diversity. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.

Rescher is also mentioned in:

Alker, Hayward R.. Jr. “Logic, Dialectics, Politics: Some Recent Controversies,” in Dialectical Logics for the Political Sciences; guest editor, Hayward R. Alker, Jr. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1982), pp. 65-94. (Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities; v. 7)

What is the Relationship Between Logic and Reality?
by R. Dumain

Graham Priest, Paraconsistent Logic, and Philosophy, Or, Logic and Reality
by R. Dumain

Essence of dialectical method vs ideology: key links

Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Study Materials on the Web

Leibniz & Ideology: Selected Bibliography

Philosophy of Paraconsistency & Associated Logics (Web Guide)

Argumentation & Controversies: Selected Bibliography

Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking: A Guide

Reflexivity & Situatedness Study Guide

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Uploaded 16 January 2024
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