My main research interest is the study of concepts – the mental categories with which we carve up the world, and which enable us to integrate our experiences and generalize from them. My research program is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on my training in both philosophy and science. My current work falls into two interrelated projects: The first draws on literature in cognitive science to address questions about the formation and application of concepts. The second applies these ideas in the examination of scientific concepts, and the roles they play in investigative practice.
I. Concept Formation and Application
My work aims to add to the philosophical and psychological literature on concepts. I am especially interested in the role of similarity judgments in categorization (and in questions about how we should understand the notion of similarity itself). I have recently argued that similarity is indispensable for a theory of concepts and that a proper understanding of similarity alleviates a central worry about the explanatory value of similarity in a theory of concepts. My current projects further explore various aspects of concept formation and concept application, such as context-dependency and compositionality. These studies combine theoretical analysis with empirical studies, conducted as part of The Philosophy Lab project (in collaboration with the Nielson Lab).
II. The Development and Use of Scientific Concepts
My work addresses the following questions: How are scientific concepts formed and used? How are they modified as scientific knowledge expands? What are their various roles in scientific investigation? How are scientific concepts related to objective structures in the world? To answer these questions, I examine case-studies in biology, and analyze the formation and application of scientific concepts, as well as their modification throughout periods of theoretical change. This analysis is performed in light of data from cognitive science about the structure and functions of concepts zooming in, again, on the role of similarity and its implications. I have argued, for example, that the constitutive role of similarity in conceptual taxonomy both provides scientific concepts with stability and facilitates their accommodation of new phenomena, and that a similarity-based taxonomy is compatible with the realist project of grounding scientific kinds. My current projects examine the theoretical commitments involved in the early stages of the formation of scientific concepts.