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Concept theory and the role of conceptual coherence in assessments of similarity.

Louise Spiteri

ASIS&T 2008 Annual Meeting (AM08 2008)
Columbus, Ohio, October 24-29, 2008


This paper examines how conceptual coherence is defined and explored in existing concept theories. It will be argued that traditional similarity-based theories do not provide an adequate account for conceptual coherence, and that Library and Information Science (LIS) needs to explore newer, knowledge-based approaches to concept formation, which suggest that oneís knowledge of many concepts includes not just a representation of a conceptís features but also an explicit representation of the causal mechanisms that people believe link those features to form a coherent whole. The notion of similarity, or likeness, underlies most approaches used in LIS in the design of bibliographic classification systems. The reliance upon similarity assumes a shared or common understanding of the attributes or features that give a concept its identity. Does similarity explain, however, why a concept was formed or why it makes sense to the perceiver? Will the same concept have the same degree of coherence amongst different people, even within the same domain? This examination will place specific emphasis on knowledge-based theories of categorization, and particularly the Causal-Mode theory, which examine the roles of consensus and causality in conceptual coherence. The Causal-Model theory is the most developed working model of the knowledge approach in its formal account of how causal knowledge influences the importance of features and specific configurations of features in judgments of concept membership. This modelís ability to provide a precise, quantitative account of both the differences in feature weights and the importance of feature configurations induced by peopleís knowledge makes it an attractive candidate for integrating the knowledge approach into the construction of bibliographic classification systems.

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