Does there exist a class of "fundamental concepts"?

That is concepts, such as "parameter", "part", "range", "form" etc. that at least for me seem like "something that is hard to take away without thinking and sensing becoming very difficult". Like imagine, if you couldn't use the concept "range" at all. This kind of subjective perception could suggest that some concepts are "biological fundamentals", that they are somehow "in-built", even if we changed the particular word associated with that "sensation". One could perhaps e.g. argue that even if one removed or changed the word for said concept, its existence would still be "in senses, such as eye structure".

How could they be recognized?


You will, in all epochs, find philosophical thinkers who have cared to clarify the most basic concepts.

In the ancient world, these were typically ontological categories (for instance in Aristotle's work).

In the modern age, after the epistemological turn, they switched to epistemological forms (for instance in Kant's oeuvre).

In the 20th century, after the linguistic turn, philosophers cared for the basic concepts of language (for instance in Carnap's books and papers).

I recommend you to start at the root of western philosophy: Aristotle's "Categories" and "Peri Hermeneias". You will find Aristotle clarify categories like substance, qualities, relations etc. in the most astonishing way.

It is rather a question of choice than a question of recognizing to consider a set of concepts fundamental.

  • "It is rather a question of choice than a question of recognizing to consider a set of concepts fundamental". Yeah well, intuitively I was speculating about the cultural or social constructionist aspect of "becoming a fundamental". Religious people would claim religious belief fundamental, people to a particular location could identify different fundamentals than people in some other location. On the other hand cultural evolution, standardized education and e.g. globalization could lead to "uniforming" of beliefs.
    – mavavilj
    May 26 '20 at 8:04
  • I assume there are ethnological studies around that deal with interculturality of concepts to describe the world. From a philosophical point of view, keeping history of western philosophy in mind as well as the history of science, specifically keeping in mind empirically-relativistic or constructivistic positions, I would think there is an important element of choice in how we (decide to) describe the world with basic concepts.
    – Mr. White
    May 26 '20 at 8:17
  • But does that invalidate the concept of "fundamental"? That is, can it be fundamental, if "being a fundamental is a matter of choice"? On the other hand, being subjective doesn't necessarily mean that it's a "choice", because it can be a "subjective fundamental".
    – mavavilj
    May 26 '20 at 10:34
  • Assume an ethnologist "finds" a fundamental in various cultures, say PART. What she finds will necessarily be described in the scientific theory she had chosen. In order to reveal PART, she must have chosen to presuppose the possibility for PART in her theory. Had she chosen another theory, she might have found some different fundamental.
    – Mr. White
    May 26 '20 at 10:55
  • A quality study would try to mitigate that kind of "social constructionism", because that would allow religious beliefs to serve fundamentals, if the study is conducted on religious people. Yet it would not be more broadly scientifically sound. So a quality study on fundamental concepts would try to link the concepts to "brain neuron phenomena" or something like that. As given in the other answer, if something is "irreducible", then it means that "it cannot escape bodily physics"? That it's not "just a matter of perception", but part of fundamental biology.
    – mavavilj
    May 26 '20 at 14:34

One project that has attempted to identify fundamental concepts of human cognition is the Natural Semantic Metalanguage project. Through their research they have identified around 65 semantic primes: concepts that are universal and irreducible. PART is indeed one of these semantic primes. "Parameter" is not, it would be a derived concept, but just because it's not fundamental doesn't mean that it's missing. People who need to make use of the concept of parameters can do so, or they can be taught about the concept first. As to the senses, NSM researches have identified SEE, HEAR, and FEEL as universal semantic primes.

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