I don't quite understand the explanation given on Wikipedia for Pre-theoretic belief.

It is often assumed, rightly or wrongly, that language depends on mental concepts, and that certain concepts are innate. These innate concepts provide sources of very basic linguistic competency, available to any natural language speaker that enables more complex forms of language use, including philosophical, scientific, or other types of technical language. These basic concepts, in combination, may form basic propositional attitudes about things and events. Often “pre-theoretical belief” refers to these basic propositional attitudes.

I could interpret this in multiple ways. It could be a reference to the innate language faculties hypothesized by generative linguists that allow humans to generate and judge syntactic structures. On the other hand, the Semantics of Logic page appears to refer to logical entailment as a "pre-theoretic notion," which seems to imply that the idea of pre-theoreticity encompasses the basic logical relationships between propositions.

Alternatively, Wiktionary defines pre-theoretical as "arising before any theoretical considerations." I'm not sure how to interpret this either. In what sense do pre-theoretical ideas take precedence over theoretical ideas?

How does the the pre-theoretical differ from the theoretical? And how does this apply to the elementary notions of logic?

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    They're just basic innate concepts upon which natural language or any formal theory can be built. For example across all natural languages of different region and culture, there seem common belief about the basic concept of subject and predicate/verb which are actually reflected in almost all natural languages we know of. Similarly, almost all formal deductive logic systems have the basic concept of entailment... Oct 10, 2022 at 1:50
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    The Wiktionary definition is the traditional definition. I would not confuse it with the first definition. Traditionally, pre-theoretic meant eg bare empiricism. marcuse.org/herbert/publications/1960s/…
    – Gordon
    Oct 10, 2022 at 11:39

1 Answer 1


Pre-theoretic is not a reference to language structure but to concepts. For example, a pre-theoretic concept of birds might classify bats as birds because they are small flying creatures, just like most birds we encounter are. Then you investigate more deeply and you come up with a theory that what is most significant is not the behavior that strikes us at first, but the anatomical characteristics that we find from investigation.

Our concept changes with investigation and analysis. Now we no longer thinks of bats and birds as the same sorts of things; bats should be categorized with squirrels and dogs and even humans. This would be a post-theoretical concept, in contrast to the original view that bats and birds should be categorized together, which is a pre-theoretical concept.

Pre-theoretical concepts are just the concepts that normal humans, going through normal life are likely to make use of both in communication and in reasoning.

  • So do you mean that pre-theoretic and post-theoretic are simply relative terms with respect to a particular theory that describe a temporal relationship with respect to the history of science?
    – Luca
    Oct 9, 2022 at 17:17
  • @Luca, not with respect to a particular theory; with respect to any non-folk theory. A folk theory is a set of propositions that people tend believe prior to rigorous investigation and analysis. It's sort of the same idea as a pre-theoretic concept. It is an attempt to distinguish between what you believe when you seriously investigate and analyze vs. what you believe after you have done so. It doesn't necessarily mean that what you thought before was wrong, just that it was less precise and less general. Oct 9, 2022 at 23:51

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