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Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther: “Abstraction, the Abstract, and Abstractionism: Psychological and Philosophical Perspectives”

November 30, 2011 @ 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm  |  Social Sciences 2, Room 121


Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther

Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther

Concepts, models, and theories; words, propositions, and language; are typically understood as abstract representations and abstract maps. The abstract allows us to navigate tentatively and successfully through the concrete world with which we interact as laymen and scientists; adults and infants. How does abstraction take place? What is the abstract, and what is it used for? What are the dangers and limits of both overextending abstractions beyond their appropriate conditions of application, and separating the abstract too much from the concrete, the general too much from the specific, and the universal too much from the particular – i.e., of abstractionism?

This talk explores a variety of analyses of abstraction, the abstract, and abstractionism from psychology (e.g., Barsalou’s “abstraction in perceptual symbol systems,” Gopnik’s and Murphy & Medin’s “theory theory,” and early Kurt Lewin, F. A. Hayek, and Ohlsson and Lehtinen’s “primacy of the abstract”) and from philosophy (e.g., the pragmatism of James and Dewey, the neo-Kantianism of Kuhn and Friedman, and the “kinds of people” analyses of Hacking, following Foucault). The talk also relates abstraction (and the abstract) to closely related—perhaps even co-constitutive—concepts and processes: (1) analogizing (and analogies), (2) mapping (and maps), and (3) distinction-making (and distinctions). In short, a philosophical and psychological anthropology of abstraction, the abstract, and abstractionism is the aim.

Reading: “The Knife and the One” (PDF)

Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther is Associate Professor of Philosophy at UC Santa Cruz.


November 30, 2011
12:30 pm - 2:00 pm


Social Sciences 2, Room 121
Social Sciences 1‎ University of California Santa Cruz, College Ten
Santa Cruz, CA 95604 United States
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