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Proper names do not allow identity maintenance within the basic level Rhemtulla, Mijke

Abstract

A fundamental question in the study of concepts concerns the nature of the relationship between kinds and individuals. To what extent is our understanding of an individual's persistence connected to the kind to which it belongs? The current research expands on previous research in the field by exploring how representations of individual entities are affected by transformations within and across basic-level kind membership. In a series of five experiments, adults saw depictions of transformations of animals or artifacts via a machine called an "atom reassembler." They were queried about the object's persistence as an individual (as designated by its proper name) and as a member of its original kind. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants saw transformations of entities that either resulted in an identical object, retained subordinate kind membership (e.g., mallard to different-looking mallard), retained basic kind membership (e.g., mallard to white duck), retained superordinate kind membership (e.g., duck to fish) or crossed domains (e.g., duck to hat). A striking effect emerged: an entity seen to transform within a basic-level kind was less likely to be judged to retain its proper name than one that crossed a basic-level kind boundary. We interpret this result as a within-kind contrast effect: concepts of individuals, designated by proper names, pick out an entity from other members of the same basic-level kind. Thus, participants were unwilling to allow a name to carry through a within-basic kind transformation. Experiments 3 and 4 explored this effect further by varying the extent to which participants were encouraged to consider kind membership while judging individual persistence. These studies revealed that explicit consideration of kind membership is necessary to elicit the effect, but that consideration could be either of basic-level kind or superordinate kind. Finally, in Experiment 5 individual persistence judgments were elicited via distinguishing properties, rather than names. Results revealed that properties are traced very differently across transformations than proper names. We interpret these data as evidence that concepts of individuals, as designated by proper names, are closely tied to basic-level kind membership.

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