Conceptual Change in the History of Science

Life, Mind, and Disease

Authored by: Paul Thagard

International Handbook of Research on Conceptual Change

Print publication date:  June  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415898829
eBook ISBN: 9780203154472
Adobe ISBN: 9781136578212


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Biology is the study of life, psychology is the study of mind, and medicine is the investigation of the causes and treatments of disease. This chapter describes how the central concepts of life, mind, and disease have undergone fundamental changes in the past 150 years or so. There has been a progression from theological, to qualitative, to mechanistic explanations of the nature of life, mind, and disease. This progression has involved both theoretical change, as new theories with greater explanatory power replaced older ones, and emotional change as the new theories brought reorientation of attitudes to the nature of life, mind, and disease. After a brief comparison of theological, qualitative, and mechanistic explanations, I will describe how shifts from one kind of explanation to another have carried with them dramatic kinds of conceptual change in the key concepts in the life sciences. Three generalizations follow about the nature of conceptual change in the history of science: there has been a shift from conceptualizations in terms of simple properties to ones in terms of complex relations; conceptual change is theory change; and conceptual change is often emotional as well as cognitive.

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