Re: Categorisation and Prototypes

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Fri May 24 1996 - 13:10:46 BST

> From: "Dunn Christopher" <>
> Date: Fri, 24 May 1996 10:44:17 GMT
> I am curious about question 30 , which refers to membership of a
> category being based on degree .Am I right in saying that if it was
> based on the classical view, membership would not be based on degree
> ,but if it was based on the prototype theory membership would be
> based on degree . I thought at the time that the question did not make
> explicit what theory it was refering to ,maybe you could clarify this
> point for me.

The question was:

30. All category membership is a matter of degree. (T or F)

The answer is F (false). If the question had not included "All," then
of course the answer would be true. Membership in the category "big" is
definitely a matter of degree. But membership in the category "bird" is
not. An ostrich is every bit of a bird just as a robin is, even if a
robin is more common and more typical. A minnow is not a member of the
category "bird" to ANY degree at all; not even a flying fish is.

So the truth is that for SOME categories, membership is a matter of
degree; for others it is not. Therefore NOT ALL category membership is a
matter of degree.

Food for thought: Are MOST category memberships a matter of degree, like
"big," or all-or-none, like "bird"? Why not sample the words in a
dictionary to find out? (Skip "function words" like "if" and "not" and
look only at content words, which are mainly nouns, adjectives, verbs
and adverbs).

You are right that the classical theory favours all-or-none categories:
The question is, are most categories all-or-none or not? ("Categorical,"
by the way, is usually a synonym for all-or-none!)

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