How do we know something? How do we acquire knowledge? How do we come to any valid conclusion? This is a very specific area of study in philosophy, known as ‘Epistemology’. It means the study of knowledge. We use principles of reasoning to come to any valid conclusion leading to knowledge.
What are concepts? Concepts are basic building blocks for the premises of any argument. We use these concepts to derive knowledge or shape conclusions based on the principles of logic and rules of inferences.
‘House’ is a concept, a place where we live. ‘Eat’ is a concept, it means an action of consuming food. All that we make sense of is a ‘concept’, so to speak!
How do we form concepts? Concept formation is a process where we try to make sense of the world in which we exist. Concepts are gained through perceptual knowledge or inferences.
We create concepts by labeling or classifying our experiences or objects into classes. This classification can happen based on multiple ways, namely, observation, past experiences, experimentation, abstract thinking or inferences.
We know from the principles of reasoning that for any argument to be valid its premises and conclusion must be true. Premises are nothing but constructions of concepts. A typical premise has a subject and a predicate or properties of the subject. These are concepts. If the concepts are flawed then the premises will be flawed too.
One of the problems is that ‘concepts’ can have different sense and reference.
Let us look at the following example:
> Kepler’s third law of planetary motion states that the ratio of squares of the period of any two planets is equal to the ratio of cubes of their average distances from the Sun.
> Now, given that Jupiter is far from Sun than Earth.
> Thus, we can conclude that the Earth orbits faster around the Sun than Jupiter, given the above two premises.
We have used many concepts, namely, the Sun, Earth, Jupiter, distance and Kepler’s third law of planetary motion, etc.
What if any of these ‘concepts’ are flawed? What if ‘Jupiter’ is the name of my dog? What if tomorrow ‘Sun’ does not exist? Then what happens to the concept of ‘Jupiter’? How will our argument stand? What will happen to the above conclusion?
Since arguments are constructed based on the principles of reasoning, the above argument will remain valid as far as both the premises and conclusion are true, but in the above example our conclusion will be false, which will lead to incorrect knowledge!
The second problem is that ‘concepts’ change over time.
Let us take an example from a social dimension. The concept of ‘marriage’.
> Marriage is a formal union between a man and a woman.
> Rajesh officially ties a knot with Kiran.
> Therefore, we can conclude that Rajesh is married to Kiran.
Now, the classical meaning of marriage is that of a union between a man and a woman. This concept of ‘marriage’ is slowly changing in certain western civilizations. Here, the change in the concept is due to the change in the social construct.
Now, in the above example, what if Kiran is not a woman but a man and they both are living in U.S.A.? According to the orthodox concept of ‘marriage’, the above conclusion is false! However, according to the modern concept of ‘marriage’, the above conclusion is still true!
Hence, from the above-illustrated examples, we can safely say that ‘concept’ plays a vital role in shaping our conclusion and in attaining right knowledge.