Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science / Edition 1

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What is it about human nature that makes our species capable of thinking scientifically? Inspired by a debate between Noam Chomsky and Jean Piaget, Scott Atran traces the development of natural history from Aristotle to Darwin, and demonstrates how the science of plants and animals has emerged from the common conceptions of folkbiology. The author proceeds not only from the more traditional philosophical, historical or sociological perspectives, but from a point of view he considers more basic and necessary to all of these: that of cognition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Atran has produced a work of substantial scholarship...the wealth of information the book contains and the fresh perspectives it offers make it invaluable. Cognitive Foundations of Natural History will influence the conceptual and historical study of systematics for some time to come." Forest & Conservation History 37

"This is a book that is deliberately designed to put the cat among the pigeons, philosophically, psychologically, anthropologically, and sociologically speaking....In short, this is an extraordinary, formidable, interdisciplinary tour de force that none will entirely agree with, that many will regard as profoundly wrongheaded, but that all can learn from if they make the effort." ISIS

"...a provocative as well as a deeply investigated study." Choice

"...traces in great detail the historical and philosophical origins of taxonomic nomenclature, from traditional folk taxonomy through Aristotle and Linnaeus to the nineteenth century biologists who established the familiar present-day system....the ideas expressed are provocative and represent a significant contribution to the study of ethnotaxonomy." Journal of Ethnobiology

"Only Atran could have written a book that combines deep understanding of anthropology, biological systematics, the history of science, and philosophy. The result is a book that contains more substance per page than any book I have read in a generation." David L. Hull, Northwestern University

"Drawing upon a wealth of anthropological, psychological, philosophical, and historical evidence, Atran weaves together a series of powerful, often controversial arguments: that everyday conceptions of folk biology are remarkably similar across cultures, that they are fundamentally domain-specific, and that they set the foundations for scientific thought." Susan A. Gelman, University of Michigan

"Perhaps Atran's most far-reaching argument is grounded in his critique of 'prototype theory,' propounded by cognitive psychologists as the basis for categorization of all natural objects. Again he demonstrates that different types of cognitive processes are involved when people conceptually order living things versus, say, furniture or artifacts." Terence E. Hays, American Anthropologist

"Atran has produced a work of substantial scholarship...the wealth of information the book contains and the fresh perspectives it offers make it invaluable. Cognitive Foundations of Natural History will influence the conceptual and historical study of systematics for some time to come." Forest & Conservation History 37

"Atran has surely presented a masterful, if densely packed, study in support of his thesis....This significant book, while anything but light reading, deserves the serious attention of scientist and philosopher alike." Laura Landen, Review of Metaphysics

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521438711
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface; 1. Common sense: its scope and limits; Part I. Folkbiology: 2. Folktaxonomy; 3. The semantics of living kinds; Part II. Aristotelian Essentials: 4. Essence and environment; 5. Materials of logical division; Part III. From Herbals to Systems: 6. Origins of the species concept; 7. The nature of the genus; Part IV. The Scientific Breakaway: 8. The method of families and classes; 9. Science, symbolism and common sense; Conclusions; Appendix; Notes; References; Index.

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