The Concept of a Concept

All human beings are endowed with certain basic spiritual capacities – derived from the soul, which is the element of the individual that is responsible for spiritual nature. Chief among these capacities is that of intellect, consciousness, the power of thought. In fact, the human mind (a faculty of the soul) cannot exist without thinking. Try it. Try not thinking. When these thoughts, most of which are vague and fleeting, start to take shape, form, structure, and substance, they give rise to ideas. What, really, is an idea?

One particularly important idea is a concept. It allows a mind to distinguish one named thing from another named thing. There is the concept of a “keyboard”, for instance, that is different from a “monitor”, though both can be included in the concept of “computer device”. Most things are associated with multiple concepts – and their uniqueness becomes apparent in the particulars of the interaction of combinations of concepts. These concepts have formed after countless observations using the mind’s ability to categorize according to patterns, commonalities, and characteristics, . Over thousands of years, using language, individuals are able to discuss and refine their conceptions of objects of study, to the point where, now, we have names and definitions for everything – and with concrete objects, like a lamp, only a few words suffice to share one mind’s understanding with another.

With abstract objects of study, however, it is much harder to precisely define them with a handful of words; yet these abstract things are arguably much more important. The concept of space, for instance, is fundamental to thought – it is within a specific position or location that observable phenomena take place. We cannot think outside of the concept of space. Similarly with the concept of time – it is indispensable to human thought. All things are observed to change, and change implies time. Our understanding of reality cannot exist outside the concept of time. And finally, and very closely related, is the concept of causality, which enables the mind to understand relationships between multiple objects within space and time. Otherwise, the world would be a collection of disconnected events.

Concepts, just like language, are social constructs; albeit highly important ones. They help organize thoughts and words so that groups of individuals can reach shared understandings, can form relationships, can build communities, can raise social structures – civilization, on one level, is the expression of concepts into social reality.

What is your conception of a “concept”?