Fuzzy Logic in the Psychology of Concepts

Fuzzy Logic in the Psychology of Concepts
George J. Klir
Binghamton University (SUNY-Binghamton)
Binghamton, NY 13902
[email protected]
It is well known that the emergence of fuzzy set theory and fuzzy logic in the 1960s was motivated
primarily by the perceived need for mathematics capable of representing and dealing with common-sense
concepts used by humans and expressed in natural language. It is thus very peculiar that fuzzy logic has
been completely rejected in the psychology of concepts — a research area that is specifically oriented to
studying concepts of this kind. After introducing the meaning of the term “concept” in the psychology of
concepts and the main psychological theories of concepts, I will address the principal issue of my lecture:
Why has fuzzy logic been rejected in the psychology of concepts? I will show that the rejection was a
result of arguments presented in a single paper published in 1981 by two highly influential psychologists,
Osherson and Smith. Even though it is now well known that all arguments in this paper are fallacies of
several different types, as I will demonstrate in some detail, the paper has enormously influenced the
whole field of the psychology of concepts, and has delayed a fruitful cooperation between psychologists
of concepts and mathematicians specializing on fuzzy logic for some three decades. This is reminiscent of
the well-documented story in the field of artificial neural networks, where research was severely inhibited
for many years by publication of the very influential book Perceptrons by Minsky and Papert in 1969.
What can be done to ameliorate this very unfortunate situation? After presenting an overview of what has
already been done in this regard, I will argue that circumstances are now becoming favorable for
cooperative research between psychologists of concepts and researchers in the fuzzy logic community and
that such cooperation is likely to highly beneficial for both areas. I will conclude the lecture by
identifying some challenges for fuzzy logic from the psychology of concepts as well as some challenges
for the psychology of concepts from fuzzy logic.