A somewhat simple question about language has been on my mind lately: Why is it that some well-defined concepts map to single words while other concepts don't, despite being just as common and practical? The question arose when looking at schools of philosophy. For example, the philosophical study of beauty and taste maps to aesthetics while the philosophical study of language very boringly maps to philosophy of language. This is not a real problem but it does present an opportunity to coin something new. And not just for the sake of doing so; a single term lends itself to more streamlined communication around said concepts.
As a concrete example, I looked at what could be done with the philosophy of mind. I put forth a concrete coinage: cognicsI considered the term mentics. Just didn't sound as nice.. I like this term for a few reasons. First, properties of the word itself; it's phonetically valid (i.e. not awkward to say) and the pronunciation is intuitive from the spelling. Second, it's derived from the Latin word cognosco, making it etymologically related to cognitive science. It's uncontroversial to say that philosophers of mind should be informed by the latest findings coming out of the cognitive sciences. In turn, philosophers of mind, literate in the relevant research, can formulate practical inquiries/postulates/theories/etc. that cognitive scientists can use to design experiments aimed at validating or refuting them. Thus the shared Latin root is a somewhat nice connection between the philosophical and scientific that reflects that positive feedback loop.
But perhaps the best reason is how the term lends itself to remixing. Conjugates are the usual suspects:
- cognics (n.) - The philosophical study of the mind and its placement in the world, aka philosophy of mind.
- cognical (adj.) - Of, related to, or dealing with cognics.
- cognicist (n.) - Philosopher specializing in cognics.
- cognically (adv.) - According to cognics; in a cognical manner.
- cognic (adj.) - See cognical.
Here are some example sentences demonstrating their pithiness:
Professor Poppy, a cognicist in the philosophy department, disagrees with her contemporaries.
We heard several arguments against the prevailing cognical theories of the 20th century.
Zombies, cognically speaking, are simply humans with no inner life—the lights are "off".
Arguments can be made for how the new terms aid communication. The first sentence would read strange if we replaced cognicist with philosopher of mind. In the second, the phrase "cognical theories" is much more concise than "theories within philosophy of mind". And while we can just use the canonical "philosophical zombies" in the third sentence, using cognics and its conjugates focuses the context in which we employ that idea. This would make "philosophical zombies" somewhat of a vague phrase, because we can now imagine zombies in different philosophical contexts. For example, "ethical zombies"—humans that seemingly lack any capacity for moral reasoning.
The other sort of remixing that is particularly playful is prefixing cognics with Latin or Greek roots, dividing the concept along lines that seem appropriate for focusing inquires, or evening inspiring new subfields. Some examples after perusing the many prefixes used in English:
- metacognics - Field concerned with the semantics of cognical terms (mind, mental, doubt, etc.), how to identify the presence of a mind, and similar questions.
- biocognics - Field concerned with the nature of biological minds.
- anthropocognicsSomewhat of a mouth full... - Field concerned with the nature of human minds.
- mechacognics - Field concerned with the nature of artificial minds.
- infracognics - Field concerned with the physical substrates that underline minds.
- ultracognics - Field concerned with possible "higher" forms of mental processing.
- geocognics - Field concerned with whether larger-than-human systems can be mind-like.
- theocognics - Field concerned with the nature of the minds of deities.
- ...and so many more!
Of these, it should be noted that they aren't mutually exclusive. AnthropocognicsI think when most people speak of philosophy of mind, what they really are speaking about is anthropocognics. The anthropocentricism is understandable; what minds can we easily observe but our own? is a subset of biocognics. Mechacognics might become increasingly relevant with recent progresses in artificial intelligence—and, I predict, may trigger some serious ethical questions about how can we know when we've created minds with capacities to experience, among other things, suffering. Infracognics is a bridging subfield between biocognics and mechacognics. Geocognics strongly connects to the idea of extended cognition, and might investigate (to some people's criticism) a cognical extension to the Gaia hypothesis. Theocognics is the interdisciplinary child of cognics and philosophy of religion. And ultracognics seems to demand we push our imagination on what is possible, and ask whether the fruits of those musings warrant a new ontology.
The variations here are endless. If cognics and its derivatives ever enter the academic lexicon, let it be known: You read it here first!