Lesson Five: Concepts

Definition: Concepts are the standard thought patterns which each human being creates as the units of imagination. These units are used to create larger (combinations of) concepts, some of which are denominated “reality,” others “pretend,” “what will be,” and “what might have been,” etc.

An elementary concept has no parts, such as the concept green or garlic odor. Combinations of concepts to form larger concepts are called “constructs.” The universe is such a construct in our minds.

Constructs in and of themselves are neither true nor false; they just exist as a creatures of our minds. It can be demonstrated that no concept of a human being matches reality exactly, but most persons think of the concepts which they call “reality” as truth. A wiser course would be to see our constructs as art forms which do represent reality to us even though never exactly the way things really are.

Whatever we sense, feel or imagine can be captured in a concept. Thus there are concepts of the visual form of a dog, the barking sound of a dog, the smell of a dog, the touch of a dog, the warmth of a dog, (for some perrophiles, the taste of a dog), fear or love for a dog, the hope that the ill dog will live, the ancestry of the dog, the idea of a dog heaven, etc. Concepts which pattern sensation are called “percepts.”

Whatever and whenever one thinks, one does so with concepts. They are the habit patterns of mind, the standard ways of reducing the “blooming, buzzing confusion” of the universe to an understandable order.

Concepts are socially created and adjusted. We tend to share concept patterns with those with whom we frequently associate. Were it not for a concept base which we share with others, we could not communicate.

Connections among constructs are known as understanding.” Knowledge is of two kinds: understanding knowledge and personal acquainticeship. Saber, savoir, and wissen knowledge is understanding: connections among concepts and constructs. Conocer, connaitre, kennen and erkennen knowledge is perceptual, a relating of sensations to concepts and constructs, thus being personal acquainticeship.

The goal of every servant of Jesus Christ is to gain concepts and percepts which are correct (adequate to faithful obedience to Christ). This would enhance the ability of that person to be righteous, because they would then be meeting real needs rather than their own imaginary constructs as to other person’s needs. But the commitment to righteousness must come first, then correct constructs may be created by the servant of Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Some persons say, “I would accept righteousness if first I could have it proved to me that the Gospel is true.” But notice the following connections of ideas:

Jesus Christ is the Spirit of Righteousness. For this earth he is the sole fountain (source) of righteousness.

Jesus Christ is the Spirit of Truth. To know the truth of anything which one cannot immediately sense, one must do it through Jesus Christ (through the Holy Spirit, which is his messenger.)

The Savior commands all men to put righteousness ahead of truth. If they will accept and establish the Savior’s true righteousness, then he will give them the correct ideas (concepts) about things they cannot otherwise know.

Conclusion: If a person thinks he will judge righteousness by the truth, he is mistaken. Anyone who rejects the righteousness of Christ also rejects the Spirit of Truth, and thus will be limited to error for all but the most fundamental concepts of physical things.

Another way to state this matter is to point out that righteousness is of the heart. The mind can never perfect the heart. But the heart can correct the mind. If the heart accepts righteousness, then it can use that same Spirit or feeling to relieve the mind of error, replacing it with God-given ideas.

The point of all this is that concepts are never neutral. They are value laden and value oriented. A person’s commitment to good or evil will always govern his ability to recognize, accept and learn truth by way of concepts, constructs and principles.

There are five basic types of concepts:

Type                                     Examples

  •       Structures               House, mountain, Celt, person, month, garlic
  •       Functions                Washing, dancing, evaporating, being ashamed
  •       Qualities                  Leud, red, righteous, quickly
  •       Relationships         Under, older, cause
  •       Values                      Beautiful, insipid, exciting

Question:   Is this taxonomy exhaustive and unambiguous?

Concepts are learned, stored and used in connection with symbols.

A symbol is anything (but usually a human artifact) which is habitually associated with any other thing (its referent). There is a triadic relationship among a concept (a meaning), the symbol associated with it, and the physical object(s) or experiences (the referent(s)) associated with them. Thus:

Symbol                                Meaning (concept)       Referent

  •       “Gibraltar”             stability                           the physical rock
  •       “fleur-de-lis”         idea of France                iris
  •       “line”                       Idea of a line                   ———
  •       “lilac”                      idea of fragrance            the fragrance

The symbol-referent relationship is always at least potentially reciprocal. For example, anger and the color red may be symbols of one another, the one stimulating the concept of the other.

All symbol-referent relationships are arbitrary. No symbol is inherently related to any concept and any symbol may refer to any concept.

  • Ambiguity obtains when a symbol represents two or more concepts.
  • Redundancy obtains when a concept is represented by two or more symbols.

A vocabulary test serves as a good intelligence test because it is essentially a measure of the concept development of the person.

One form of learning is to make valuable associations among concept complexes and their associated symbols. When one enters a new field of study, the first thing one usually does is to acquire or to invent a new (mental) lexicon for that subject, which involves new names and a new concept for each new name.

It is possible to think by manipulating concepts, or symbols, or both at the same time. Example: Mathematics could not advance very far until parametric notation was invented.

Definition is the process of creating a concept to associate with a given symbol. No person can actually define a concept for another; what we call defining is simply the attempt to facilitate concept formulation in another person.

There are four basic modes of defining:

  1. Ostensive: Physically pointing to an appropriate experience
    Example: Showing someone a tick to define “tick”
  2. Synonymous: Employing a different symbol for the same concept
    Example: Escargot = snail
  3. Denotative: Verbally pointing to an appropriate experience
    Example: I-I5 is a freeway
  4. Connotative: Using words to establish a genus (larger class) and a differentia which separates it from other members of the same genus
    Example: A moped is a bicycle with a small gasoline engine attached

There is a precise skill to concept formulation.

The following steps are one mode of precisely formulating a concept. You are challenged both to use it and to find a better mode if you can. The steps of this mode are here outlined:

  1. Select a symbol/concept to be formulated/clarified. List the variant forms of the symbol in use. These are your keys to information about the concept.
  1. Select a concept base. A concept base is a cultural milieu. The same symbol can mean very different things in different cultures. To be conversant with the concept systems of several cultural bases is an advantage, for then one begins to understand each one better by the comparison afforded. Most people select a home base, the frame in which they do their most personal and most important thinking and communicating. Some persons hit from base to base as the social occasion demands, never establishing a strong self-identity in a home base. Not all bases are equal. One should carefully, deliberately select his or her home base as the one which affords the most truth and the most power.
    1. There are three cultural bases important to most LDS persons:
      1. The LDS scriptural “Church” culture.
      2. The scientific/humanistic culture found on university campuses.
      3. The American cultural base found among non-college, non-religious persons.
    2. Example: The word “sin” is used in all three for very different purposes.
      1. In LDS culture, sin is a serious thing, any transgression of the law of God. It becomes an absolute barrier to the celestial kingdom if one does not repent.
      2. In the scientific/humanistic culture, sin does not exist, but “sin” is a word used in archaic religions to create fear among backward peoples.
      3. In the American cultural base, a sin is something one feels is naughty but which one often takes delight and pride in doing anyway.
    3. For formulating a concept, one should select a base, then stick to it to avoid confusion. Sometimes it is useful to formulate the different concepts associated with a given symbol as suggested in the example above.
  1. Find the etymology of the word. Knowing the roots and their historic meanings can be very helpful.
  1. Discover dictionary definitions of the symbol. Dictionaries reflect modal usage of words, so a word may mean something quite different in a given context. Do not settle for the dictionary formulation as your formulation unless careful thought yields no alternative.
  1. Note important usage of the symbol in the literature of the base, paying special attention to users who are important and/or influential. This further helps to give one an understanding of historic usage.
  1. Establish the correlative concepts to the target you seek to formulate. No concept exists in isolation, and the concept neighbors of your target concept help to define it. Each correlative slot is a question one might ask to understand the target concept better, though there may not be an answer, or a good answer, to some of the questions. Categories which should be objects of inquiry are:
    1. The genus: The larger class to which the concept belongs
      1. Constituents: Any classes which make up the concept being formulated
      2. Prerequisites: Concept(s) of things necessary for the referent to exist
      3. Consequences: Concept(s) of things which are caused to be by the target concept.
      4. Similar: Concepts like but not identical
      5. Contrary: Concepts most unlike the concept being formulated
      6. Perfection: The ultimate implementation of the concept
      7. Opposite: The ultimate unlike concept
      8. Complement: The X which decreases/increases as the referent increases/decreases (example: dark is the complement of light)
      9. Counterfeit: A thing which appears to be the referent but is not
      10. Levels: (These apply to Gospel concepts only. What the referent would be like in each respective kingdom):
        1. Celestial
        2. Terrestrial
        3. Telestial
        4. Perdition
  1. Ask and answer key questions which will help to illuminate the concept.
  1. Formulate your own concluding definition using any or all of the modes of definition to attempt to portray your concept as fully and as precisely as possible.
  1. Give a positive and negative examples (clear historic examples of the concept in question, and something which may appear to be like it but is actually not it as a negative example). This helps to define and communicate your concept.
  1. Show what difference your concept makes to important things such as heart, might, mind, and strength. This also helps to define and communicate your concept.

A store of well-formulated concepts is a key to good thinking, and therefore a key to real success in this world.

To master any subject matter it is necessary to have well-formulated concepts that adequately represent reality. Well-formulated concepts are a creation of the self by the self. Thus mastery of any subject matter or skill is self-mastery at the same time.

The most important concepts any person ever grapples with are those which define his God, mankind, himself or herself, the future, success in this world, and salvation. The following list gives examples of specific concepts which are very useful:

Gospel Concepts:

  • God
  • sacrifice
  • charity
  • stewardship
  • contrite
  • righteousness
  • consecration
  • hope
  • command
  • spirit
  • priesthood
  • iniquity
  • wicked
  • obey
  • revelation
  • god
  • inequity
  • good
  • HolyGhost
  • peace
  • justice
  • family
  • evil
  • Christ
  • revile
  • man
  • freedom
  • eternal
  • pride
  • flatter
  • self
  • faith
  • everlasting
  • murmur,complain
  • covet
  • time
  • repentance
  • prayer
  • lust
  • eternity
  • baptism
  • pondering
  • hearken
  • mercy
  • agency
  • fasting
  • broken heart

Social Concepts:

  • cooperation
  • contract
  • equality
  • equity
  • franchise
  • democracy
  • republic
  • constitution
  • socialism
  • communism
  • right
  • self-interest
  • poverty
  • opulence
  • freedom
  • public virtue

Financial Concepts:

  • budget
  • record
  • tax
  • shelter
  • net worth
  • leveraged
  • scam
  • pyramid
  • balance sheet
  • credit
  • insurance
  • capital
  • free market
  • needs
  • wants
  • integrity

Scientific Concepts:

  • mass
  • inertia
  • gravity
  • atom
  • molecule
  • cell
  • organism
  • entropy
  • unity of
  • science
  • fauna
  • evolution
  • kinship

Question:   Do you understand how a concept is a system and how concept formulation is systems thinking?

Concept Formulation Worksheet

Concept Formulation Worksheet


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2 Responses to Lesson Five: Concepts

  1. Bryon Barnard says:

    Ken, I spoke briefly with you after your second session at Education Week this past week. I was so excited to hear about the work you have done to get Brother Riddle’s content published online. This section on Concepts was one of my favorites and I’ve been looking for these notes for years.

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