Category Mistakes Electrified


Occurrences of sentences that are traditionally considered category mistakes, such as ‘The red number is divisible by three’, tend to elicit a sense of oddness in assessors. In attempting to explain this oddness, existing accounts in the philosophical literature commonly claim that occurrences of such sentences are associated with a defect or phenomenology unique to the class of category mistakes. It might be thought that recent work in experimental psycholinguistics—in particular, the recording of event-related brain potentials (patterns of voltage variation in the brain)—holds the potential to shed new light on this debate. I review the relevant experimental results, before arguing that they present advocates of accounts of category mistakes with a dilemma: either the uniqueness claims should be rejected, or the experimental technique in question cannot be used to test existing accounts of category mistakes in the manner that philosophers might hope.

Review of Psychology and Philosophy. Open Access Publication