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A category is a concept by means of which sensuous knowledge may be made intelligible, or more generally, any more fundamental philosophical conception underlying others; often a class, i.e., a means of categorising things.


‘Category’ is derived from the Greek kategoria, which figured prominently in Aristotle’s writing and was Latinised as praedicare, and thus ‘predicate’ and ‘predicament’. Two main lines of development followed from these roots.

For Aristotle, kategoria was ‘what can be said of a subject’, i.e., in grammar, a predicate. In its Greek literal form, as kategoria, it came to mean in rhetoric, an accusation, the response to which would be an apologia. By transliteration into the Roman alphabet, category became a class into which concepts or objects could be assigned, and this is its principle usage in philosophy today. Kant took the categories to be a priori innate mental faculties which made it possible to make sense data intelligible, but this understanding was negated by Hegel and did not enter the Marxist tradition.


Vygotsky uses ‘category’ in his analysis of the relation of internal speech and thinking in Chapter 7 of Thinking and Speech to contrast psychological categories with grammatical categories.

“Any part of a complex phrase can become the psychological predicate and will carry the logical emphasis. The semantic function of this logical emphasis is the isolation of the psychological predicate. According to Paul, the grammatical category is to some extent a fossil of the psychological category. It therefore needs to be revived by a logical emphasis that clarifies its semantic structure. Paul demonstrates that a wide variety of meanings can reside in a single grammatical structure. Thus, correspondence between the grammatical and psychological structure of speech may be encountered less frequently than we generally assume. Indeed, it may merely be postulated and rarely if ever realized in fact. In phonetics, morphology, vocabulary, and semantics - even in rhythm, metrics, and music - the psychological category lies hidden behind the grammatical or formal category. If the two appear to correspond with one another in one situation, they diverge again in others. We can speak not only of the psychological elements of form and meaning, not only of the psychological subject and predicate, but of psychological number, gender, case, pronouns, superlatives, and tenses” (p. 252).

Vygotsky never uses ‘category’, however, in the sense of today’s Psychology of Concepts as the extension of a concept.


Vygotsky, L. S. (1934). Thought and Word, Chapter 7 of Thinking and Speech, in LSVCW, v. 1, pp. 243–285

-- AndyBlunden - 17 Nov 2013


Topic revision: r3 - 19 Nov 2013, AndyBlunden

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