Categories We Live By
How We Classify Everyone and Everything
192 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: January 9, 2024
- Publisher: The MIT Press
An in-depth analysis of how humanity's compulsion to categorize affects every aspect of our lived experience.
The minute we are born—sometimes even before—we are categorized. From there, classifications dog our every step: to school, work, the doctor's office, and even the grave. Despite the vast diversity and individuality in every life, we seek patterns, organization, and control. In Categories We Live By, Gregory L. Murphy considers the categories we create to manage life's sprawling diversity. Analyzing everything from bureaucracy's innumerable categorizations to the minutiae of language, this book reveals how these categories are imposed on us and how that imposition affects our everyday lives.
Categories We Live By explores categorization in two parts. In part one, Murphy introduces the groundwork of categories—how they are created by experts, imperfectly captured by language, and employed by rules. Part two provides a number of case studies. Ranging from trivial categories such as parking regulations and peanut butter to critical issues such as race and mortality, Murphy demonstrates how this need to classify pervades everything. Finally, this comprehensive analysis demonstrates ways that we can cope with categorical disagreements and make categories more useful to our society.
“Categories We Live By is a rare combination. It is an introduction to the science and philosophy of categories that can be read with delight by people who don't know anything about the topic—but it's also a serious contribution to the field by one of its deepest thinkers and best writers. This wonderful book will be of interest to anyone who cares about how we make sense of the physical and social worlds we live in.”
Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto; Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Yale University; author of Psych: The Story of the Human Mind
“This book will surprise experts in the field with new penetrating insights while being completely accessible to anyone interested in this inescapable dimension of human thought. A most welcome contribution from one of the leading experts on categorization for over three decades.”
Frank C. Keil, Charles C. & Dorathea S. Dilley Professor of Psychology & Linguistics Yale University