Concepts as constructions: Structure, content, and innateness
The notion of a concept has been employed and examined in many different contexts. I will examine the notion of a concept within the context of the philosophy of mind. Within this context, concepts are often taken to be the constituents of the objects of propositional attitudes (e.g., belief, desire, thinking, wondering, etc.), which I will hereafter refer to as 'thoughts'.1 As the basic constituents of thoughts, concepts are central to the workings of the mind. Analogously, an accurate theory of concepts is central to an understanding of the mind itself. My aim is to provide a thoroughgoing and adequate theory of concepts.
I will proceed in the following way. In chapter one, I provide a list of constraints which, as I will argue, an adequate theory of concepts must satisfy. In chapter two, I critically evaluate three prominent approaches to the nature of concepts: Christopher Peacocke's Fregean approach, Jerry Fodor's Informational Atomism, and Jesse Prinz's Empirical Representationalism. Ultimately, I will argue that they are all inadequate insofar as they all fail to meet at least one of the constraints provided in chapter one. From here, I will set out to develop an alternative theory of concepts which succeeds where the others fail. I will work my way toward this goal by considering, in turn, what I take to be the three central issues regarding the nature of concepts: conceptual structure (chapter three), conceptual content (chapter four), and the nativism/empiricism debate (chapter five). Alongside my examining of these issues, I will develop an alternative theory based upon the idea that concepts are best understood as what Pavel Tichý (1988) called 'constructions'.
In the end, I will argue that there are three general kinds of concepts: innate concepts, acquired simple concepts, and complex concepts. The first of these are divided into two kinds: innate perceptual concepts, which determine the 'parameters' relative to which perceptual experience is cognitively interpreted, and innate logical concepts, which determine general inference patterns as well as—when taken together with fundamental operations of the mind—the structure and composition of both thoughts and complex concepts. While innate concepts are not acquired, they must be 'triggered' by experience in order to become possible constituents of one's thoughts. Acquired simple concepts are non-innate concepts which are simple insofar as they lack compositional structure. Complex concepts are those which are composed of other concepts.
Finally, in chapter six, I conclude by showing how my theory of concepts satisfies the constraints set out in chapter one.
1In so doing, I am following Frege (1892), p. 156: "By a thought I understand not the subjective performance of thinking but its objective content, which is capable of being the common property of several thinkers".