Philosophical Studies

, Volume 140, Issue 3, pp 359–384 | Cite as

The origins of concepts

  • Daniel A. Weiskopf


Certain of our concepts are innate, but many others are learned. Despite the plausibility of this claim, some have argued that the very idea of concept learning is incoherent. I present a conception of learning that sidesteps the arguments against the possibility of concept learning, and sketch several mechanisms that result in the generation of new primitive concepts. Given the rational considerations that motivate their deployment, I argue that these deserve to be called learning mechanisms. I conclude by replying to the objections that these mechanisms cannot produce genuinely new content and cannot be part of genuinely cognitive explanations.


Concepts Learning Acquisition Nativism Innateness Language of thought 



I would like to thank Edouard Machery, Rob Rupert, Robert Thompson, Chase Wrenn, and Tad Zawidzki for comments on earlier versions of this material. Thanks also to audience members at George Washington University, Rice University, UC Davis, University of South Florida, and York University, where versions of this paper were read. Finally, an anonymous referee for this journal provided extremely thoughtful and detailed comments that spurred many improvements to the paper, for which I’m grateful.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

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