Philosophical Studies

, Volume 162, Issue 3, pp 567–583 | Cite as

Concept empiricism, content, and compositionality



Concepts are the constituents of thoughts. Therefore, concepts are vital to any theory of cognition. However, despite their widely accepted importance, there is little consensus about the nature and origin of concepts. Thanks to the work of Lawrence Barsalou, Jesse Prinz and others concept empiricism has been gaining momentum within the philosophy and psychology literature. Concept empiricism maintains that all concepts are copies, or combinations of copies, of perceptual representations—that is, all concepts are couched in the codes of perceptual representation systems. It is widely agreed that any satisfactory theory of concepts must account for how concepts semantically compose (the compositionality requirement) and explain how their intentional content is determined (the content determination requirement). In this paper, I argue that concept empiricism has serious problems satisfying these two requirements. Therefore, although stored perceptual representations may facilitate some traditionally conceptual tasks, concepts should not be identified with copies of perceptual representations.


Concepts Concept empiricism Proxytypes Compositionality Intentional content 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

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