Philosophy 305                                                                                                                                                                              D. Bar-On and W. Lycan
 Spring, 2001


    Concepts have been the topic of much recent discussion in both philosophy and cognitive science.  In philosophy, concepts have long been assigned several important roles.  Concepts have been identified as the components of (abstract) thoughts, as the meanings of terms, and as the basis for a certain special class of truths: a priori truths.  Concepts have also been taken by philosophers to be elements of thinking or cognition.  In this last capacity, concepts hold special and obvious interest for psychologists and cognitive scientists.
    Two broad and basic questions about concepts occupy both philosophers and cognitive scientists.  The questions are: (a) What are concepts? and (b) What is it for someone to have a concept?  In this seminar, we will examine and assess answers to these and related questions provided by philosophers as well as cognitive scientists.  We will also be interested in conceptual and methodological differences that may emerge between their respective approaches, and in traditional and more recent notions of “conceptual truth.”


    E. Margolis and S. Laurence (eds.), Concepts: Core Readings (MIT Press), pb.

    E. Villanueva (ed.), Concepts (Ridgeview Publishing), pb.

    (Recommended)  F. Jackson, From Metaphysics to Ethics (Oxford U.P.), pb.


    Students taking the seminar for credit will be required to submit a term paper due on the last day of exam week.  In addition, students will be asked to give short presentations on some of the readings during one of the seminar's meetings.
    Auditors are welcome, and welcome to give presentations.

Schedule of Readings

January 10:  Introduction to the main issues.

January 17:  Plato, Euthyphro (M&L 2); Katz, “On the General Character of Semantic Theory” (M&L 4).

January 24:  Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (M&L 5); Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, sections 65-78 (M&L 6); Putnam, “Is Semantics Possible?” (M&L 7).

January 31:  Rosch, “Principles of Categorization” (M&L 8); Osherson and Smith, “On the Adequacy of Prototype Theory as a Theory of Concepts” (M&L 11); Rey, “Concepts and Stereotypes” (M&L 12).

February 7:  Jackendoff, “What Is a Concept, That a Person May Grasp It?” (M&L 13); Peacocke, “Précis of A Study of Concepts” (M&L 14); Peacocke, excerpts from A Study of Concepts (on reserve in the Coffee Room); Rey, “Resisting Primitive Compulsions” (M&L 15); Peacocke, “Can Possession Conditions Individuate Concepts?” (M&L 16).

February 14:  Peacocke, “Implicit Conceptions, Understanding and Rationality” (V 6; 7-11 recommended).

February 21:  Murphy and Medin, “The Role of Theories in Conceptual Coherence” (M&L 19); Carey, “Knowledge Acquisition: Enrichment or Conceptual Change?” (M&L 20).

February 28:  Fodor et al., “Against Definitions” (M&L 21); Fodor, “Information and Representation” (M&L 22); Millikan, “A Common Structure for Concepts of Individuals, Stuffs and Real Kinds: More Mama, More Milk, and More Mouse” (M&L 23) (recommended: Margolis, “How to Acquire a Concept” (M&L 24)).

March 7:  Catch up.

March 21:  Fodor, “There Are No Recognitional Concepts, Not Even RED” (V 1; 2-5 recommended).

March 28:  Higginbotham, “Conceptual Competence” (V 12; 13-17 recommended).

April 4:  Boghossian, “What the Externalist Can Know A Priori” (V 18; 19-23 recommended).

April 11:  Stalnaker, “What Might Nonconceptual Content Be?” (V 30; 31-35 recommended).

April 18:  Jackson, Chs. 1 and 2.

April 25:  Jackson, Ch. 3 (Ch. 4 recommended).

May 2:  Catch up.