Last updated

In metaphysics, conceptualism is a theory that explains universality of particulars as conceptualized frameworks situated within the thinking mind. [1] Intermediate between nominalism and realism, the conceptualist view approaches the metaphysical concept of universals from a perspective that denies their presence in particulars outside the mind's perception of them. [2] Conceptualism is anti-realist about abstract objects, just like immanent realism is (their difference being that immanent realism accepts there are mind-independent facts about whether universals are instantiated). [3]

Metaphysics Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of reality

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century CE editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.

In metaphysics, particulars are defined as concrete, spatiotemporal entities as opposed to abstract entities, such as properties or numbers. There are, however, theories of abstract particulars or tropes. For example, Socrates is a particular. Redness, by contrast, is not a particular, because it is abstract and multiply instantiated.

Nominalism is a philosophical view which comes at least in two varieties. In one of them it is the rejection of abstract objects, in the other it is the rejection of universals.



Medieval philosophy

The evolution of late scholastic terminology has led to the emergence of conceptualism, which stemmed from doctrines that were previously considered to be nominalistic. The terminological distinction was made in order to stress the difference between the claim that universal mental acts correspond with universal intentional objects and the perspective that dismissed the existence of universals outside the mind. The former perspective of rejection of objective universality was distinctly defined as conceptualism.

Scholasticism A method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics ("scholastics", or "schoolmen") of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700

Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending dogma in an increasingly pluralistic context. It originated as an outgrowth of and a departure from Christian theology within the monastic schools at the earliest European universities. The rise of scholasticism was closely associated with the rise of the 12th and 13th century schools that developed into the earliest modern universities, including those in Italy, France, Spain and England.

In analytic philosophy, universality is the idea that universal facts exist and can be progressively discovered, as opposed to relativism. In certain theologies, universalism is the quality ascribed to an entity whose existence is consistent throughout the universe, whose being is independent of and unconstrained by the events and conditions that compose the universe, such as entropy and physical locality.

Peter Abélard was a medieval thinker whose work is currently classified as having the most potential in representing the roots of conceptualism. Abélard’s view denied the existence of determinate universals within things. [4] William of Ockham was another famous late medieval thinker who had a strictly conceptualist solution to the metaphysical problem of universals. He argued that abstract concepts have no fundamentum outside the mind. [5]

William of Ockham English medieval Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher and theologian

William of Ockham was an English Franciscan friar, scholastic philosopher, and theologian, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of the 14th century. He is commonly known for Occam's razor, the methodological principle that bears his name, and also produced significant works on logic, physics, and theology. In the Church of England, his day of commemoration is 10 April.

In the 17th century conceptualism gained favour for some decades especially among the Jesuits: Hurtado de Mendoza, Rodrigo de Arriaga and Francisco Oviedo are the main figures. Although the order soon returned to the more realist philosophy of Francisco Suárez, the ideas of these Jesuits had a great impact on the early modern philosophy.

Rodrigo de Arriaga Spanish philosopher, jesuit, theologian

Rodrigo de Arriaga was a Spanish philosopher, theologian and Jesuit.

Francisco Suárez Spanish Jesuit priest, philosopher and theologian

Francisco Suárez was a Spanish Jesuit priest, philosopher and theologian, one of the leading figures of the School of Salamanca movement, and generally regarded among the greatest scholastics after Thomas Aquinas. His work is considered a turning point in the history of second scholasticism, marking the transition from its Renaissance to its Baroque phases. According to Christopher Shields and Daniel Schwartz, "figures as distinct from one another in place, time, and philosophical orientation as Leibniz, Grotius, Pufendorf, Schopenhauer, and Heidegger, all found reason to cite him as a source of inspiration and influence."

Early modern philosophy

Early modern philosophy is a period in the history of philosophy at the beginning or overlapping with the period known as modern philosophy.

Modern philosophy

Conceptualism was either explicitly or implicitly embraced by most of the early modern thinkers, including René Descartes, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, George Berkeley, and David Hume – often in a quite simplified form if compared with the elaborate scholastic theories. [6] [7]

René Descartes 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist

René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. A native of the Kingdom of France, he spent about 20 years (1629–1649) of his life in the Dutch Republic after serving for a while in the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. One of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age, Descartes is also widely regarded as one of the founders of modern philosophy.

John Locke English philosopher and physician

John Locke was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "Father of Liberalism". Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Sir Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social contract theory. His work greatly affected the development of epistemology and political philosophy. His writings influenced Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. His contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory are reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence.

Baruch Spinoza Dutch philosopher

Baruch Spinoza was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Sephardi origin. One of the early thinkers of the Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. Inspired by the groundbreaking ideas of René Descartes, Spinoza became a leading philosophical figure of the Dutch Golden Age. Spinoza's given name, which means "Blessed", varies among different languages. In Hebrew, it is written ברוך שפינוזה. His Portuguese name is Benedito "Bento" de Espinosa or d'Espinosa. In his Latin works, he used Latin: Benedictus de Spinoza.

Sometimes the term is applied even to the radically different philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who holds that universals have no connection with external things because they are exclusively produced by our a priori mental structures and functions. [8] [9]

Immanuel Kant Prussian philosopher

Immanuel Kant was an influential German philosopher in the Age of Enlightenment. In his doctrine of transcendental idealism, he argued that space, time, and causation are mere sensibilities; "things-in-themselves" exist, but their nature is unknowable. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features. He drew a parallel to the Copernican revolution in his proposition that worldly objects can be intuited a priori ('beforehand'), and that intuition is therefore independent from objective reality. Kant believed that reason is the source of morality, and that aesthetics arise from a faculty of disinterested judgment. Kant's views continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of epistemology, ethics, political theory, and post-modern aesthetics.

The Latin phrases a priori and a posteriori are philosophical terms popularized by Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, one of the most influential works in the history of philosophy. However, in their Latin forms they appear in Latin translations of Euclid's Elements, of about 300 BC, a work widely considered during the early European modern period as the model for precise thinking.

In late modern philosophy, conceptualist views were held by G. W. F. Hegel. [10]

Contemporary philosophy

Edmund Husserl avoided conceptualism and intellectualism [11] and his philosophy of mathematics is more close to Psychologism, so Conceptualists criticized Husserl and Frege. [12]

Conceptualist realism (a view put forward by David Wiggins in 1980) states that our conceptual framework maps reality. [13]

Though separate from the historical debate regarding the status of universals, there has been significant debate regarding the conceptual character of experience since the release of Mind and World by John McDowell in 1994. [14] McDowell's touchstone is the famous refutation that Wilfrid Sellars provided for what he called the "Myth of the Given"—the notion that all empirical knowledge is based on certain assumed or 'given' items, such as sense data. [15] Thus, in rejecting the Myth of the Given, McDowell argues for perceptual conceptualism, according to which perceptual content is conceptual "from the ground up", that is, all perceptual experience is a form of conceptual experience. McDowell's philosophy of justification is considered a form of foundationalism: it is a form of foundationalism because it allows that certain judgements are warranted by experience and it is a coherent form of this view because it maintains that experience can warrant certain judgements because experience is irreducibly conceptual. [16] [17]

A clear motivation of contemporary conceptualism is that the kind of perception that rational creatures like humans enjoy is unique in the fact that it has conceptual character. McDowell explains his position:

I have urged that our perceptual relation to the world is conceptual all the way out to the world’s impacts on our receptive capacities. The idea of the conceptual that I mean to be invoking is to be understood in close connection with the idea of rationality, in the sense that is in play in the traditional separation of mature human beings, as rational animals, from the rest of the animal kingdom. Conceptual capacities are capacities that belong to their subject’s rationality. So another way of putting my claim is to say that our perceptual experience is permeated with rationality. I have also suggested, in passing, that something parallel should be said about our agency. [18]

McDowell's conceptualism, though rather distinct (philosophically and historically) from conceptualism's genesis, shares the view that universals are not "given" in perception from outside the sphere of reason. Particular objects are perceived, as it were, already infused with conceptuality stemming from the spontaneity of the rational subject herself.

The retroactive application of the term "perceptual conceptualism" to Kant's philosophy of perception is debatable. [19] Robert Hanna has argued for a rival interpretation of Kant's work termed perceptual non-conceptualism. [20]

See also


  1. See articles in Strawson, P. F. and Arindam Chakrabarti (eds.), Universals, concepts and qualities: new essays on the meaning of predicates. Ashgate Publishing, 2006.
  2. "Conceptualism." The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Simon Blackburn. Oxford University Press, 1996. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. 8 April 2008.
  3. Neil A. Manson, Robert W. Barnard (eds.), The Bloomsbury Companion to Metaphysics, Bloomsbury, 2014, p. 95.
  4. "Aune, Bruce. "Conceptualism." Metaphysics: the elements. U of Minnesota Press, 1985. 54.
  5. "Turner, W. "William of Ockham." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 27 Oct. 2011
  6. David Bostock, Philosophy of Mathematics: An Introduction, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, p. 43: "All of Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume supposed that mathematics is a theory of our ideas, but none of them offered any argument for this conceptualist claim, and apparently took it to be uncontroversial."
  7. Stefano Di Bella, Tad M. Schmaltz (eds.), The Problem of Universals in Early Modern Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2017, p. 64 "there is a strong case to be made that Spinoza was a conceptualist about universals" and p. 207 n. 25: "Leibniz's conceptualism [is related to] the Ockhamist tradition..."
  8. "De Wulf, Maurice. "Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 27 Oct. 2011
  9. Oberst, Michael. 2015. "Kant on Universals." History of Philosophy Quarterly32(4):335–352.
  10. A. Sarlemijn, Hegel's Dialectic, Springer, 1975, p. 21.
  11. A. D. Smith (2005). "Perception and Conception". The Problem of Perception. Montilal Banardsidass Publishers. p. 117. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  12. American Mathematical Society (2001). "03". Mathematical Reviews chapter 03. 2001. University of Virginia. p. 2187. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  13. A. M. Ferner, Organisms and Personal Identity: Individuation and the Work of David Wiggins, Routledge, 2016, p. 28.
  14. McDowell, John (1994). Mind and World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN   978-0-674-57610-0.
  15. "Wilfrid Sellars" . Retrieved 2013-05-24.
  16. John McDowell, Mind and World. Harvard University Press, 1994, p. 29.
  17. Roger F. Gibson, "McDowell's Direct Realism and Platonic Naturalism", Philosophical Issues Vol. 7, Perception (1996), pp. 275–281.
  18. McDowell, J. (2007). "What Myth?". Inquiry. 50 (4): 338–351. doi:10.1080/00201740701489211.
  19. "The Togetherness Principle, Kant's Conceptualism, and Kant's Non-Conceptualism" – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  20. Robert Hanna, "Kantian non-conceptualism", Philosophical Studies137(1):41–64 (2008).

Related Research Articles

In analytic philosophy, anti-realism is an epistemological position first articulated by British philosopher Michael Dummett. The term was coined as an argument against a form of realism Dummett saw as 'colorless reductionism'.

Foundationalism concerns philosophical theories of knowledge resting upon justified belief, or some secure foundation of certainty such as a conclusion inferred from a basis of sound premises. The main rival of the foundationalist theory of justification is the coherence theory of justification, whereby a body of knowledge, not requiring a secure foundation, can be established by the interlocking strength of its components, like a puzzle solved without prior certainty that each small region was solved correctly.

In philosophy, idealism is the group of metaphysical philosophies that assert that reality, or reality as humans can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In contrast to materialism, idealism asserts the primacy of consciousness as the origin and prerequisite of material phenomena. According to this view, consciousness exists before and is the pre-condition of material existence. Consciousness creates and determines the material and not vice versa. Idealism believes consciousness and mind to be the origin of the material world and aims to explain the existing world according to these principles.

In metaphysics, the problem of universals refers to the question of whether properties exist, and if so, what they are. Properties are qualities or relations that two or more entities have in common. The various kinds of properties, such as qualities and relations, are referred to as universals. For instance, one can imagine three cup holders on a table that have in common the quality of being circular or exemplifying circularity, or two daughters that have in common being the female offsprings of Frank. There are many such properties, such as being human, red, male or female, liquid, big or small, taller than, father of, etc. While philosophers agree that human beings talk and think about properties, they disagree on whether these universals exist in reality or merely in thought and speech.

Philosophy of perception

The philosophy of perception is concerned with the nature of perceptual experience and the status of perceptual data, in particular how they relate to beliefs about, or knowledge of, the world. Any explicit account of perception requires a commitment to one of a variety of ontological or metaphysical views. Philosophers distinguish internalist accounts, which assume that perceptions of objects, and knowledge or beliefs about them, are aspects of an individual's mind, and externalist accounts, which state that they constitute real aspects of the world external to the individual. The position of naïve realism—the 'everyday' impression of physical objects constituting what is perceived—is to some extent contradicted by the occurrence of perceptual illusions and hallucinations and the relativity of perceptual experience as well as certain insights in science. Realist conceptions include phenomenalism and direct and indirect realism. Anti-realist conceptions include idealism and skepticism.

In metaphysics, a universal is what particular things have in common, namely characteristics or qualities. In other words, universals are repeatable or recurrent entities that can be instantiated or exemplified by many particular things. For example, suppose there are two chairs in a room, each of which is green. These two chairs both share the quality of "chairness", as well as greenness or the quality of being green; in other words, they share a "universal". There are three major kinds of qualities or characteristics: types or kinds, properties, and relations. These are all different types of universals.

Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent, as opposed to that which is merely imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence. In physical terms, reality is the totality of the universe, known and unknown. Philosophical questions about the nature of reality or existence or being are considered under the rubric of ontology, which is a major branch of metaphysics in the Western philosophical tradition. Ontological questions also feature in diverse branches of philosophy, including the philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophical logic. These include questions about whether only physical objects are real, whether reality is fundamentally immaterial, whether hypothetical unobservable entities posited by scientific theories exist, whether God exists, whether numbers and other abstract objects exist, and whether possible worlds exist.

John McDowell South African philosopher and academic

John Henry McDowell is a South African philosopher, formerly a fellow of University College, Oxford and now University Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Although he has written extensively on metaphysics, epistemology, ancient philosophy, and meta-ethics, McDowell's most influential work has been in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. McDowell was one of three recipients of the 2010 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Distinguished Achievement Award, and is a Fellow of both the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the British Academy.

In philosophy of science and in epistemology, Instrumentalism is a methodological view that ideas are useful instruments, and that the worth of an idea is based on how effective it is in explaining and predicting phenomena. Instrumentalism is a pragmatic philosophy of John Dewey that thought is an instrument for solving practical problems, and that truth is not fixed but changes as problems change. Instrumentalism is the view that scientific theories are useful tools for predicting phenomena instead of true or approximately true descriptions.

Wilfrid Stalker Sellars was an American philosopher and prominent developer of critical realism, who "revolutionized both the content and the method of philosophy in the United States".

<i>Critique of Pure Reason</i> 1781 book by Immanuel Kant

The Critique of Pure Reason is a book by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in which the author seeks to determine the limits and scope of metaphysics. Also referred to as Kant's "First Critique", it was followed by the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Critique of Judgment (1790). In the preface to the first edition, Kant explains that by a "critique of pure reason" he means a critique "of the faculty of reason in general, in respect of all knowledge after which it may strive independently of all experience" and that he aims to reach a decision about "the possibility or impossibility of metaphysics".

Direct and indirect realism debate regarding corrospondence between experiences of the world and its reality

The question of direct or naïve realism, as opposed to indirect or representational realism, arises in the philosophy of perception and of mind out of the debate over the nature of conscious experience; the epistemological question of whether the world we see around us is the real world itself or merely an internal perceptual copy of that world generated by neural processes in our brain.

In metaphysics, realism about a given object is the view that this object exists in reality independently of our conceptual scheme. In philosophical terms, these objects are ontologically independent of someone's conceptual scheme, perceptions, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.

Moderate realism is a position in the debate on the metaphysics of universals which holds that there is no realm in which universals exist, nor do they really exist within particulars as universals, but rather universals really exist within particulars as particularised, and multiplied.

Epistemology or theory of knowledge is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions "What is knowledge?", "How is knowledge acquired?", "What do people know?", "How do we know what we know?", and "Why do we know what we know?". Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief, and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as skepticism about different knowledge claims.

Objectivity is a philosophical concept of being true independently from individual subjectivity caused by perception, emotions, or imagination. A proposition is considered to have objective truth when its truth conditions are met without bias caused by a sentient subject. Scientific objectivity refers to the ability to judge without partiality or external influence, sometimes used synonymously with neutrality.

Liberal naturalism is a heterodox form of metaphysical naturalism that lies in the conceptual space between scientific naturalism and supernaturalism. It allows that one can respect the explanations and results of the successful sciences without supposing that the sciences are our only resource for understanding humanity and our dealings with the world and each other.

Anil Gupta (philosopher)

Anil K. Gupta is an Indian-American philosopher who works primarily in logic, philosophy of language, metaphysics, and epistemology. Gupta is the Alan Ross Anderson Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.