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The Ontology of Concepts—Abstract Objects or Mental Representations? 1

By Eric Margolis and Stephen Laurence


The word “concept ” is used in various ways; its sense is sometimes psychological, sometimes logical, and sometimes perhaps a confused mixture of both. (Gottlob Frege 1892a, p. 42) What is a concept? Philosophers have given many different answers to this question, reflecting a wide variety of approaches to the study of mind and language. Nonetheless, at the most general level, there are two dominant frameworks in contemporary philosophy. One proposes that concepts objects. This paperlooks at the differences between these two approaches, the prospects for combining them, and the issues that are involved in the dispute. We argue that powerful motivations have been offered in support of both frameworks. This suggests the possibility of combining the two. Unlike Frege, we hold that the resulting position is perfectly coherent and well worth considering. Nonetheless, we argue that it should be rejected along with the view that concepts are abstract objects—the two have a shared failing—and that the mental representation framework is to be preferred. Here is how we proceed. In sections 1 and 2, we introduce the two frameworks and briefly review their supporting motivations. Next, in section 3 we show how mental representations and abstract objects can be combined into a unified theory of concepts—what we call the Mixed View. Much of the res

Year: 2011
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