About this topic
Summary Perception-based theories of concepts hold that concepts represent categories exclusively in terms of perceivable qualities and relations. A concept such as GORILLA, then, would be made up of stored perceptual images of gorillas and their typical behavior. This view is related to classical empiricist theories of ideas insofar as it treats concepts as complex sensorimotor representations. On the most radical versions of this view, even abstract concepts such as TRUTH, ART, or PRIME NUMBER are represented in a perceptual format. These views also have affinities with embodied theories of cognition that explain higher cognitive capacities in terms of sensorimotor processes and bodily structures.
Key works Works that argue for and develop perception-based theories of concepts include Prinz 2002, Barsalou 1999, and Barsalou 2010. Works that are critical of perception-based theories of concepts include Dove 2009, Machery 2006, and Weiskopf 2007.
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  1. What Makes Perceptual Symbols Perceptual?Murat Aydede - 1999 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (4):610-611.
    It is argued that three major attempts by Barsalou to specify what makes a perceptual symbol perceptual fail. It is suggested that one way to give such an account is to employ the symbols.
  2. Concepts and Meaning.Lawerence Barsalou - 1993 - In L. Barsalou, W. Yeh, B. Luka, K. Olseth, K. Mix & L. Wu (eds.), Chicago Linguistic Society 29: Papers From the Parasession on Conceptual Representations. University of Chicago. pp. 23-61.
  3. Perceptual Symbol Systems.Lawrence W. Barsalou - 1999 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (4):577-660.
    Prior to the twentieth century, theories of knowledge were inherently perceptual. Since then, developments in logic, statis- tics, and programming languages have inspired amodal theories that rest on principles fundamentally different from those underlying perception. In addition, perceptual approaches have become widely viewed as untenable because they are assumed to implement record- ing systems, not conceptual systems. A perceptual theory of knowledge is developed here in the context of current cognitive science and neuroscience. During perceptual experience, association areas in the (...)
  4. Flexibility, Structure, and Linguistic Vagary in Concepts: Manifestations of a Compositional System of Perceptual Symbols.Lawrence W. Barsalou - 1993 - In A. Collins, S. Gathercole, Martin A. Conway & P. E. Morris (eds.), Theories of Memory. Lawrence Erlbaum. pp. 1.
  5. Furnishing the Mind.Andrea Bianchi - 2006 - Philosophical Books 47 (1):52-61.
  6. Metaphoric Structuring: Understanding Time Through Spatial Metaphors.Lera Boroditsky - 2000 - Cognition 75 (1):1-28.
  7. Perceptual Symbols and Taxonomy Comparison.Xiang Chen - 2001 - Philosophy of Science 3 (September):S200-S212.
    Many recent cognitive studies reveal that human cognition is inherently perceptual, sharing systems with perception at both the conceptual and the neural levels. This paper introduces Barsalou's theory of perceptual symbols and explores its implications for philosophy of science. If perceptual symbols lie in the heart of conceptual processing, the process of attribute selection during concept representation, which is critical for defining similarity and thus for comparing taxonomies, can no longer be determined solely by background beliefs. The analogous nature of (...)
  8. Putting Concepts to Work: Some Thoughts for the 21st Century (a Reply to Fodor).Andy Clark & Jesse Prinz - unknown
    Fodor’s theory makes thinking prior to doing. It allows for an inactive agent or pure reflector, and for agents whose actions in various ways seem to float free of their own conceptual repertoires. We show that naturally evolved creatures are not like that. In the real world, thinking is always and everywhere about doing. The point of having a brain is to guide the actions of embodied beings in a complex material world. Some of those actions are, to be sure, (...)
  9. Putting Concepts to Work: Some Thoughts for the Twenty-First Century.Andy Clark & Jesse J. Prinz - 2004 - Mind and Language 19 (1):57-69.
  10. Proxytypes and Linguistic Nativism.John M. Collins - 2006 - Synthese 153 (1):69-104.
    Prinz (Perceptual the Mind: Concepts and Their Perceptual Basis, MIT Press, 2002) presents a new species of concept empiricism, under which concepts are off-line long-term memory networks of representations that are ‘copies’ of perceptual representations – proxytypes. An apparent obstacle to any such empiricism is the prevailing nativism of generative linguistics. The paper critically assesses Prinz’s attempt to overcome this obstacle. The paper argues that, prima facie, proxytypes are as incapable of accounting for the structure of the linguistic mind as (...)
  11. Content, Embodiment, and Objectivity: The Theory of Cognitive Trails.Adrian Cussins - 1992 - Mind 101 (404):651-88.
  12. Concepts in the Brain.Antonio R. Damasio - 1989 - Mind and Language 4 (1-2):24-28.
  13. Prinz, Jesse J. Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and Their Perceptual Basis. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 358 P.(2002)[2004]. [REVIEW]Felipe de Brigard - 2007 - Ideas Y Valores 56 (133):163-168.
  14. Prinz's Problematic Proxytypes.Raffaella de Rosa - 2005 - Philosophical Quarterly 55 (221):594-606.
    Jesse Prinz has argued that a proxytype theory of concepts provides what he calls the 'intentionality' and 'cognitive content' desiderata better than any current competitor, and that the hybrid nature of proxytypes allows his theory to combine the informational component of informational atomism with the view that concepts are semantically structured entities. In response, I argue that the hybrid character of proxytypes, far from delivering the advantages Prinz claims, generates a threatening dilemma: either his theory is novel but fails to (...)
  15. Hunting Fat Gnu: How to Identify a Proxytype.David DeMoss - 2004 - Essays in Philosophy 5 (1):1-10.
  16. Sort-of Symbols?Daniel C. Dennett & Christopher D. Viger - 1999 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (4):613-613.
    Barsalou's elision of the personal and sub-personal levels tends to conceal the fact that he is, at best, providing the “specs” but not yet a model for his hypothesized perceptual symbols.
  17. Corrupted Concepts and Empiricism.Wilhelm K. Essler - 1978 - Erkenntnis 12 (2):181 - 187.
  18. Replies to Critics.Jerry A. Fodor - 2000 - Mind and Language 15 (2-3):350-374.
  19. Toward an Ecological Theory of Concepts.Dr Liane M. Gabora, Dr Eleanor Rosch & Dr Diederik Aerts - forthcoming - Philosophical Explorations.
    Psychology has had difficulty accounting for the creative, context-sensitive manner in which concepts are used. We believe this stems from the view of concepts as identifiers rather than bridges between mind and world that participate in the generation of meaning. This paper summarizes the history and current status of concepts research, and provides a non-technical summary of work toward an ecological approach to concepts. We outline the rationale for applying generalizations of formalisms originally developed for use in quantum mechanics to (...)
  20. The Brain's Concepts: The Role of the Sensory-Motor System in Conceptual Knowledge.Vittorio Gallese & George Lakoff - unknown
    Concepts are the elementary units of reason and linguistic meaning. They are conventional and relatively stable. As such, they must somehow be the result of neural activity in the brain. The questions are: Where? and How? A common philosophical position is that all concepts—even concepts about action and perception—are symbolic and abstract, and therefore must be implemented outside the brain’s sensory-motor system. We will argue against this position using (1) neuroscientific evidence; (2) results from neural computation; and (3) results about (...)
  21. Reuniting Perception and Conception.Robert L. Goldstone & Lawrence W. Barsalou - 1998 - Cognition 65 (2-3):231-262.
  22. Transfinite Concepts and Empiricism.C. G. Hempel - 1938 - Synthese 3 (12):9 - 12.
  23. Space Concepts in Psychology.Tarow Indow - 1963 - Journal of the Japan Association for Philosophy of Science 6 (2):47-55.
  24. On the Nature and Composition of Abstract Concepts: The X-Ception Theory and Methods for Its Assessment.Remo Job, Claudio Mulatti, Sara Dellantonio & Luigi Pastore - 2015 - In Woosuk Park, Ping Li & Lorenzo Magnani (eds.), Philosophy and Cognitive Science Ii. Springer Verlag.
    The ‘standard picture of meaning’ suggests that natural languages are composed of two different kinds of words: concrete words whose meaning rely on observable properties of external objects and abstract words which are essentially linguistic constructs. In this study, we challenge this picture and support a new view of the nature and composition of abstract concepts suggesting that they also rely to a greater or lesser degree on body-related information. Specifically, we support a version of this new view which we (...)
  25. The Relevance of Nonsymbolic Cognition to Husserl's Fifth Meditation.Albert A. Johnstone - 1999 - Philosophy Today 43 (supplement):88-98.
  26. Abstraction and the Origin of General Ideas.Stephen Laurence & Eric Margolis - 2012 - Philosophers' Imprint 12 (19):1-22.
    Philosophers have often claimed that general ideas or representations have their origin in abstraction, but it remains unclear exactly what abstraction as a psychological process consists in. We argue that the Lockean aspiration of using abstraction to explain the origins of all general representations cannot work and that at least some general representations have to be innate. We then offer an explicit framework for understanding abstraction, one that treats abstraction as a computational process that operates over an innate quality space (...)
  27. Reply to Barbara Malt and Jesse Prinz.Edouard Machery - 2010 - Mind and Language 25 (5):634-646.
    In this response to Malt's and Prinz's commentaries, I argue that neo-empiricist hypotheses fail to threaten the argument for the elimination of ‘concept’ because they are unlikely to be true of all concepts, if they are true at all. I also defend the hypothesis that we possess bodies of knowledge retrieved by default from long-term memory, and I argue that prototypes, exemplars, and theories form genuinely distinct concepts.
  28. Concept Empiricism: A Methodological Critique.Edouard Machery - 2006 - Cognition 104 (1):19-46.
  29. On the Birth and Growth of Concepts.Jean M. Mandler - 2008 - Philosophical Psychology 21 (2):207 – 230.
    This article describes what the earliest concepts are like and presents a theory of the spatial primitives from which they are formed. The earliest concepts tend to be global, like animal and container, and it is hypothesized that they consist of simplified redescriptions of innately salient spatial information. These redescriptions become associated with sensory and other bodily experiences that are not themselves redescribed, but that enrich conceptual thought. The initial conceptual base becomes expanded through subdivision, sometimes aided by language that (...)
  30. Concepts a la Modal: An Extended Review of Prinz's Furnishing the Mind. [REVIEW]A. Markman & H. C. Stilwell - 2004 - Philosophical Psychology 17 (3):391-401.
    In Furnishing the mind, Prinz defends a view of concept representation that assumes all representations are rooted in perception. This view is attractive, because it makes clear how concepts could be learned from experience in the world. In this paper, we discuss three limitations of the view espoused by Prinz. First, the central proposal requires more detail in order to support the claim that all representations are modal. Second, it is not clear that a theory of concepts must make a (...)
  31. Seeing, Doing, and Knowing: A Précis. [REVIEW]Mohan Matthen - 2008 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 76 (2):392–399.
  32. Concepts: Stored or Created?Marco Mazzone & Elisabetta Lalumera - 2010 - Minds and Machines 20 (1):47-68.
    Are concepts stable entities, unchanged from context to context? Or rather are they context-dependent structures, created on the fly? We argue that this does not constitute a genuine dilemma. Our main thesis is that the more a pattern of features is general and shared, the more it qualifies as a concept. Contextualists have not shown that conceptual structures lack a stable, general core, acting as an attractor on idiosyncratic information. What they have done instead is to give a contribution to (...)
  33. Contenido conceptual - contenido no conceptual: una distinción de tipo.Parra Dany Mauricio González - 2014 - Escritos 22 (49):369-397.
    La distinción entre contenidos conceptuales y no-conceptuales tiene claras repercusiones en el modo en que el hombre configura su mundo, así como en la posibilidad de atribuir pensamiento, en sentido estricto, a sistemas y organismos no humanos. Con el fin de clarificar dicha distinción, en el presente trabajo se plantea una noción básica de estado mental y, especialmente, una definición clara de lo que es un concepto y las características esenciales de los estados en que estos aparecen. Lo que se (...)
  34. Why Believe in Demonstrative Concepts?David Pereplyotchik - 2011 - Consciousness and Cognition 21 (2):636-638.
    I examine two arguments for the existence of demonstrative concepts—one due to Chuard (2006) and another due to Brewer (1999). I point out some important difficulties in each. I hope to show that much more work must be done to legitimize positing demonstrative concepts.
  35. Can Concept Empiricism Forestall Eliminativism?Jesse Prinz - 2010 - Mind and Language 25 (5):612-621.
    In this commentary, I focus on Machery's criticism of Neo-Empiricism. I argue that Neo-Empiricism can survive Machery's critique, and I show that there is an empiricist strategy for forestalling eliminativism.
  36. The Return of Concept Empiricism.Jesse J. Prinz - 2005 - In H. Cohen & C. Leferbvre (eds.), Categorization and Cognitive Science. Elsevier.
    In this chapter, I outline and defend a version of concept empiricism. The theory has four central tenets: Concepts represent categories by reliable causal relations to category instances; conceptual representations of category vary from occasion to occasion; these representations are perceptually based; and these representations are all learned, not innate. The last two tenets on this list have been central to empiricism historically, and the first two have been developed in more recent years. I look at each in turn, and (...)
  37. Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and Their Perceptual Basis.Jesse J. Prinz - 2004 - Bradford.
    Western philosophy has long been divided between empiricists, who argue that human understanding has its basis in experience, and rationalists, who argue that reason is the source of knowledge. A central issue in the debate is the nature of concepts, the internal representations we use to think about the world. The traditional empiricist thesis that concepts are built up from sensory input has fallen out of favor. Mainstream cognitive science tends to echo the rationalist tradition, with its emphasis on innateness. (...)
  38. Sensible Ideas: A Reply to Sarnecki and Markman and Stilwell.Jesse J. Prinz - 2004 - Philosophical Psychology 17 (3):419-430.
    In Furnishing the mind, I argued that concepts are couched in representational formats that are indigenous to sensory systems. I called this thesis "concept empiricism," because I think it is was a central tenet of the philosophical program defended by classical British empiricists, such as Locke and Hume. I still think that concept empiricism is true, and more empirical evidence has accrued since the book went to press. That's the good news. The bad news is that able critics have marshaled (...)
  39. Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and Their Perceptual Basis.Jesse J. Prinz - 2002 - MIT Press.
  40. Putting Concepts to Work: Some Thoughts for the Twenty First Century.Jesse J. Prinz & A. Clark - 2004 - Mind and Language 19 (1):57-69.
    Fodor’s theory makes thinking prior to doing. It allows for an inactive agent or pure reflector, and for agents whose actions in various ways seem to float free of their own conceptual repertoires. We show that naturally evolved creatures are not like that. In the real world, thinking is always and everywhere about doing. The point of having a brain is to guide the actions of embodied beings in a complex material world. Some of those actions are, to be sure, (...)
  41. Perceptual Concepts: In Defence of the Indexical Model.François Recanati - 2013 - Synthese 190 (10):1841-1855.
    Francois Recanati presents the basic features of the *indexical model* of mental files, and defends it against several interrelated objections. According to this model, mental files refer to objects in a way that is analogous to that of indexicals in language: a file refers to an object in virtue of a contextual relation between them. For instance, perception and attention provide the basis for demonstrative files. Several objections, some of them from David Papineau, concern the possibility of files to preserve (...)
  42. Modes of Presentation: Perceptual Vs Deferential.Francois Recanati - 2001 - In Albert Newen, Ulrich Nortmann & Rainer Stuehlmann-Laeisz (eds.), Building on Frege: New Essays on Sense, Content, and Concept. CSLI Stanford. pp. 197-208.
    Through perception we gain information about the world. We also gain information about the world through communication with others. There are concepts — indexical concepts, such as the concept of the present time ('now') or of the present place ('here') or the concept of oneself — which have a special link to perception. Are there concepts which are tied to communication in the same way in which indexical concepts are tied to perception? After discussing, and criticizing, a deflationary approach to (...)
  43. Concept Empiricism, Content, and Compositionality.Collin Rice - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 162 (3):567-583.
    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 (...)
  44. Prinz's Problematic Proxytypes.Rosa Raffaella De - 2005 - Philosophical Quarterly 55 (221):594 - 606.
    Jesse Prinz has argued that a proxytype theory of concepts provides what he calls the 'intentionality' and 'cognitive content' desiderata better than any current competitor, and that the hybrid nature of proxytypes allows his theory to combine the informational component of informational atomism with the view that concepts are semantically structured entities. In response, I argue that the hybrid character of proxytypes, far from delivering the advantages Prinz claims, generates a threatening dilemma: either his theory is novel but fails to (...)
  45. Empiricism Regained (Comments on Prinz's Furnishing the Mind).Dan Ryder - 2003 - Metascience 12.
    In this wide-ranging book, Jesse Prinz attempts to resuscitate a strand of empiricism continuous with the classical thesis that all Ideas are imagistic. His name for this strand is “concept empiricism,” and he formulates it as follows: “all (human) concepts are copies or combinations of copies of perceptual representations” (p. 108). In the process of defending concept empiricism, Prinz is careful not to commit himself to a number of other theses commonly associated with empiricism more broadly construed. For example, he (...)
  46. The Multimedia Mnd: An Analysis of Prinz on Concepts.John Sarnecki - 2004 - Philosophical Psychology 17 (3):403-18.
    In his new book, Furnishing the mind, Jesse Prinz argues that a new form of empiricism can break the logjam that currently frustrates attempts to develop a theory of concepts. I argue that Prinz's new way with empiricism is ultimately unsuccessful. In maintaining that all cognition is reducible to perceptual constructs, Prinz is unable to provide an effective model of the nature of individual concepts or their role in thought. Three major problems are addressed in reverse order. Prinz does not (...)
  47. Truth and Intra-Personal Concept Stability.Mark Siebel - 1999 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (4):632-633.
    I criticize three claims concerning simulators: (1) That a simulator provides the best-fitting simulation of the perceptual impression one has of an object does not guarantee, pace Barsalou, that the object belongs to the simulator's category. (2) The people described by Barsalou do not acquire a concept of truth because they are not sensitive about the potential inadequacy of their sense impressions. (3) Simulator update prevents Barsalou's way of individuating concepts (i.e., identifying them with simulators) from solving the problem of (...)
  48. Reply to Prinz.Susanna Siegel - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 163 (3).
  49. Empiricist Versus Prototype Theories of Language Acquisition.Nathan Stemmer - 1989 - Mind and Language 4 (3):201-221.
  50. On Imagism About Phenomenal Thought.Pär Sundström - 2011 - Philosophical Review 120 (1):43-95.
    Imagism about Phenomenal Thought is (roughly) the view that there is some concept *Q* (for some sensory quality Q) that we can employ only while we experience the quality Q. I believe this view is theoretically significant, is or can be made intuitively appealing, and is explicitly or implicitly accepted by many contemporary philosophers However, there is no good reason to accept it. Or so I argue.
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