Getting to the Heart of the Concept CONCEPT

Document Type: 
ASSC Conference Item
Article Type: 
theories of concepts, conceptual spaces, mental representations, informational atomism, proxytypes
Deposited by: 
Joel Parthemore
Date of Issue: 
Joel Parthemore
Event Dates: 
22-25 June 2007
Event Location: 
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Event Title: 
11th annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Event Type: 
ASSC Conference
Presentation Type: 
Number of Pages: 
Jerry Fodor has written, 'the heart of a cognitive science is its theory of concepts.' By modest extension, the heart of a science of consciousness is its theory of concepts as well. Most, or to some accounts all, of our conscious experience is conceptualized, to greater or lesser extent. Fodor believes that cognitive science has historically gotten its theory of concepts wrong. Consciousness studies have, arguably, taken their theory of concepts for granted. How one answers the question 'what is a concept?' will have significant consequences for how one answers 'what is consciousness?' This paper considers standard and less standard answers to the question, 'what is a concept?': sub-propositional entities, constituents of mental states, constituents of mental representations, proxies in simulations, and, borrowing a page from autopoiesis theory, reliably recurring perturbations of the system caused by some internal or external stimulus. It gives extended consideration to the approach taken by the CYC project: its benefits and limitations; and it shows how two competing theories of concepts, Fodor's informational atomism and Prinz's proxytypes theory, are not as irreconcilable as they may at first appear. Finally, it addresses why consciousness researchers should take account of these discussions.
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