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. In Furnishing the Mind, Jesse Prinz attempts to swing the pendulum back toward empiricism.
Prinz provides a critical survey of leading theories of concepts, including imagism, definitionism, prototype theory, exemplar theory, the theory theory, and informational atomism. He sets forth a new defense of concept empiricism that draws on philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology and introduces a new version of concept empiricism called proxytype theory. He also provides accounts of abstract concepts, intentionality, narrow content, and concept combination. In an extended discussion of innateness, he covers Noam Chomsky's arguments for the innateness of grammar, developmental psychologists' arguments for innate cognitive domains, and Jerry Fodor's argument for radical concept nativism.
About the Author
Jesse J. Prinz is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Prinz's discussions...provide a clear overview of the field, both in philosophy and psychology.”—S.W. Horst, Choice
“Furnishing the Mind is a spirited and ingenious defense of concept empiricism. Prinz tackles the philosophical objections head-on and makes superb use of the psychological literature on concept acquisition and categorization. This book will be read with great profit by philosophers and psychologists concerned with the nature of concepts.”
—José Luis Bermudez, Professor of Philosophy, Washington University in St. Louis
“Furnishing the Mind is the most important work on concepts to have been written since Locke’s Essay. It explains what Locke saw to be true but was unable satisfactorily to articulate: that concepts are constructs out of lower-level perceptual representations. The marriage of Classical empiricism with a causal theory of reference is the core of what Prinz proposes and skillfully defends in this remarkable book. He has done us all a huge service by showing how what we all knew must be right (viz, empiricism about concepts) could be right after all.”
—Fiona Cowie, Department of Philosophy, California Institute of Technology
“This breezily written book carries you on a whirlwind tour of old theories, then lifts you on a sustained gust of fresh air. Prinz's proxy types are the key to an ingenious new Lockean theory of concepts.”
—Kent Bach, Professor of Philosophy, San Francisco State University
“The traditional, empiricist view is that everything in the mind got there through the senses. Jesse Prinz has written a feisty defense of this idea, thoroughly grounded in contemporary psychology and cognitive neuroscience. He sets out to undermine well-known and widely accepted arguments against the view that mental contents represent things by resembling them. He defends the equally radical view that mental representations in the form of prototypes are an adequate basis for such mental operations as the formation of composite concepts and logical inference. Prinz combines these radical elements with more widely accepted resources—such as a causal-history account of reference fixing—to create an ambitious and wide-ranging account of the furnishings of the mind.”
—Paul E. Griffiths, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh