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.”—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