Conceptualism and Concept Acquisition

Theoria 87 (1):69-86 (2019)
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Many think that the perceptual theory known as “conceptualism” cannot honor a common and intuitive constraint on concept acquisition—that we gain the initial power to deploy primitive concepts through experience. Their argument is: if experience involves the deployment of concepts, then one must possess the power to deploy those concepts prior to experience. I argue that the plausibility of this argument rests on a subtle equivocation. It’s true that conceptualism requires a particular kind of power to deploy concepts prior to experience, but not the sort referenced in the intuitive constraint mentioned above. I end by proposing how the conceptualist might satisfy this constraint. I conclude that conceptualism is better situated to account for primitive concept acquisition than typically thought.

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Blake McAllister
Hillsdale College


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