Academic journal article The Journal of Mind and Behavior

Intentionality and the Aristotelian-Thomistic View of Concepts

Academic journal article The Journal of Mind and Behavior

Intentionality and the Aristotelian-Thomistic View of Concepts

Article excerpt

Concept formation is a foundational process for cognition. Concepts allow us to perceive individual objects as members of a kind, to attribute properties common to the kind to the specific individual object, to communicate with others about such objects, and so on. Indeed, concepts are often thought oí as the building blocks oí cognition (Solomon, Medin, and Lynch, 1999). Thus, weaknesses in theories of concepts will propagate throughout our understanding of cognition as a whole.

In recent years, despite a great deal of empirical work investigating how concepts are learned and represented, a concern has begun to arise that our theoretical views of concepts are deeply inadequate. Indeed, Machery (2009) has suggested that the theoretical confusion is so great that scholars should seriously consider the possibility that there can never be a theory of concepts.

Why this pessimism about the possibility of a theory of concepts? There are three general theoretical approaches to concepts (exemplars, prototypes, and the theory-theory), all of which are supported by empirical data, but which appear to be completely incompatible with each other. Furthermore, quite a lot of recent research results are not compatible with any of the three theories. For example, research giving rise to data that does not fit any of the standard approaches has been conducted on generics (statements that are taken as generically true of a kind, even it infrequent, e.g., Cimpian, Brandone, and Gelman, 2010; Cimpian, Gelman, and Brandone, 2010; Graham, Nayer, and Gelman, 2011), psychological essentialism (a belief in categorical essences, e.g., Gelman 2003, 2004), and k-properties (properties that seem to directly reflect the kind, see e.g., Prasada and Dillingham, 2006, 2009). For example, none of these results fits well (or at all) with the kind of statistical accumulation that underlies exemplar and prototype theories. In short, the wide array of apparently mutually incompatible experimental results, as well as being incompatible with the general theories of concepts, points strongly to the need for a very different kind of theoretical foundation for our understanding of concepts.

Recently, Spalding and Gagné (2013) proposed that an Aristotelian-Thomistic view of concepts might provide a good underlying theoretical approach to the psychology of concepts. They described the A-T view of concepts, showed that the A-T view is not the so-called classical view of concepts that was rejected in the 1970s and 1980s, and then showed that the A-T view is consistent with the empirical evidence for each of the three main modern theoretical approaches, as well as a number of other recent empirical research results that do not fit well with any of the three general theories. One of the critical points made by Spalding and Gagné is that the A-T approach to concepts is, in many respects, driven by the broader A-T approach to knowledge and by A-T metaphysics. Therefore, adopting the A-T approach to concepts may lead to solutions (or at least interesting approaches) to some other problems that are related to concepts and to philosophy of mind, more generally. In this paper, we expand on Spalding and Gagnè's claims by considering how adopting an A-T approach would impact our understanding of the intentionality of human thought.

Intentionality in Philosophy and Psychology

Intentionality is the property ot human thoughts such that thoughts are about or refer to or are directed toward something beyond themselves (see, e.g., Feser, 2006, pp. 15-16; Madden, 2013, pp. 12-13). Recent discussions of intentionality largely originate in the work of Brentano (1874/1973). Despite various reservations about the details of Brentano's claims that need not concern us here, discussions of intentionality have been central in both analytic (e.g., Quine, 1960) and phenomenological philosophy (e.g., Husserl, 1900/1970). Indeed, intentionality has been, an extremely difficult problem in the philosophy ot mind. …

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