SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Embodied skills and knowledge-how as the basis for concept possession
(Philosophy of Mind, English)

Concepts are a fundamental part of any theory of cognition aiming to explain how animals and humans can retain information about their environment in a way that allows them to employ it for the purposes of offline reasoning, future planning, intention ascription, and other high-level cognitive processes. Traditional views of concepts hold that, when an organism possesses a concept, their brain or mind contains contentful representations of objects or abstract entities subsumed under that concept. For instance, a person's concept of DOG may be constituted by a structured set of mental representations with the contents "tail", "pet", "fluffy", et cetera. While many philosophers disagree on what exactly the format of these representations are, and which role the structural relation between them plays, it is fair to say that the received view within philosophical approaches to concept possession hinges on the possession of representational content (Prinz, 2002).

In my paper, I argue against this fundamental assumption. Instead, I present an account of concepts that is based on the possession of abilities, both to perceive and interact with properties of objects and to relate concepts to each other in a certain way (Newen & Bartels, 2007). Abilities, in turn, are realized by an agent possessing knowledge-how about sensorimotor correlations on the one hand and patterns of thought on the other. Knowledge-how, understood in this sense, turns out to be a prerequisite for the possession of knowledge-that, since it needs to be grounded in skills of access and interaction with the real world (No__, 2015).

Consequently, concepts should not be understood as grounded in representational content, but in fundamental sensorimotor abilities that allow for the recognization of instantiations of that concept in one's environment. Thus, taking into account the different degrees to which concepts can incorporate knowledge-how and knowledge-that, we arrive at a pluralist understanding of concepts.


Newen, A. & Bartels, A. (2007): Animal Minds and the Possession of Concepts. Philosophical Psychology, 20(3)

No__, A. (2015): Concept Pluralism, Direct Perception, and the Fragility of Presence. In: T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds.): OpenMIND, 27(T)

Prinz, J. J. (2002): Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and their Perceptual Basis. MIT Press.

Chair: Bruno Cortesi
Time: 14:00-14:30, 09. September 2022 (Friday)
Location: HS E.002

Alexander Hölken 
(Ruhr University Bochum, Germany)

Testability and Meaning deco