I am looking for references in the literature where people equate the process of understanding with conceptual activity. I will not be able to sketch it out exactly. My hunch is that there should be people who argue that understanding is a matter of finding the right concepts to apply to phenomena. I know that conceptual engineering people do this, but who else? Are there any references that you would be so kind as to give me which can serve as a reference for me to refer to when I discuss a stream in the literature who argue for this thesis?


1 Answer 1


The basic sketch in philosophy goes like this:

There are minds that emerge from brains. Minds have intentionality which is best understood in terms of representations. Minds think, and thoughts are conceptual in nature. As someone speaks, concepts express propositions which have truth-conditional semantics and are metaphysically "translated" into utterances, sentences, or language. Philosophers claim the domain of expertise in concepts and particularly after Frege's Begriffsschrift and the linguistic turn, analytical philosophers are concerned with the philosophy of language itself. One seminal work in Continental philosophy on concepts is Deleuze and Guatari's What is Philosophy?

Right off the bat, if you're a computer guy like me, and you have an interest in philosophy of mind, you have some interrelations about how representations, understanding, and language inter-relate. Thought is imputed to be an activity of the mind which is generally conceived of as representational (SEP) and modular (SEP). If you take thought as primarily an activity of computation, then you are dealing with the Computational Theory of Mind (SEP). If you find that model agreeable, then you are probably amenable to the idea that computation has a physical aspect (SEP). So, if you read those articles, you'll have four sets of references from which to expand your reading list.

Besides the AI subdiscipline of knowledge representation and engineering, in computer science, the former discipline of computational linguistics has broadened into natural language processing. In NLP, a lot of work is being done in the spirit of the Montague Grammar. More contemporary is Ranta's type-theoretical grammar (GB) and that aligns with the idea there is type-theoretical semantics (GB). My current go-to for a conceptual model of conceptualization is the eminent Ray Jackendoff's Foundations of Language. He has a section in his book that deals with conceptualization from a physicalist perspective.

Of course, there are less linguistically rigorous approaches to understanding the mind and conceptualization, including those that don't lean heavily on physicalism. The big alternative is phenomenalism starting with the phenomenology of Husserl. He took what Kant produced and created, as far as I'm concerned, the Continental tradition that examines 'mind', 'language', and 'concept'. I'm clueless about those sorts of traditions. I know that I like philosophical anthropology as an approach, but I'm not sure how they deal with the concept 'concept'.

That should get you started.

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