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MindGrad 2009

‘Sense-Experience, Content and Demonstrative Concepts’

Jean Mueller, University of Manchester

Conceptualists hold that the content of sense-experiences is conceptual. This paper addresses a reply commonly given by conceptualists to an argument that has been raised against their view many times, the argument from fineness of grain. In response to this argument conceptualists have invoked the notion of a ‘perceptual demonstrative concept’ (that shade of red, that shape). One of the questions arising in the context of this response is whether conceptualists are able to provide a non-circular account of how the referent of a perceptual demonstrative concept is fixed. The threat of circularity arises from the observation that the exercise of a perceptual demonstrative concept itself requires a prior sense-experience of the referent of that concept. In responding to this challenge on behalf of the conceptualist, I will suggest a qualification of conceptualism of by distinguishing between different kinds of sense-experiential content in light of the epistemological context in which conceptualism is situated. As I will argue, this apparent circularity problem results from insufficient attention to the explanatory goals contemporary conceptualists like McDowell and Brewer are trying to achieve.

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