In metaphysics, conceptualism is a theory that explains universality of particulars as conceptualized frameworks situated within the thinking mind.[1] Intermediate between nominalism and realism, the conceptualist view approaches the metaphysical concept of universals from a perspective that denies their presence in particulars outside the mind's perception of them.[2] Conceptualism is anti-realist about abstract objects, just like immanent realism is (their difference being that immanent realism does not deny the mind-independence of universals, like conceptualism does).[3]


Medieval philosophy

The evolution of late scholastic terminology has led to the emergence of conceptualism, which stemmed from doctrines that were previously considered to be nominalistic. The terminological distinction was made in order to stress the difference between the claim that universal mental acts correspond with universal intentional objects and the perspective that dismissed the existence of universals outside the mind. The former perspective of rejection of objective universality was distinctly defined as conceptualism.

Peter Abélard was a medieval thinker whose work is currently classified as having the most potential in representing the roots of conceptualism. Abélard’s view denied the existence of determinate universals within things.[4] William of Ockham was another famous late medieval thinker who had a strictly conceptualist solution to the metaphysical problem of universals. He argued that abstract concepts have no fundamentum outside the mind.[5]

In the 17th century conceptualism gained favour for some decades especially among the Jesuits: Hurtado de Mendoza, Rodrigo de Arriaga and Francisco Oviedo are the main figures. Although the order soon returned to the more realist philosophy of Francisco Suárez, the ideas of these Jesuits had a great impact on the early modern philosophy.

Modern philosophy

Conceptualism was either explicitly or implicitly embraced by most of the early modern thinkers, including René Descartes, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, George Berkeley, and David Hume – often in a quite simplified form if compared with the elaborate scholastic theories.[6][7]

Sometimes the term is applied even to the radically different philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who holds that universals have no connection with external things because they are exclusively produced by our a priori mental structures and functions.[8][9]

In late modern philosophy, conceptualist views were held by G. W. F. Hegel.[10]

Contemporary philosophy

Edmund Husserl's philosophy of mathematics has been construed as a form of conceptualism.[11]

Conceptualist realism (a view put forward by David Wiggins in 1980) states that our conceptual framework maps reality.[12]

Though separate from the historical debate regarding the status of universals, there has been significant debate regarding the conceptual character of experience since the release of Mind and World by John McDowell in 1994.[13] McDowell's touchstone is the famous refutation that Wilfrid Sellars provided for what he called the "Myth of the Given"—the notion that all empirical knowledge is based on certain assumed or 'given' items, such as sense data.[14] Thus, in rejecting the Myth of the Given, McDowell argues for perceptual conceptualism, according to which perceptual content is conceptual "from the ground up", that is, all perceptual experience is a form of conceptual experience. McDowell's philosophy of justification is considered a form of foundationalism: it is a form of foundationalism because it allows that certain judgements are warranted by experience and it is a coherent form of this view because it maintains that experience can warrant certain judgements because experience is irreducibly conceptual.[15][16]

A clear motivation of contemporary conceptualism is that the kind of perception that rational creatures like humans enjoy is unique in the fact that it has conceptual character. McDowell explains his position:

I have urged that our perceptual relation to the world is conceptual all the way out to the world’s impacts on our receptive capacities. The idea of the conceptual that I mean to be invoking is to be understood in close connection with the idea of rationality, in the sense that is in play in the traditional separation of mature human beings, as rational animals, from the rest of the animal kingdom. Conceptual capacities are capacities that belong to their subject’s rationality. So another way of putting my claim is to say that our perceptual experience is permeated with rationality. I have also suggested, in passing, that something parallel should be said about our agency.[17]

McDowell's conceptualism, though rather distinct (philosophically and historically) from conceptualism's genesis, shares the view that universals are not "given" in perception from outside the sphere of reason. Particular objects are perceived, as it were, already infused with conceptuality stemming from the spontaneity of the rational subject herself.

The retroactive application of the term "perceptual conceptualism" to Kant's philosophy of perception is debatable.[18] Robert Hanna has argued for a rival interpretation of Kant's work termed perceptual non-conceptualism.[19]

See also


  1. ^ See articles in Strawson, P. F. and Arindam Chakrabarti (eds.), Universals, concepts and qualities: new essays on the meaning of predicates. Ashgate Publishing, 2006.
  2. ^ "Conceptualism." The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Simon Blackburn. Oxford University Press, 1996. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. 8 April 2008.
  3. ^ Neil A. Manson, Robert W. Barnard (eds.), The Bloomsbury Companion to Metaphysics, Bloomsbury, 2014, p. 95.
  4. ^ "Aune, Bruce. "Conceptualism." Metaphysics: the elements. U of Minnesota Press, 1985. 54.
  5. ^ "Turner, W. "William of Ockham." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 27 Oct. 2011
  6. ^ David Bostock, Philosophy of Mathematics: An Introduction, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, p. 43: "All of Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume supposed that mathematics is a theory of our ideas, but none of them offered any argument for this conceptualist claim, and apparently took it to be uncontroversial."
  7. ^ Stefano Di Bella, Tad M. Schmaltz (eds.), The Problem of Universals in Early Modern Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2017, p. 64 "there is a strong case to be made that Spinoza was a conceptualist about universals" and p. 207 n. 25: "Leibniz's conceptualism [is related to] the Ockhamist tradition..."
  8. ^ "De Wulf, Maurice. "Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 27 Oct. 2011
  9. ^ Oberst, Michael. 2015. "Kant on Universals." History of Philosophy Quarterly 32(4):335–352.
  10. ^ A. Sarlemijn, Hegel's Dialectic, Springer, 1975, p. 21.
  11. ^ Zahar, Elie (2001). Poincaré's Philosophy: From Conventionalism to Phenomenology. Chicago: Open Court Pub Co. p. 211. ISBN 0-8126-9435-X.
  12. ^ A. M. Ferner, Organisms and Personal Identity: Individuation and the Work of David Wiggins, Routledge, 2016, p. 28.
  13. ^ McDowell, John (1994). Mind and World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-57610-0.
  14. ^ "Wilfrid Sellars". Retrieved 2013-05-24.
  15. ^ John McDowell, Mind and World. Harvard University Press, 1994, p. 29.
  16. ^ Roger F. Gibson, "McDowell's Direct Realism and Platonic Naturalism", Philosophical Issues Vol. 7, Perception (1996), pp. 275–281.
  17. ^ McDowell, J. (2007). "What Myth?". Inquiry. 50 (4): 338–351. doi:10.1080/00201740701489211.
  18. ^ "The Togetherness Principle, Kant's Conceptualism, and Kant's Non-Conceptualism" – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  19. ^ Robert Hanna, "Kantian non-conceptualism", Philosophical Studies 137(1):41–64 (2008).


Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte

The Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte ('Archive for Conceptual History') is an annual peer-reviewed academic journal covering studies on concepts of the history of philosophy and science. It was established in 1955 by Erich Rothacker and the current editors-in-chief are Christian Bermes (University of Koblenz-Landau), Hubertus Busche (University of Hagen), and Michael Erler (University of Würzburg). Among the journal's former editors have been Hans-Georg Gadamer, Joachim Ritter, Karlfried Gründer, Ulrich Dierse, and Gunter Scholtz. Articles are published in German, with abstracts in English.

Conceptual architecture

Conceptual architecture is a form of architecture that utilizes conceptualism, characterized by an introduction of ideas or concepts from outside of architecture often as a means of expanding the discipline of architecture. This produces an essentially different kind of building than one produced by the widely held 'architect as a master-builder' model, in which craft and construction are the guiding principles. The finished building as product is less important in conceptual architecture, than the ideas guiding them, ideas represented primarily by texts, diagrams, or art installations. Architects that work in this vein are Diller + Scofidio, Bernard Tschumi, Peter Eisenman and Rem Koolhaas.

Conceptual architecture was studied in the essay, Notes on Conceptual Architecture: Towards a Definition by Peter Eisenman in 1970, and again by the Harvard Design Magazine in Fall of 2003 and Winter 2004, by a series of articles under the heading Architecture as Conceptual Art. But the understanding of design as a construction of a concept was understood by many modernist architects as well. To quote Louis Kahn on Frank Lloyd Wright:

It doesn't work, it doesn't have to work. Wright had the shape conceived long before he knew what was going into it. I claim that is where architecture starts, with the concept.

Conceptual art

Conceptual art, sometimes simply called conceptualism, is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic, technical, and material concerns. Some works of conceptual art, sometimes called installations, may be constructed by anyone simply by following a set of written instructions. This method was fundamental to American artist Sol LeWitt's definition of Conceptual art, one of the first to appear in print:

In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.

Tony Godfrey, author of Conceptual Art (Art & Ideas) (1998), asserts that conceptual art questions the nature of art, a notion that Joseph Kosuth elevated to a definition of art itself in his seminal, early manifesto of conceptual art, Art after Philosophy (1969). The notion that art should examine its own nature was already a potent aspect of the influential art critic Clement Greenberg's vision of Modern art during the 1950s. With the emergence of an exclusively language-based art in the 1960s, however, conceptual artists such as Art & Language, Joseph Kosuth (who became the american editor of Art-Language), and Lawrence Weiner began a far more radical interrogation of art than was previously possible (see below). One of the first and most important things they questioned was the common assumption that the role of the artist was to create special kinds of material objects.Through its association with the Young British Artists and the Turner Prize during the 1990s, in popular usage, particularly in the UK, "conceptual art" came to denote all contemporary art that does not practice the traditional skills of painting and sculpture. It could be said that one of the reasons why the term "conceptual art" has come to be associated with various contemporary practices far removed from its original aims and forms lies in the problem of defining the term itself. As the artist Mel Bochner suggested as early as 1970, in explaining why he does not like the epithet "conceptual", it is not always entirely clear what "concept" refers to, and it runs the risk of being confused with "intention". Thus, in describing or defining a work of art as conceptual it is important not to confuse what is referred to as "conceptual" with an artist's "intention".

Flarf poetry

Flarf poetry was an avant-garde poetry movement of the early 21st century. The term Flarf was coined by the poet Gary Sullivan, who also wrote and published the earliest Flarf poems. Its first practitioners, working in loose collaboration on an email listserv, used an approach that rejected conventional standards of quality and explored subject matter and tonality not typically considered appropriate for poetry. One of their central methods, invented by Drew Gardner, was to mine the Internet with odd search terms then distill the results into often hilarious and sometimes disturbing poems, plays and other texts. Pioneers of the movement include Jordan Davis, Katie Degentesh, Drew Gardner, Nada Gordon, Mitch Highfill, Rodney Koeneke, Michael Magee, Sharon Mesmer, Mel Nichols, Katie F-S, K. Silem Mohammad, Rod Smith, Gary Sullivan and others.

Mental representation

A mental representation (or cognitive representation), in philosophy of mind, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science, is a hypothetical internal cognitive symbol that represents external reality, or else a mental process that makes use of such a symbol: "a formal system for making explicit certain entities or types of information, together with a specification of how the system does this".Mental representation is the mental imagery of things that are not actually present to the senses. In contemporary philosophy, specifically in fields of metaphysics such as philosophy of mind and ontology, a mental representation is one of the prevailing ways of explaining and describing the nature of ideas and concepts.

Mental representations (or mental imagery) enable representing things that have never been experienced as well as things that do not exist. Think of yourself traveling to a place you have never visited before, or having a third arm. These things have either never happened or are impossible and do not exist, yet our brain and mental imagery allows us to imagine them. Although visual imagery is more likely to be recalled, mental imagery may involve representations in any of the sensory modalities, such as hearing, smell, or taste. Stephen Kosslyn proposes that images are used to help solve certain types of problems. We are able to visualize the objects in question and mentally represent the images to solve it.Mental representations also allow people to experience things right in front of them—though the process of how the brain interprets the representational content is debated.

Mentalism (philosophy)

In philosophy of mind, mentalism is the view that the mind and mental states exist as causally efficacious inner states of persons. The view should be distinguished from substance dualism, which is the view that the mind and the body (or brain) are two distinct kinds of things which nevertheless interact with one another. Although this dualistic view of the mind–body connection entails mentalism, mentalism does not entail dualism. Jerry Fodor and Noam Chomsky have been two of mentalism's most ardent recent defenders.

In metaphysics, mentalism is the view that metaphysics is primarily concerned with entities in the mind (See also conceptualism), and denotes the general orientation beginning with William of Ockham and reaching a climax in the idea- or representation-first philosophers (what John Sergeant calls 'Ideism') common in the Early Modern period,. including such philosophers as René Descartes, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, etc. who make the faculties of the mind and their activities the starting point for their philosophical projects.

In linguistics, mentalism represents rationalistic philosophy (as opposed to behaviouristic).

Moderate realism

Moderate realism (also called immanent realism) is a position in the debate on the metaphysics of universals that holds that there is no realm in which universals exist (in opposition to Platonic realism who asserts the existence of abstract objects), nor do they really exist within particulars as universals, but rather universals really exist within particulars as particularised, and multiplied.

Moscow Conceptualists

The Moscow Conceptualist, or Russian Conceptualist, movement began with the Sots art of Komar and Melamid in the early 1970s, and continued as a trend in Russian art into the 1980s. It attempted to subvert socialist ideology using the strategies of conceptual art and appropriation art.

The central figures were Dmitri Prigov, Ilya Kabakov, Irina Nakhova, Viktor Pivovarov, Eric Bulatov, Andrei Monastyrski and Komar and Melamid.

Mikhail Epstein, in After the Future: The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture (1995) explains why conceptualism is particularly appropriate to the culture and history of Russia, but also how it differs from Western Conceptualism:

"In the West, conceptualism substitutes "one thing for another"--a real object for its verbal description. But in Russia the object that should be replaced is simply absent.”

Epstein (1995) quotes Ilya Kabakov:

“This contiguity, closeness, touchingness, contact with nothing, emptiness makes up, we feel, the basic peculiarity of 'Russian conceptualism'... It is like something that hangs in the air, a self-reliant thing, like a fantastic construction, connected to nothing, with its roots in nothing... So, then, we can say that our own local thinking, from the very beginning in fact, could have been called 'conceptualism'.”

Neo-conceptual art

Neo-conceptual art describes art practices in the 1980s and particularly 1990s to date that derive from the conceptual art movement of the 1960s and 1970s. These subsequent initiatives have included the Moscow Conceptualists, United States neo-conceptualists such as Sherrie Levine and the Young British Artists, notably Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin in the United Kingdom, where there is also a Stuckism counter-movement and criticism from the 1970s conceptual art group Art and Language.


Neo-minimalism is an amorphous art movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It has alternatively been called "neo-geometric" or "neo-geo" art. Other terms include: Neo-Conceptualism, Neo-Futurism, Neo-Op, Neo-Pop, New Abstraction, Poptometry, Post-Abstractionism, Simulationism, and Smart Art.


In metaphysics, nominalism is a philosophical view which denies the existence of universals and abstract objects, but affirms the existence of general or abstract terms and predicates. There are at least two main versions of nominalism. One version denies the existence of universals – things that can be instantiated or exemplified by many particular things (e.g., strength, humanity). The other version specifically denies the existence of abstract objects – objects that do not exist in space and time.Most nominalists have held that only physical particulars in space and time are real, and that universals exist only post res, that is, subsequent to particular things. However, some versions of nominalism hold that some particulars are abstract entities (e.g., numbers), while others are concrete entities – entities that do exist in space and time (e.g., pillars, snakes, bananas).

Nominalism is primarily a position on the problem of universals, which dates back at least to Plato, and is opposed to realist philosophies, such as Platonic realism, which assert that universals do exist over and above particulars. However, the name "nominalism" emerged from debates in medieval philosophy with Roscellinus.

The term 'nominalism' stems from the Latin nomen, "name". For example, John Stuart Mill once wrote, that "there is nothing general except names".

In philosophy of law, nominalism finds its application in what is called constitutional nominalism.

Paul Hartal

Paul Hartal (born 1936) is a Canadian painter and poet, born in Szeged, Hungary. He has created the term "Lyrical Conceptualism" to characterize his style in both painting and poetry, and has created a manifesto to describe his thesis.

Philosophical realism

In metaphysics, realism about a given object is the view that this object exists in reality independently of our conceptual scheme. In philosophical terms, these objects are ontologically independent of someone's conceptual scheme, perceptions, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.

Realism can be applied to many philosophically interesting objects and phenomena: other minds, the past or the future, universals, mathematical entities (such as natural numbers), moral categories, the physical world, and thought.

Realism can also be a view about the nature of reality in general, where it claims that the world exists independent of the mind, as opposed to non-realist views (like some forms of skepticism and solipsism, which question our ability to assert the world is independent of our mind). Philosophers who profess realism often claim that truth consists in a correspondence between cognitive representations and reality.Realists tend to believe that whatever we believe now is only an approximation of reality but that the accuracy and fullness of understanding can be improved. In some contexts, realism is contrasted with idealism. Today it is more usually contrasted with anti-realism, for example in the philosophy of science.

The oldest use of the term "realism" appears in medieval scholastic interpretations and adaptations of ancient Greek philosophy.

Post-conceptual art

Post-conceptual, postconceptual, post-conceptualism or postconceptualism is an art theory that builds upon the legacy of conceptual art in contemporary art, where the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work takes some precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. The term first came into art school parlance through the influence of John Baldessari at the California Institute of the Arts in the early 1970s. The writer Eldritch Priest, specifically ties John Baldessari's piece Throwing four balls in the air to get a square (best of 36 tries) from 1973 (in which the artist attempted to do just that, photographing the results, and eventually selecting the best out of 36 tries, with 36 being the determining number as that is the standard number of shots on a roll of 35mm film) as an early example of post-conceptual art. It is now often connected to generative art and digital art production.

Problem of universals

In metaphysics, the problem of universals refers to the question of whether properties exist, and if so, what they are. Properties are qualities or relations that two or more entities have in common. The various kinds of properties, such as qualities and relations, are referred to as universals. For instance, one can imagine three cup holders on a table that have in common the quality of being circular or exemplifying circularity, or two daughters that have in common being the female offsprings of Frank. There are many such properties, such as being human, red, male or female, liquid, big or small, taller than, father of, etc. While philosophers agree that human beings talk and think about properties, they disagree on whether these universals exist in reality or merely in thought and speech.

The problem of universals relates to a number of questions in close relation to not only metaphysics but, to logic and epistemology, all in efforts to understand how the thought of universals has a connection to those of singular properties.

Scotistic realism

Scotistic realism (also Scotist realism or Scotist formalism) is the Scotist position on the problem of universals. It is a form of moderate realism.

The "problem of universals", which was an ancient problem in metaphysics about whether universals exist. For John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan philosopher, theologian and Catholic priest, universals such as "greenness" and "goodness" exist in reality. This is opposed to the later conceptualism of William of Ockham, and the earlier views of Abelard and others, which say universals exist only within the mind and have no external or substantial reality.

Stephen Prina

Stephen Prina (born 1954) is an American artist. His work has been categorized as post-conceptualism. Prina is a professor at the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) at Harvard University.

Taleb Amoli

Sayyid Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Taleb Amoli or Talib Amuli and Talib Amoli (Persian: طالب آملی‎, also aka Ashub, Talib, Taleba and Malek Al Shoara Taleb) (b. Mazandaran 994 - d. India 1036) Iranian Tabari poet was early 17th century. His poetry is Indian style of Persian language.

Poetry collection and poem Talib and Zohre is the collection of his works left by him today. Taleb played a crucial role in the rapid transformation of poetic style at the beginning of the 17th century. His work gave free rein to the tendency toward conceptualism (Fantasy) in the “fresh style” (later known as the Indian Style) that had begun to emerge a generation earlier in the poetry of Naẓiri and ʿOrfi. like them, Taleb showed his debt to the past by responding to poems by renowned predecessors such as Khaqani in the Qasida and Saadi Shirazi, Amir Khusrow, and Hafez in the Ghazal, at the same time, he gives a new vitality to conventional images and common idioms by exploring their full figurative implications, a procedure Taleb himself revealingly dubs his .

Vancouver School

The Vancouver School of conceptual or post-conceptual photography (often referred to as photoconceptualism) is a loose term applied to a grouping of artists from Vancouver starting in the 1980s. Critics and curators began writing about artists reacting to both older conceptual art practices and mass media by countering with "photographs of high intensity and complex content that probed, obliquely or directly, the social force of imagery." No formal "school" exists and the grouping remains both informal and often controversial even amongst the artists themselves, who often resist the term. Artists associated with the term include Vikky Alexander, Roy Arden, Ken Lum, Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace, Stan Douglas and Rodney Graham.

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