Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jesse J. Prinz

Subject Categories



Concepts, Externalism, Internalism


This dissertation attacks externalism about concepts. It argues that attributions of mental state content that posit externally individuated concepts lack explanatory power. Only the intrinsic or local properties of mental states are relevant to causal explanations of behaviour - relational or non-local properties of mental states do not have causal power. This dissertation focuses on expanding upon this argument, and showing that it has significant consequences for those who assert the externalist position.

I begin by setting out the primary criticisms levelled at internalist theories of concepts. These include the claims that a theory that individuates concepts purely internally will be unable to explain linguistic communication, or shared categorisation activities; it will not be able to account for intuitions we have about the nature and structure of our own concepts; and concepts, so conceived, would not be able to track objects in the world, nor would they be truth evaluable. I address these concerns systematically by asking how well externalism would respond to such requirements on a theory of concepts. I argue that the failure of attributions of mental state content that posit externally individuated concepts to explain behaviour, also means that externalism will be unable to explain behaviours such as linguistic communication. I challenge the value of externalist intuitions, particularly those generated by Twin Earth style thought experiments. I also argue that one can substitute an internalist-compatible account of conceptual utility and accuracy for a requirement of concepts having truth-evaluable properties, and thereby have a theory of concepts that provides a better link between our mentally representing the world, and our interacting with it.

I conclude that only the local or internal features of concepts will be able to account for the observable phenomena that concepts are believed to explain.

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