Workshop on Doing without Concepts

To celebrate the publication of my book, Doing without Concepts (OUP, January 2009), the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh organizes a symposium with Barbara Malt (psychology, Lehigh) and Jesse Prinz (philosophy, UNC), March 5, 2009. They comment, I reply, we take some questions! Information here.

If you want to come, everybody is invited!


  1. Alex

    Hi Edouard. The book looks very interesting; I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy. From the description on the OUP web site, it looks like you’re defending an eliminativism about concepts. Is the reasoning here (roughly) that nothing plays the theoretical role of a concept, hence that ‘concept’ doesn’t refer? Isn’t that an instance of the kind of argument that you, Ron Mallon, and others objected to in ‘Against Arguments from Reference’? On the other hand, if your argument isn’t an instance of an Argument from Reference and you achieve your eliminativism by some other means, why can’t eliminativists about the posits of folk psychology adopt the same means?

  2. Edouard Machery


    That would be worrying if the eliminativist argument in DwC were an instance of the (unsound) arguments from reference! But it isn’t!

    In the last chapter of DwC, I contrast two types of eliminativist arguments – arguments from reference (which I reject) and scientific eliminativism. The latter kind of argument (in fact, a family of arguments with 2 different sub-kinds), I argue, is perfectly sound. The eliminativist argument in DwC is an instance of this kind of argument.

    More generally, I think it is important for philosophers of science to understand the conditions in which one can soundly draw eliminativist conclusions, since eliminativism is part and parcel of the development of science.

    Now, eliminativists about beliefs, emotions etc. could certainly use the sound eliminativist strategies I describe in chapter 8 of DwC, provided that the conditions for the legitimate applications of these strategies are met. Note also that in Arguments from Reference, we do not reject any form of eliminativism. Rather, we reject those eliminativist arguments that implicitly or explicitly hang on theories of reference.


  3. Alex

    Ah, ok. The impression I got from the AAfR paper (as well as its precursors, like ‘The Flight to Reference’ by Bishop & Stich) was that you, Stich & others were claiming something stronger — roughly, that the only way to make sense of Churchland-style arguments for propositional attitude eliminativism is to read them as deductive arguments, which employ hidden premises about the nature of reference. This always puzzled me; I had always read the Churchland arguments as primarily *inductive* arguments based on historical trends, which, at least arguably, make no essential commitment to theories of reference. Perhaps this is latter interpretation is similar to what you have in mind by ‘scientific eliminativism’.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading the book!

  4. Edouard Machery

    Actually, it is pretty clear that Churchland’s arguments implicitly rely on a descriptivist premise about the reference of scientific terms. But my point was that there are other arguments, distinct from Churchland’s and Stich’s early argumetns, that do not involve semantic premises. I have tried to develop these *new* arguments in the book.


Comments are closed.

Back to Top