Concept and Analysis

A Study in the Theory of Concepts and Analytic Metaphilosophy



1. A Representationalist Theory of Concepts and Meaning

2. Reflections on Frege's Theory of Concepts

3. Exploring Our Concept of Logic

4. The Inexpressibility of Real Gaps in Ordinary Language

5. Conceptual Analysis in Ordinary Language Philosophy Revisited

6. Ist Hegels Dialektik reine Begriffsanalyse?

The title of this book may seem to err in several respects: concepts are today properly
studied in the cognitive sciences (especially linguistics and cognitive psychology),
'analysis' is a very vague covering term for supposedly quite distinct methods,
at least one of which, namely 'conceptual analysis', has had its share of bad press in
the last 50 years, and, finally, the subtitle distinguishes between philosophy and
meta-philosophy, where philosophy as the proverbial meta-science cannot be distinguished
from its meta-science.
There is some truth in these accusations. Nonetheless the very aim of this book is to
set out in which respects concepts are properly studied in philosophy, what methodological
role the study of concepts has in philosophy's study of the world, why
there are several viable methods of analysis and even conceptual analysis has its
place here. I do not like the talk of 'meta-philosophy' myself, but many of the considerations
in this book nowadays are placed under that headline, so I just followed
common – although somewhat foolish – practice.
The book starts with some bold theses in favour of a representationalist theory of
meaning and concepts. They have to be stated so boldly at the beginning as they
serve as the background for the discussion in the following chapters, and as defending
them in detail required some other and much longer book. In contrast to paradigmatic
ordinary language philosophy I endorse a representationalist theory of
meaning and concepts, thus agreeing with many of its critics in philosophy and the
cognitive sciences. In contrast to many of these critics and supposedly the majority
of cognitive scientists I endorse the viability of conceptual analysis as one method
of philosophy. Thus, whereas I hope to combine insights from both camps the position
developed may earn the scorn of zealots of both camps, not to mention the contempt
of the small minority of those rejecting both representationalism and conceptual
The representationalist theses reject a Fregean account of meaning, at least in some
understanding of it. The second chapter, however, reflects on Frege's theory of concepts,
because Frege's theory of concepts was one strand that inaugurated analytic
philosophy. Frege's theory of sentential unity has barely been superseded, and the
problems arising from Frege's understanding of concepts are still alive.
Frege's theory and the related problems in Frege's logic as in the Grundgesetze der
Arithmetik (most famously the antinomy known as 'Russell's Paradox' going back
to Frege's 'Basic Law V') lead over to the third chapter, which considers the proper
approach to our concept of logic and the issue of psychological and ontological realism
in logic and mathematics.
The fourth chapter continues on this topic and argues that ordinary language cannot
express real truth-value gaps, and thus that its logic cannot prevent antinomic reasoning
by recourse to truth-value gap semantics or logics.
The fifth chapter as the central chapter of the book starts by reconsidering the approach
and the idea of ordinary language philosophy and its understanding of conceptual
analysis. Although ordinary language philosophy cannot be the whole of
analytic philosophy, given what was said in the preceding chapters and given the
methodological claims made therein, a proper understanding of conceptual analysis
turns out to be one part of analytic philosophy. The chapter starts with a general
discussion of ordinary language philosophy, but proceeds then by a methodological
overview and attempts to engage in some ordinary language philosophy concerning
epistemological topics.
The sixth chapter differs from the rest of the book in three crucial respects. First,
the chapter deals with the history of philosophy, whereas in the second chapter the
reflections on Frege aim at systematic theses on sentential unity and concepts. Second,
the very intelligibility of the chapter’s topic (i.e. Hegel’s Dialectics) stands in
question, and the chapter may contain another failing attempt to grasp it. Third, the
chapter is in German, because one might have to consult the original quotes in any
case, and supposedly anyone with a serious interest in Hegel will be able to read
German, much more so than with those having a historical interest in Frege or
Wittgenstein. I included the chapter nonetheless, because my attempts to understand
what is going on in Hegel’s Wissenschaft der Logik lead to an interpretive approach
that makes Hegel looking like pursuing a pure form of conceptual analysis
(i.e. one which wants to circumvent the traps of ordinary language). The chapter
sees two methods at the heart of Hegel’s Dialectics: (i) a type of connective analysis
which works with conceptual contrasts, and (ii) an increase in complexity by a
form of creative synthesis (i.e. something close to the method of the same name
pursued by Russell, a one-time Hegelian, and other analytic philosophers).