Conceptualism is a philosophical 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 of the mind's perception of them. [2]


Conceptualism in scholasticism

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 of the mind. The latter perspective of rejection of objective universality was distinctly defined as Conceptualism. [3]

Peter Abélard was a medival 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, proposing the claim that meaning is constructed solely by the virtue of conception.[4] William 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, and that the purpose they serve is the construction of meaning in an otherwise meaningless world.[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 contemporary early modern thinkers.

Modern conceptualism

Conceptualism was either explicitly or implicitly embraced by most of the early modern thinkers like René Descartes, John Locke or Gottfried Leibniz -- often in a quite simplified form if compared with the elaborate Scholastic theories. Sometimes the term is applied even to the radically different philosophy of Kant, who holds that universals have no connection with external things because they are exclusively produced by our a priori mental structures and functions. [6] However, this application of the term "conceptualism" is not very usual, since the problem of universals can, strictly speaking, be meaningfully raised only within the framework of the traditional, pre-Kantian epistemology.

See also


  1. ^ Strawson, P. F. "Conceptualism." 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. ^ "Conceptualism." Books LLC. Theories of Deduction: Ramism. General Books LLC, 2010. 91. Web. 24 October 2011
  4. ^ "Aune, Bruce. "Conceptualism." Metaphysics: the elements. U of Minnesota Press, 1985. 54.
  5. ^ "De Wulf, Maurice. "Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 27 Oct. 2011 <>.
  6. ^ "De Wulf, Maurice. "Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 27 Oct. 2011 <>.

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  • conceptualism —    Conceptualism is the view that universals are mental concepts of classification rather than objective realities exemplified in the world. As such, this theory takes a middle position on universals, affirming neither realism nor nominalism. The …   Christian Philosophy

  • Conceptualism — Con*cep tu*al*ism, n. (Metaph.) A theory, intermediate between realism and nominalism, that the mind has the power of forming for itself general conceptions of individual or single objects. Stewart. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • conceptualism — [kən sep′cho͞o əliz΄əm] n. the doctrine, intermediate between nominalism and realism, that universals exist explicitly in the mind as concepts, and implicitly in things as shared qualities conceptualist n. conceptualistic adj …   English World dictionary

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  • conceptualism — noun Date: circa 1838 1. a theory in philosophy intermediate between realism and nominalism that universals exist in the mind as concepts of discourse or as predicates which may be properly affirmed of reality 2. often capitalized conceptual art… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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