What is Conceptualism and What Does It Mean?

What is Conceptualism and What Does It Mean?

July 2, 2021 Off By Felso

Conceptualism, also known as Conceptualism, is the conciliatory teaching of Abelardus, the French thinker, who argues that concepts are composed of general ideas and that they are real, against nominalism and realism.

It is also known as the philosophical view that took place in the realism-Nominalism conflict in the last period of the Medieval Scholasticism, which asserts that the universals (kullis, universelia) do not exist on their own, but exist as abstract entities thought in the mind, therefore they are mental designs.

Realists, in accordance with their metaphysical attitudes, claimed that general concepts were real. Adists, on the other hand, argued that general concepts were just words, arguing that they were not real. The enlightened scholar of the Middle Ages, Petrus Abelardus, tried to numb this conflict with his doctrine of conceptualism. “Discussion is futile,” Abelardus said, “concepts are not real, of course, but they certainly do have a reality because they are deduced from reality.”

These are concepts, after all, and it is pointless to discuss their reality in this sense. Concepts, of course, do not exist independently of objects and actions, but they are a special form of knowledge of objective reality, without which we cannot know and recognize objective reality (without general concepts abstracted from objects and actions). Universals are neither before nor after the object, they are in the object itself.

Abelardus openly agrees with the nomenclature in this argument, however, somewhat different from them, he argues that universals or a priori general concepts are essential elements in the comprehension of objective reality. Since the developer of nomenclature, William of Ocham, also agrees with Abelardus’s argument, the doctrine of conceptualism is also called late-term nomenclature. The English thinker John Locke also put forward views inclined to this understanding.

In the context of Scholastic philosophy, the following answers are given to the question of what is the relationship of universal concepts with individual objects and how we should explain this:

Universal concepts have an objective reality before objects;
Universal concepts do not have an objective existence after objects (the first of these answers was Realism, the second was Nominalism.)
Third, universal concepts are neither before nor after the object, but in the object. This third understanding was put forward by Petrus Abelardus and this understanding is called conceptualism. In fact, although it is possible to trace the source of this understanding to Socrates and Plato, its real formation is only in question in Scholastic philosophy.

According to Abelardus, universals exist within individual objects, but exist outside individual objects only as concepts. In addition, the universal that exists in individuals does not exist as a nature, but only as an individual. Although Abelard’s view is not directly nominalism, it approaches him, so conceptualism is accepted within nominalism. There is also a certain relationship between conceptualism and sensuous philosophies. Conceptualism was also accepted by some philosophers in the New Age. Later, the teachings of Aristotle and Kant will also be described as conceptualism. But this characterization should not lead us to the view that they are the same as in Scholastic philosophy.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer Yıldırım