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Formal and Empirical Methods in Philosophy


Formal and Empirical Methods in Philosophy


Anno accademico 2020/2021

Codice dell'attività didattica
Prof. Paul Egre (Titolare del corso)
Corso di studi
laurea magistrale in Filosofia
Philosophy International Curriculum M.A.
1° anno
Periodo didattico
Secondo semestre
Affine o integrativo
SSD dell'attività didattica
M-FIL/02 - logica e filosofia della scienza
Modalità di erogazione
Lingua di insegnamento
Modalità di frequenza
Students should have taken a class in elementary logic (propositional and predicate logic), and be willing to engage with mathematical formalism (basic probability calculus).

Sommario insegnamento


Obiettivi formativi

This course will deal with the integration of formal and empirical methods in philosophy by focusing specifically on the status and definition of concepts in language and thought. In logic, concepts since Frege have been characterized both as functions and as set extensions, but Frege postulated a strong separation between concepts and mental representations. This leaves unexplained the constitution of concepts and does not account for the vagueness of most of our concepts. The course will look at formal and empirical issues concerning concept constitution and concept combination for a wider variety of concepts than considered in classical logic. We will discuss the role and the definition of prototypes in the formation of concepts, the way in which prototypes mediate perception and cognition, and the structure of conceptual spaces. We will then consider specific challenges which concern the composition of concepts, the definition of logics suitable to deal with vague concepts, and the extent to which concepts can be shared and communicated over and above individual differences. Finally, we will discuss normative ways in which concepts can be improved and revised.

Si veda la scheda inglese


Risultati dell'apprendimento attesi

Students who successfully complete the course will acquire an understanding of some central issues and debates concerning the nature of concepts (how are concepts built? How much can they vary inter-individually? How are they revised?). On the formal side, specific emphasis will be put on logical models of vagueness and their relations (supervaluationist, degree-theoretic, probabilistic). On the empirical side, students will be presented with central results and hypotheses regarding concept constitution (relation between typicality and membership). The course will be of interest to students in philosophy of mind, logic, linguistics, and cognitive science. The course will also provide a solid background for students interested in current debates on conceptual engineering and concept revision.

Si veda la scheda in inglese.


Modalità di insegnamento

A combination of: (i) targeted recorded lectures, (ii) individual assignments (readings and focused tasks), and (iii) interactive meetings. We'll employ the Schoology platform for (i) and (ii), and go to the class (if possible) for (iii).

Si veda la scheda in inglese.


Modalità di verifica dell'apprendimento

The assessment of learning achievements will be made by (i) a test at the end of the term or an oral exam (about 15-20 minutes), and (ii) an essay (approximately 2500-3000 words) based on relevant assigned readings (a detailed list will be provided). To meet the course requirements, students will have to be able to describe and discuss the central issues of the course on the basis of the notions and skills acquired, including clarity in presentation, informed use of the terminology, and understanding of appropriate reasoning techniques.

Si veda la scheda in inglese.




  • Concepts and Prototypes
  • Perceptual categories
  • Conceptual spaces
  • Concept combination and compositionality
  • Logics for vague concepts
  • Communicating concepts
  • Concept revision and conceptual engineering


Si veda la scheda in inglese.

Testi consigliati e bibliografia


The course will include an introduction to probability and decision theory. Relevant study material at elementary level can be found in the following books (.pdfs will be available in Schoology).



Rosch, E., & Mervis, C. B. (1975). Family resemblances: Studies in the internal structure of categories. Cognitive psychology7(4), 573-605.

McCloskey, Michael E., and Sam Glucksberg. "Natural categories: Well defined or fuzzy sets?." Memory & Cognition 6.4 (1978): 462-472

Armstrong, Sharon Lee, Lila R. Gleitman, and Henry Gleitman. "What some concepts might not be." Cognition 13.3 (1983): 263-308.

Tversky, A. (1977). “Features of similarity””. Psychological Review, 84(4), 327–352.



Rosch, Eleanor. "Cognitive reference points." Cognitive psychology 7.4 (1975): 532-547.

Regier, Terry, Paul Kay, and Richard S. Cook. "Focal colors are universal after all." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102.23 (2005): 8386-8391.

Kay, Paul, and Willett Kempton. "What is the Sapir‐Whorf hypothesis?" American anthropologist 86.1 (1984): 65-79.

Drestke, F. “Sensation and Perception”, in Knowledge and the Flow of Information, (1981), CSLI Publications.



Gärdenfors, Peter. “Induction, conceptual spaces and AI”. Philosophy of Science 57 (1990), 78-95.

Douven, Igor. "Vagueness, graded membership, and conceptual spaces." Cognition 151 (2016): 80-95

Verheyen, Steven, and Paul Égré. "Typicality and graded membership in dimensional adjectives." Cognitive Science 42.7 (2018): 2250-2286.

Chemla, Emmanuel, Brian Buccola, and Isabelle Dautriche. "Connecting content and logical words." Journal of Semantics 36.3 (2019): 531-547.



Fodor, Jerry, and Ernest Lepore. "The red herring and the pet fish: Why concepts still can't be prototypes." Cognition 58.2 (1996): 253-270.

Kamp, Hans, and Barbara Partee. "Prototype theory and compositionality." Cognition 57.2 (1995): 129-191

Hampton, J. A. “Compositionality and concepts”. In J. A. Hampton & Y. Winter (Eds.), Compositionality and concepts in linguistics and psychology. (2017): 95–122. London: Springer

Del Pinal, G. “Prototypes as compositional components of concepts”. Synthese193(9), (2016): 2899-2927.



Cobreros, Pablo, et al. "Tolerant, classical, strict." Journal of Philosophical Logic 41.2 (2012): 347-385

Alxatib, Sam, and Francis Jeffry Pelletier. "The psychology of vagueness: Borderline cases and contradictions." Mind & Language 26.3 (2011): 287-326.

Hersch, H. M., & Caramazza, A. (1976). A fuzzy-set approach to modifiers and vagueness in natural languages. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General105(3), 254-276.

Leffel, Timothy, Leffel, T., Cremers, A., Gotzner, N., & Romoli, J. "Vagueness in implicature: the case of modified adjectives." Journal of Semantics 36.2 (2019): 317-348.



Lassiter, Daniel, and Noah D. Goodman. "Adjectival vagueness in a Bayesian model of interpretation." Synthese 194.10 (2017): 3801-3836.

Parikh, Rohit. "Vagueness and utility: The semantics of common nouns." Linguistics and Philosophy 17.6 (1994): 521-535

Verheyen, Steven, Sabrina Dewil, and Paul Égré. "Subjectivity in gradable adjectives: The case of tall and heavy." Mind & Language 33.5 (2018): 460-479.



De Clercq, Rafael, and Leon Horsten. "Closer." Synthese 146.3 (2005): 371-393.

Egré, Paul, and Cathal O’Madagain. "Concept Utility." The Journal of Philosophy 116.10 (2019): 525-554.

Koch, Steffen. "The externalist challenge to conceptual engineering." Synthese (2018): 1-22.

Haslanger, Sally. "Gender and race:(What) are they?(What) do we want them to be?." Noûs 34.1 (2000): 31-55.

Si veda la scheda in inglese.



Organizational details may undergo variations in case limitations arise from healthcare policy measures. In any event, the completion of the course will be guaranteed through online options of teaching and learning. Lectures and meetings will take place in the Spring (March-April, dates to be confirmed).


Ultimo aggiornamento: 03/05/2021 11:17
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