On Molyneux’s Question

Even while he’s on sabbatical in Seattle this semester, Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy, is engaged in educating others about issues within his field. Recently, he made this contribution to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Molyneux’s Question, he says, prompts a number of perplexing issues in both the psychology and philosophy of perception. Primarily it links these fields of study by asking a variety of questions about how sensory perception relates to our conceptual repertoire and its utilization:

Molyneux’s Question, also known as Molyneux’s Problem, soon became a fulcrum for early research in the epistemology of concept, challenging common intuitions about how our concepts originate, whether sensory features differentiate concepts, and how concepts are utilized in novel contexts. It was reprinted and discussed by a wide range of early modern philosophers, including Gottfried Leibniz, Adam Smith, and was perhaps the most important problem in the burgeoning discipline of psychology of the 18th Century. The question has since undergone various stages of development, both as a mental exercise and as an experimental paradigm, garnering a variety of both affirmative and negative replies in the next three centuries of debate and deliberation.”

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