Do concepts exist?

I like lightning strikes. As an event they are dramatic and violent. They cause damage and they may even kill. But I cannot “catch” a lightning strike like I can catch a lion or a tiger. It is an event, process, action of a thing, not a thing in itself.

It is language that “catches” it as a thing. We call it a lightning strike. We conceive it that way. But we do not “catch” it that way.

Lakoff and Johnson, revolutionised our understanding words with Metaphors We Live By. The book gave us the concept of conceptual metaphor, showing how all language can be metaphorical. It is not just a device literary writers use but something that is inescapable as language. Apart from “literal statements” whatever that may be we have no recourse but to use metaphors.

Do concepts exist?

There are concepts, and concepts of concepts, but not the thing – concept.

Just like lightning strikes they are not things, but processes of things. A lightning strike is the conditions that make the process. Sequence of occurrences that have not “catchable” quality. Unlike lions which are catchable, cage-able.

There is no thing of concepts.

And just like the ‘is’ in the previous sentence is illogical to say there exists a negative. Materially impossible, conceptually create-able. Parmenides found this same problem and concluded that everything must be one. I do not think he drew the right conclusion.

2 thoughts on “Do concepts exist?

  1. Thank you for the questions.

    Like mathematical concepts I will argue that the self is also a property of a thing, this particular thing.

    I am happy that you noticed the Buddhist link. When the Buddha argued for a non-self (anatman) he perhaps had something like this in mind (I cannot be sure) since I am not enlightened. The perpetuation of a self produces unsatisfactoriness (dukkha). The Buddha that everything substantial is impermanent (anicca). If self/ego/soul/mind is a property of the bodily self then it also is impermanent as well. Wanting to hold onto this insubstantial self is what is causing all these problems with our understanding.

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  2. The question is: Is conscious experience a thing or a process? What about the self?

    My opinion (which I will not attempt to actually defend here): I don’t quite know how to categorize conscious experience, but I say that the self (i.e. that which experiences) is most assuredly an enduring thing — not a physical object of course, but still a “thing”. I’m more certain of that than anything else in the universe.

    Haven’t read too much of your blog yet, so I’m curious to read any thoughts you may have on the self, particularly from your Buddhist perspective!

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