Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Rachel Goodman

Committee Members

Peter van Elswyk, Joshua Spencer


agency, animal cognition, cognition, concepts, thinking, thought


What does it take for thought to be conceptual? And which creatures get to count as having conceptual thoughts? This paper explores these questions. The discussion follows Elisabeth Camp by contrasting two families of views. One family of views endorses that conceptual thought is the ability to represent the world in a way that brings about action. The other family wants more of conceptual thought: namely, that it exhibit objectivity and, in particular, that it come with the ability to speak a language. This discussion also follows Camp in looking for a better way to tie activeness to conceptual thought than those that have, generally, dominated the philosophical literature. It departs from Camp, however, by arguing that her account also fails to give a workable way of specifying this connection. By drawing on the idea that conceptuality is tied to agency, it suggests a different way to specify the connection. The suggestion is that flexibility—an open-ended use of cognitive abilities that deals with environmental features in novel ways—provides a way to specify the connection between activeness and conceptual thought.

Included in

Philosophy Commons