Toronto, Canada

I have a PhD in philosophy from the New School for Social Research in New York City. My research investigates conceptually articulated thought in humans and other animals, drawing on phenomenology, German idealism, philosophical anthropology, and comparative psychology.
I currently teach philosophy at the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies. 

bootstrap website templates


A Selection of Papers in Progress


Bridging Instrumentalism and Intellectualism about Concepts

Elisabeth Camp has sought to reconcile two divergent ways of defining concepts: making concepts useful for (1) empirical explanations of animal cognition and human development and (2) intellectualist accounts of what makes human minds distinct. I argue that Camp's instrumentalism about concepts, which makes a robust form of stimulus independence necessary for having conceptually articulated thought, takes a valuable step forward, but falls short of her goal of reconciling these two traditions. To complete the work of reconciliation, I argue that John Haugeland's distinctive form of intellectualism is compatible with Camp's theory of concepts and also sufficient to answer intellectualist motivations to differentiate rational, human understanding. The upshot is that a select group of problem-solving animals have conceptually articulated thought, which gives them a kind of distance from their environment, whereas humans additionally enjoy a second distance that allows us to reflect on conceptually articulated thought itself.


Excessive Intellectualism: Against the Necessity of Language for Having Concepts

John McDowell's debates with Robert Brandom and Hubert Dreyfus illuminate apparently incompatible commitments all three make. McDowell is committed to upholding a minimal form of empiricism that gives normatively governed concepts a role in rational experience and action; Brandom is committed to defining concepts so as to sharply demarcate rationality; and Dreyfus is committed to explaining how rational, conceptual understanding develops out of lesser abilities we share with human infants and other animals. Equally illuminating is how these debates expose a further, shared intellectualist commitment all three make to the idea that having language is necessary for having concepts. I argue that this intellectualist commitment impedes the work of each philosopher in their attempts to uphold their other respective commitments.


Whatever Happened to Secondary Representation?

In 1991, Josef Perner proposed the notion of "secondary representation" as part of a cumulative sequence of human cognitive developement: infants develop primary representations as a single updating model of their surroundings; later they develop secondary representations enabling them to entertain multiple representations of the same thing; and by age four they typically develop a capacity for metarepresentation--representing a representation as a representation. The novel part of this sequence is secondary representation, insofar as it constitutes a powerful advance over mere primary representations yet falls short of metacognition. Yet this notion has received surprisingly little attention in philosophy of mind. I argue that secondary representation would be a useful tool in contemporary philosophy of mind, giving examples of how it could help illuminate recent work by both Daniel Dennett and Tyler Burge--despite their respective differences.


Better Not to Have a Hard Problem 

It often seems as though David Chalmers' hard problem of consciousness and Daniel Dennett's forceful rejection of it are the only two viable options one can take on the matter. I argue that Helmuth Plessner's masterwork, Levels of Organic Life and the Human, anticipated their dispute and preemptively offered a viable third way between these two options. After reconstructing Plessner's middle way—which shifts emphasis away from consciousness to a concept of life—I consider objections to his view from both Chalmers' perspective and Dennett's.


Toward a Theory of Concepts without Intellectualism

Winner of the Hans Jonas Award in Philosophy from The New School for Social Research, 2017


John McDowell’s debates about concepts with Robert Brandom and Hubert Dreyfus over the past two decades reveal key commitments each philosopher makes. McDowell is committed to giving concepts a role in our embodied coping, extending rational form to human experience. Brandom is committed to defining concepts in a way that helps make rationality distinct. And Dreyfus is committed to explaining how rational understanding develops out of lesser abilities we share with human infants and other animals (I call this “Dreyfus’s challenge”). These commitments appear irreconcilable. I argue to the contrary that they are, in principle, reconcilable, provided we give up their shared “rationalist” commitment to the idea that the rational use of language is necessary for having concepts. First, I exploit Brandom and McDowell’s debate to motivate abandoning the rationalist commitment. Next, I exploit Dreyfus and McDowell’s debate to establish the need for a broader notion of concepts to answer Dreyfus’s challenge. I turn to Elisabeth Camp’s broader notion of concepts as spontaneously, systematically recombinable representations, and establish that it lacks resources for distinguishing human rationality. To resolve that weakness, I integrate Camp’s notion of concepts with John Haugeland’s theory of objectivity, which does make rationality distinct. Finally, drawing my integration of Camp and Haugeland, I propose a way to answer Dreyfus’s challenge, which I call “relaxed holism.” The core of relaxed holism is a cumulative, developmental sequence of three related cognitive abilities: representation, concepts, and metacognition. I argue that relaxed holism also reconciles both McDowell’s commitment to giving normatively governed concepts a role in embodied coping, and Brandom’s commitment to defining concepts in a way that helps make rationality distinct.



J. Robert S. Prichard Alumni House
University of Toronto
21 King’s College Circle
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3J3


+1 (416) 858-7420


kev [dot] temple [at]