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Shared Representations, Perceptual Symbols, and the Vehicles of Mental Concepts

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The main aim of this article is to present and defend a thesis according to which conceptual representations of some types of mental states are encoded in the same neural structures that underlie the first-personal experience of those states. To support this proposal here, I will put forth a novel account of the cognitive function played by 'shared representations' of emotions and bodily sensations, i.e. neural structures that are active when one experiences a mental state of a certain type as well as when one observes someone else experiencing a state of the same type. I will argue that shared representations in fact constitute vehicles of certain mental state concepts (more precisely, concepts of specific types of emotions and somatosensory states). The main line of arguing for this will consist in showing that shared representations exhibit specific, 'conceptual' functional properties: (1) causal effect on forming metacognitive judgments, (2) cognitive penetrability, (3) diversity of input types.

Keywords: Concepts; Emotion concepts; concept empiricism; concept vehicles; empathy; mental concepts; mental simulation; mindreading; mirror neurons; mirror systems; perceptual symbols theory; shared circuits; shared representations

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Nicolaus Copernicus University, Institute of Philosophy, Szosa Staromiejska 1A, 87-100 Toruñ, Poland, Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2013


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