Upcoming Workshop July 2022!

Conceptual Engineering and Its Place in Philosophical Methodology

Date: July 4 (Monday) to July 6 (Wednesday)

Location: Schloss Reisensburg, Günzburg

Update: Sadly, Allison Koslow will not be there in person, but give her talk over Zoom. Her session has been swapped mith Manuel Gustavo’s session.

Update 2: There has been another swap of Allison Koslow’s talk, this time with Amie Thomasson. Please refer to the final version of the schedule below.

We will host a livestream on Zoom that non-speakers can use to participate.

Monday, July 4th
Time (CEST)SpeakerTitle
14.00 – 14.10Opening
14.10 – 15.25Sally HaslangerAmelioration as Course Correction
Coffee Break
15.40 – 16.55Guido LöhrCommitment engineering, predictive processing and the ethics of conceptual disruption
Coffee Break
17.10 – 18.25Matthew CullBetween Semantics and Metaphysics
Tuesday, July 5th
10.00 – 11.15Steffen Koch &
Jakob Ohlhorst
On the possibility of heavy-duty conceptual engineering
Coffee break
11.30 – 12.45Herman CappelenConceptual engineering as first philosophy
14.00 – 15.15Manuel Gustavo IsaacThe Hallmark Problem for Conceptual Engineering
Coffee break
15.30 – 16.45Daniel JamesFruitful Concepts for Social-Scientific Inquiry:
An Erotetic Account
Coffee break
17.00 – 18.15Amie ThomassonRedirecting metaphysics
Wednesday, July 6th
10.00 – 11.15Edouard MacheryShould We Really Engineer Confused, Unclear, or Otherwise Deficient Concepts? The Case of Scientific Concepts
Coffee break
11.30 – 12.45Jared RiggsPessimism about Philosophy as Conceptual Engineering
14.00 – 15.15Allison Koslow
Going on in the same way


Sally Haslanger: “Amelioration as Course Correction” (co-authored with Stephen Yablo)

Ameliorative inferences are normally read as practical: let w henceforth mean n, because n is better than m (its earlier meaning). So, let “meat” mean something that holds of Impossible Burgers.   We suggest a theoretical reading: w does mean n, because n is better than m (once thought to be the meaning).  The inference is backed by a metasemantic principle of reference electromagnetism, according to which words are repelled by unfortunate meanings and gravitate towards fortunate ones.  Reference electromagnetism is itself backed by  Davidsonian/Lewisian principles of charitable interpretation. Speakers are lovers of the good, though it may take a while for the good to reveal itself.

Guido Loehr: “A pragmatist theory of conceptual engineering in terms of commitments and how commitment engineering can be modelled and implemented”

I first argue that conceptual engineering is about changing our social commitments and entitlements to other people, which are grounded in the joint intention of a joint action. Commitments are not representations but normative relations between agents. Conceptual engineering is therefore not about changing extensions or intensions of words or concepts. This is false. Commitments, however, are not obligations. Therefore, conceptual engineering is to be distinguished from conceptual ethics. Second, I explain how conceptual engineering can be modeled using the conceptual resources of the predictive processing framework. This reveals new constraints on implementing conceptual changes (commitment changes). I mention conceptual pluralism and the importance of social norms to overcome these constraints. Finally, I introduce a set of novel norms for when conceptual engineering is permissible: this will take the notion of conceptual disruption into account.

Matthew Cull: “Between Semantics and Metaphysics”

For the politically engaged philosopher, there is a real question as to why one should engage in a project of conceptual engineering. After all, isn’t the point not to interpret the world, but to change it? If one is concerned with the current political and economic crises faced by various groups, one might worry that conceptual engineering is merely rearranging the (conceptual) deck chairs whilst the titanic sinks beneath us. In this talk I’ll respond to this challenge by arguing that (at least in the social realm) there is a close relationship between semantics and metaphysics which justifies a focus on the semantics of things like gender as a means to the end of changing the world. Detailing my Marxist approach to the relationship between semantics and metaphysics, I will argue that the move from semantics to metaphysics is a legitimate one, not because we have some privileged access to the world through semantic reflection, but because we can and do shape the world following that reflection.

Steffen Koch & Jakob Ohlhorst: “On the possibility of heavy-duty conceptual engineering”

Conceptual engineering is the process of assessing and improving our conceptual repertoire. Some authors have claimed that introducing or revising concepts through conceptual engineering can go as far as expanding the realm of thinkable thoughts and thus enable us to form beliefs, hypotheses, wishes or desires that we are currently unable to form. As exciting as this idea sounds, it has never been developed or defended properly. In this talk, we pursue a two-fold goal. First, to offer a theory of what such mind-expanding conceptual engineering is and what distinguishes it from other kinds of conceptual engineering; second, to show that this kind of conceptual engineering is possible, both in theory and in practice, and to explain how it can be pursued. A central starting point for our account is Susan Carey’s work on conceptual discontinuities and Quinean bootstrapping.

Herman Cappelen: “Conceptual Engineering as First Philosophy”

This talk is a defense of the view that conceptual engineering is a form of first philosophy. It’s first philosophy in two senses of ‘first philosophy’: a. Internal to philosophy, it comes before all other forms of philosophy. b. Given its role in philosophy, it makes philosophy foundational to all inquiry, and in particular to all the sciences. 

Daniel James Turcas: “Fruitful Concepts for Social-Scientific Inquiry: An Erotetic Account”

The explication of concepts – that is, according to Carnap’s classic exposition, “the transformation of an inexact pre-scientific concept, the explicandum, into an exact concept, the explicatum” (Carnap 1950: 1) – is a both widespread and widely accepted practice in the natural sciences. But what about the social sciences? In this talk, I will draw on Carnap’s account of explication, as well as the subsequent discussion thereof to outline an account of fruitfulness specifically tailored to social-scientific inquiry in terms of the notion of an inquiry, and illustrate the account by way of an example: the social-scientific concept of racism.

Manuel Gustavo Isaac: “The Hallmark Problem for Conceptual Engineering”

`Conceptual engineering’ is the new buzzword in the world of philosophical methods. Yet, on some accounts, it is hard to see what is distinctively new about it – if anything. This article tackles this hallmark problem for conceptual engineering. I start by spelling out the requirements that result from using the engineering label through an analysis of its associated connotations. I next map the logical space of available options to make sense of the engineering label in the context of conceptual engineering and evaluate each in turn for how they square with the said requirements. Having selected the most promising option with regard to these requirements, I then reconstruct it by combining compatible extant accounts. Finally, I design on this basis a full-fledged model of the engineering process for conceptual engineering. According to this model, conceptual engineering becomes a radically novel philosophical method.

Edouard Machery: “Should We Really Engineer Confused, Unclear, or Otherwise Deficient Concepts? The Case of Scientific Concepts”

Abstract: Following Carnap, conceptual engineers have long thought that confused, unclear, or vague concepts, particularly scientific concepts, are deficient, and should be explicated (Carnap), prescriptively analyzed (Machery), or engineered (Cappelen). This talk will review several challenges to this view, arguing in particular that confusion, lack of clarity, and vagueness are not necessarily deficiencies in science. 

Jared Riggs: “Pessimism about Philosophy as Conceptual Engineering”

Some philosophers have proposed that many areas of philosophy should be reinterpreted or reshaped as projects in conceptual engineering. I think the proposed reinterpretation is implausible, and the proposed reshaping is overly optimistic. Philosophers aren’t engaged in the kind of conceptual engineering that matters, and they aren’t in a good position to start doing it. 

Amie Thomasson: “Redirecting Metaphysics”

I argue that before engaging in metaphysical questions, we should step back and ask why we have the relevant terms in our vocabulary, what functions they serve, and how they come to enter language: engaging in a kind of reverse-engineering of our concepts and language. For understanding the diversity of linguistic functions, and the different ways in which terms can enter language, can lead us to reassess the legitimacy and relevance ofthe criteria and demands commonly imposed in metaphysics. It can also lead us to a more transparent and useful approach to work in metaphysics. Rather than thinking of metaphysics as quasi-scientific explanatory work, or as deep world description, I will argue that we should reconceive it as capable of doing important descriptive and normative conceptual work: work in both a broad form of conceptual analysis and in conceptual engineering. Redirecting the work of metaphysics in this way requires an understanding of linguistic functions. So here I will also  suggest a new way to develop and make good on the idea that language has many functions, discussing how we may identify these diverse functions, and what difference doing so will make to our philosophical work.