The Epistemic Goal of a Concept: Accounting for the Rationality of Semantic Change and Variation

Synthese 177 (1):19-40 (2010)
Abstract
The discussion presents a framework of concepts that is intended to account for the rationality of semantic change and variation, suggesting that each scientific concept consists of three components of content: 1) reference, 2) inferential role, and 3) the epistemic goal pursued with the concept’s use. I argue that in the course of history a concept can change in any of these components, and that change in the concept’s inferential role and reference can be accounted for as being rational relative to the third component, the concept’s epistemic goal. This framework is illustrated and defended by application to the history of the gene concept. It is explained how the molecular gene concept grew rationally out of the classical gene concept despite a change in reference, and why the use and reference of the contemporary molecular gene concept may legitimately vary from context to context.
Keywords Theoretical concepts  Conceptual change  Semantic variation  Epistemic goals  Gene concept
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References found in this work BETA
Lenny Moss (2002). What Genes Can't Do. Monograph Collection (Matt - Pseudo).
Evelyn Fox Keller (2001). The Century of the Gene. Journal of the History of Biology 34 (3):613-615.
Ingo Brigandt & Alan Love, Reductionism in Biology. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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Citations of this work BETA
Charles T. Wolfe (2014). The Organism as Ontological Go-Between. Hybridity, Boundaries and Degrees of Reality in its Conceptual History. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 1:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shps.
Jan Surman, Katalin Stráner & Peter Haslinger (2014). Nomadic Concepts in the History of Biology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 48:127-129.
Daniel S. Brooks (2013). Book Reviews. [REVIEW] Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 44 (1):235-245.

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