About this topic
Summary ‘Conceptual Engineering’ is both the name of a philosophical method and the name of an increasingly popular field of metaphilosophical research. Although the method of conceptual engineering has arguably been practiced throughout the history of philosophy, it has not been until recently that conceptual engineering became the object of metaphilosophical research. The key idea of conceptual engineering is to take a normative approach to traditional philosophical questions: Instead of asking what our current concepts of say, knowledge, race or gender, do mean, conceptual engineers ask what these concepts should mean. The underlying assumption is that our actual concepts are not necessarily ideal and that improving them is an important desideratum of philosophy. The contemporary metaphilosophical debate about conceptual engineering involves questions regarding its normative foundations, its actual feasibility, its coherence with semantic externalism and its proper limits.
Key works The label 'conceptual engineering' was coined by Richard Creath in his Creath 1990. Like Creath, many contemporary authors in the field link their work to Rudolf Carnap’s method of explication (Carnap 1950), which is a kind of conceptual engineering designed for the purposes of science. Brun 2016 contains a very helpful discussion of Carnapian explications. Another important starting point for current discussions about conceptual engineering is Sally Haslanger's so called 'ameliorative analysis', introduced in Haslanger 2000 and further developed in Haslanger 2012. Burgess & Plunkett 2013Burgess & Plunkett 2013 approach more broadly what they call 'conceptual ethics'. The first monograph on conceptual engineering is Cappelen 2018.
Introductions As of yet, there are no introductory texts on conceptual engineering, but most of the work is fairly comprehensible. See the first two chapters of Cappelen 2018, Burgess & Plunkett 2013 and Burgess & Plunkett 2013 for helpful characterizations of the basic goals of conceptual engineering as well as a list of example cases. See Brun 2016 for a good introduction and discussion of Carnapian explications as a method of doing philosophy.
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  1. Explication, H-D Confirmation, and Simplicity.Lukáš Bielik - 2018 - Erkenntnis 83 (5):1085-1104.
    Explication usually plays the role of the method of language revision. The paper sticks to the Carnapian project of explication and develops some of the formal requirements imposed on the explicatum. However, it departs from Carnap’s view when it comes to how to construe the simplicity condition. It is suggested that in some cases the simplicity condition, which in the Carnapian project plays the derived role with respect to the other three conditions—the similarity, exactness, and fruitfulness conditions—may be substantive for (...)
  2. Some Internal Problems for Revisionary Gender Concepts.Tomas Bogardus - manuscript
    Feminism has long grappled with its own demarcation problem—exactly what is it to be a woman?—and the rise of trans-inclusive feminism has made this problem more urgent. We’ll first consider Sally Haslanger’s “social and hierarchical” account of “woman,” resulting from “Ameliorative Inquiry”: she balances ordinary use of the term against the instrumental value of novel definitions in advancing the cause of feminism. Then, we’ll turn to Katharine Jenkins’ charge that Haslanger’s view suffers from an “Inclusion Problem”: it fails to class (...)
  3. Kant's Explication and Carnap's Explication: The Redde Rationem.Giovanni Boniolo - 2003 - International Philosophical Quarterly 43 (3; ISSU 171):289-298.
    In this paper I will compare the concept of explication à la Carnap and the concept of explication à la Kant. This essay should primarily be seen as a comparison of two different philosophical styles, but it is also intended as a vindication of what Kant wrote and what Carnap forgot to read.
  4. Strategic Conceptual Engineering for Epistemic and Social Aims.Ingo Brigandt & Esther Rosario - forthcoming - In Alexis Burgess, Herman Cappelen & David Plunkett (eds.), Conceptual Engineering and Conceptual Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Examining previous discussions on how to construe the concepts of gender and race, we advocate what we call strategic conceptual engineering. This is the employment of a (possibly novel) concept for specific epistemic or social aims, concomitant with the openness to use a different concept (e.g., of race) for other purposes. We illustrate this approach by sketching three distinct concepts of gender and arguing that all of them are needed, as they answer to different social aims. The first concept serves (...)
  5. Conceptual Re-Engineering: From Explication to Reflective Equilibrium.Georg Brun - forthcoming - Synthese:1-30.
    Carnap and Goodman developed methods of conceptual re-engineering known respectively as explication and reflective equilibrium. These methods aim at advancing theories by developing concepts that are simultaneously guided by pre-existing concepts and intended to replace these concepts. This paper shows that Carnap’s and Goodman’s methods are historically closely related, analyses their structural interconnections, and argues that there is great systematic potential in interpreting them as aspects of one method, which ultimately must be conceived as a component of theory development. The (...)
  6. Explication as a Method of Conceptual Re-Engineering.Georg Brun - 2016 - Erkenntnis 81 (6):1211-1241.
    Taking Carnap’s classic exposition as a starting point, this paper develops a pragmatic account of the method of explication, defends it against a range of challenges and proposes a detailed recipe for the practice of explicating. It is then argued that confusions are involved in characterizing explications as definitions, and in advocating precising definitions as an alternative to explications. Explication is better characterized as conceptual re-engineering for theoretical purposes, in contrast to conceptual re-engineering for other purposes and improving exactness for (...)
  7. Conceptual Ethics and Conceptual Engineering.Burgess Alexis, Cappelen Herman & Plunkett David (eds.) - forthcoming - Oxford University Press.
  8. Conceptual Engineering and Conceptual Ethics.Alexis Burgess, Herman Cappelen & David Plunkett (eds.) - forthcoming - Oxford University Press.
  9. Conceptual Ethics I.Alexis Burgess & David Plunkett - 2013 - Philosophy Compass 8 (12):1091-1101.
    Which concepts should we use to think and talk about the world and to do all of the other things that mental and linguistic representation facilitates? This is the guiding question of the field that we call ‘conceptual ethics’. Conceptual ethics is not often discussed as its own systematic branch of normative theory. A case can nevertheless be made that the field is already quite active, with contributions coming in from areas as diverse as fundamental metaphysics and social/political philosophy. In (...)
  10. Conceptual Ethics II: Conceptual Ethics II.Alexis Burgess & David Plunkett - 2013 - Philosophy Compass 8 (12):1102-1110.
    Which concepts should we use to think and talk about the world, and to do all of the other things that mental and linguistic representation facilitates? This is the guiding question of the field that we call ‘conceptual ethics’. Conceptual ethics is not often discussed as its own systematic branch of normative theory. A case can nevertheless be made that the field is already quite active, with contributions coming in from areas as diverse as fundamental metaphysics and social/political philosophy. In (...)
  11. Conceptual Engineering: The Master Argument.Herman Cappelen - forthcoming - In Herman Cappelen, David Plunkett & Alexis Burgess (eds.), Conceptual Engineering and Conceptual Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  12. Fixing Language: An Essay on Conceptual Engineering.Herman Cappelen - 2018 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Herman Cappelen investigates ways in which language (and other representational devices) can be defective, and how they can be improved. In all parts of philosophy there are philosophers who criticize the concepts we have and propose ways to improve them. Once one notices this about philosophy, it's easy to see that revisionist projects occur in a range of other intellectual disciplines and in ordinary life. That fact gives rise to a cluster of questions: How does the process of conceptual amelioration (...)
  13. Fixing Language: An Essay on Conceptual Engineering.Herman Cappelen - 2018 - Oxford University Press.
    Herman Cappelen investigates how language and other representational devices can go wrong, and how to fix them. We use language to understand and talk about the world, but what if our language has deficiencies that prevent it from playing that role? How can we revise our concepts, and what are the limits on revision?
  14. Why Philosophers Shouldn’T Do Semantics.Herman Cappelen - 2017 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 8 (4):743-762.
    The linguistic turn provided philosophers with a range of reasons for engaging in careful investigation into the nature and structure of language. However, the linguistic turn is dead. The arguments for it have been abandoned. This raises the question: why should philosophers take an interest in the minutiae of natural language semantics? I’ll argue that there isn’t much of a reason - philosophy of language has lost its way. Then I provide a suggestion for how it can find its way (...)
  15. Conceptual Engineering and Conceptual Ethics.Herman Cappelen, David Plunkett & Alexis Burgess (eds.) - forthcoming - Oxford University Press.
  16. Logical Foundations of Probability.Rudolf Carnap - 1950 - Chicago]University of Chicago Press.
  17. Carnap and Twentieth-Century Thought: Explication as Enlightenment.A. W. Carus - 2007 - Cambridge University Press.
    Rudolf Carnap is widely regarded as one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century. Born in Germany and later a US citizen, he was a founder of the philosophical movement known as Logical Empiricism. He was strongly influenced by a number of different philosophical traditions, and also by the German Youth Movement, the First World War, and radical socialism. This book places his central ideas in a broad cultural, political and intellectual context, showing how he synthesised many different (...)
  18. Carnapian Explication and Ameliorative Analysis: A Systematic Comparison.Catarina Dutilh Novaes - forthcoming - Synthese.
  19. Philosophical Methods Under Scrutiny: Introduction to the Special Issue "Philosophical Methods".Anna-Maria A. Eder, Insa Lawler & Raphael Van Riel - forthcoming - Synthese.
    This paper is the introduction to the Special Issue “Philosophical Methods”. The Special Issue will be published by Synthese.
  20. Inconsistency and Replacement.Matti Eklund - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-16.
    The article is an extended critical discussion of Kevin Scharp’s Replacing Truth. Scharp’s case for the claim that the concept of truth is inconsistent is criticized, and so is his case for the claim that the concept of truth must be replaced because of its inconsistency.
  21. Inconsistency and Replacement.Matti Eklund - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-16.
    The article is an extended critical discussion of Kevin Scharp’s Replacing Truth. Scharp’s case for the claim that the concept of truth is inconsistent is criticized, and so is his case for the claim that the concept of truth must be replaced because of its inconsistency.
  22. Alternative Normative Concepts.Matti Eklund - 2012 - Analytic Philosophy 53 (2):139-157.
  23. Revisionary Epistemology.Davide Fassio & Robin McKenna - 2015 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 58 (7-8):755-779.
    What is knowledge? What should knowledge be like? Call an epistemological project that sets out to answer the first question ‘descriptive’ and a project that sets out to answer the second question ‘normative’. If the answers to these two questions don’t coincide—if what knowledge should be like differs from what knowledge is like—there is room for a third project we call ‘revisionary’. A revisionary project starts by arguing that what knowledge should be differs from what knowledge is. It then proposes (...)
  24. A Defence of Constructionism: Philosophy as Conceptual Engineering.Luciano Floridi - 2011 - Metaphilosophy 42 (3):282-304.
    Abstract: This article offers an account and defence of constructionism, both as a metaphilosophical approach and as a philosophical methodology, with references to the so-called maker's knowledge tradition. Its main thesis is that Plato's “user's knowledge” tradition should be complemented, if not replaced, by a constructionist approach to philosophical problems in general and to knowledge in particular. Epistemic agents know something when they are able to build (reproduce, simulate, model, construct, etc.) that something and plug the obtained information into the (...)
  25. Philosophy as Conceptual Engineering: Inductive Logic in Rudolf Carnap's Scientific Philosophy.Christopher F. French - 2015 - Dissertation, University of British Columbia
  26. Rudolf Carnap: Philosophy of Science as Engineering Explications.Christopher F. French - 2015 - In Uskali Mäki, Stephanie Ruphy, Gerhard Schurz & Ioannis Votsis (eds.), Recent Developments in the Philosophy of Science: EPSA13 Helsinki. Springer. pp. 293-303.
    One way of explaining Rudolf Carnap’s mature philosophical view is by drawing an analogy between his technical projects—like his work on inductive logic—with a certain kind of conceptual engineering. After all, there are many mathematical similarities between Carnap’s work in inductive logic and a number of results from contemporary confirmation theory, statistics and mathematical probability theory. However, in stressing these similarities, the conceptual dependence of Carnap’s inductive logic on his work on semantics is downplayed. Yet it is precisely the conceptual (...)
  27. Neutralism and Conceptual Engineering.Patrick Greenough - forthcoming - In Alexis Burgess, Herman Cappelen & David Plunkett (eds.), Conceptual Engineering and Conceptual Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Conceptual Engineering alleges that philosophical problems are best treated via revising or replacing our concepts (or words). The goal here is not to defend Conceptual Engineering but rather show that it can (and should) invoke Neutralism—the broad view that philosophical progress can take place when (and sometimes only when) a thoroughly neutral, non-specific theory, treatment, or methodology is adopted. A neutralist treatment of one form of skepticism is used as a case study and is compared with various non-neutral rivals. Along (...)
  28. Conceptual Marxism and Truth: Inquiry Symposium on Kevin Scharp’s Replacing Truth.Patrick Greenough - 2018 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-19.
    In Replacing Truth (2013), Scharp takes the concept of truth to be fundamentally incoherent. As such, Scharp reckons it to be unsuited for systematic philosophical theorising and in need of replacement—at least for regions of thought and talk which permit liar sentences and their ilk to be formulated. This replacement methodology is radical because it not only recommends that the concept of truth be replaced (in troublesome domains) but that the word “true” be replaced too. Only Tarski has attempted anything (...)
  29. Conceptual Construction in Epistemology.Thomas Grundmann - manuscript
    Standard Analytic Epistemology typically relies on conceptual analysis of folk epistemic terms such as ‘knowledge’ or ‘justification’. A cross-cultural and cross-linguistic perspective on this method leads to the worry that there might not be universally shared epistemic concepts, and that different languages might use folk notions that have different extensions. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that our epistemic common-sense terms pick out what is epistemically most significant or valuable. In my paper, I take these issues as a starting (...)
  30. Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique.Sally Haslanger - 2012 - Oxford University Press.
    In this collection of previously published essays, Sally Haslanger draws on insights from feminist and critical race theory and on the resources of contemporary analytic philosophy to develop the idea that gender and race are positions ...
  31. Language, Politics, and “The Folk”: Looking for “The Meaning” of ‘Race’.Sally Haslanger - 2010 - The Monist 93 (2):169-187.
    Contemporary discussions of race and racism devote considerable effort to giving conceptual analyses of these notions. Much of the work is concerned to investigate a priori what we mean by the terms ‘ race ’ and ‘racism’ ; more recent work has started to employ empirical methods to determine the content of our “folk concepts,” or “folk theory” of race and racism. In contrast to both of these projects, I have argued elsewhere that in considering what we mean by these (...)
  32. What Good Are Our Intuitions: Philosophical Analysis and Social Kinds.Sally Haslanger - 2000 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 80 (1):89-118.
    Across the humanities and social sciences it has become commonplace for scholars to argue that categories once assumed to be “natural” are in fact “social” or, in the familiar lingo, “socially constructed”. Two common examples of such categories are race and gender, but there many others. One interpretation of this claim is that although it is typically thought that what unifies the instances of such categories is some set of natural or physical properties, instead their unity rests on social features (...)
  33. Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them to Be?Sally Haslanger - 2000 - Noûs 34 (1):31–55.
    It is always awkward when someone asks me informally what I’m working on and I answer that I’m trying to figure out what gender is. For outside a rather narrow segment of the academic world, the term ‘gender’ has come to function as the polite way to talk about the sexes. And one thing people feel pretty confident about is their knowledge of the difference between males and females. Males are those human beings with a range of familiar primary and (...)
  34. What Knowledge is and What It Ought to Be: Feminist Values and Normative Epistemology.Sally Haslanger - 1999 - Philosophical Perspectives 13 (s13):459-480.
  35. What Are We Talking About? The Semantics and Politics of Social Kinds.Sally Anne Haslanger - 2005 - Hypatia 20 (4):10-26.
    Theorists analyzing the concepts of race and gender disagree over whether the terms refer to natural kinds, social kinds, or nothing at all. The question arises: what do we mean by the terms? It is usually assumed that ordinary intuitions of native speakers are definitive. However, I argue that contemporary semantic externalism can usefully combine with insights from Foucauldian genealogy to challenge mainstream methods of analysis and lend credibility to social constructionist projects.
  36. Philosophical Analysis and Social Kinds.Sally Haslanger & Jennifer Saul - 2006 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 106 (1):89-118.
    [Sally Haslanger] In debates over the existence and nature of social kinds such as 'race' and 'gender', philosophers often rely heavily on our intuitions about the nature of the kind. Following this strategy, philosophers often reject social constructionist analyses, suggesting that they change rather than capture the meaning of the kind terms. However, given that social constructionists are often trying to debunk our ordinary (and ideology-ridden?) understandings of social kinds, it is not surprising that their analyses are counterintuitive. This article (...)
  37. How To Conceptually Engineer Conceptual Engineering?Manuel Gustavo Isaac - manuscript
    Conceptual engineering means to provide a method to assess and improve our concepts working as cognitive devices. But conceptual engineering still lacks an account of what concepts are (as cognitive devices) and of what engineering is (in the case of cognition). And without such prior understanding of its subject matter, or so it is claimed here, conceptual engineering is bound to remain useless, merely operating as a piecemeal approach, with no overall grip on its target domain. The purpose of this (...)
  38. Amelioration and Inclusion: Gender Identity and the Concept of Woman.Katharine Jenkins - 2016 - Ethics 126 (2):394-421.
    Feminist analyses of gender concepts must avoid the inclusion problem, the fault of marginalizing or excluding some prima facie women. Sally Haslanger’s ‘ameliorative’ analysis of gender concepts seeks to do so by defining woman by reference to subordination. I argue that Haslanger’s analysis problematically marginalizes trans women, thereby failing to avoid the inclusion problem. I propose an improved ameliorative analysis that ensures the inclusion of trans women. This analysis yields ‘twin’ target concepts of woman, one concerning gender as class and (...)
  39. Carnap on Concept Determination: Methodology for Philosophy of Science. [REVIEW]James Justus - 2012 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 2 (2):161-179.
    Abstract Recent criticisms of intuition from experimental philosophy and elsewhere have helped undermine the authority of traditional conceptual analysis. As the product of more empirically informed philosophical methodology, this result is compelling and philosophically salutary. But the negative critiques rarely suggest a positive alternative. In particular, a normative account of concept determination—how concepts should be characterized—is strikingly absent from such work. Carnap's underappreciated theory of explication provides such a theory. Analyses of complex concepts in empirical sciences illustrates and supports this (...)
  40. Explication as a Strategy for Revisionary Philosophy.Eve Kitsik - forthcoming - Synthese:1-22.
    I will defend explication, in a Carnapian sense, as a strategy for revisionary ontologists and radical sceptics. The idea is that these revisionary philosophers should explicitly commit to using expressions like “S knows that p” and “Fs exist” differently from how these expressions are used in everyday contexts. I will first motivate this commitment for these revisionary philosophers. Then, I will address the main worries that arise for this strategy: the unintelligibility worry and the topic shift worry. I will focus (...)
  41. The Externalist Challenge to Conceptual Engineering.Steffen Koch - forthcoming - Synthese:1-22.
    Unlike conceptual analysis, conceptual engineering does not aim to identify the content that our current concepts do have, but the content which these concepts should have. For this method to show the results that its practitioners typically aim for, being able to change meanings seems to be a crucial presupposition. However, certain branches of semantic externalism raise doubts about whether this presupposition can be met. To the extent that meanings are determined by external factors such as causal histories or microphysical (...)
  42. Living Words: Meaning Underdetermination and the Dynamic Lexicon.Peter Ludlow - 2014 - Oxford University Press.
    Peter Ludlow shows how word meanings are much more dynamic than we might have supposed, and explores how they are modulated even during everyday conversation. The resulting view is radical, and has far-reaching consequences for our political and legal discourse, and for enduring puzzles in the foundations of semantics, epistemology, and logic.
  43. Was Davidson's Project a Carnapian Explication of Meaning?Kirk Ludwig - 2015 - Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy 3 (4).
  44. Armchair Philosophy Naturalized.Sebastian Lutz - forthcoming - Synthese.
    Carnap suggests that philosophy can be construed as being engaged solely in conceptual engineering. I argue that since many results of the sciences can be construed as stemming from conceptual engineering as well, Carnap’s account of philosophy can be methodologically naturalistic. This is also how he conceived of his account. That the sciences can be construed as relying heavily on conceptual engineering is supported by empirical investigations into scientific methodology, but also by a number of conceptual considerations. I present a (...)
  45. Explication Defended.Patrick Maher - 2007 - Studia Logica 86 (2):331-341.
    How can formal methods be applied to philosophical problems that involve informal concepts of ordinary language? Carnap answered this question by describing a methodology that he called “explication." Strawson objected that explication changes the subject and does not address the original philosophical problem; this paper shows that Carnap’s response to that objection was inadequate and offers a better response. More recent criticisms of explication by Boniolo and Eagle are shown to rest on misunderstandings of the nature of explication. It is (...)
  46. No Epistemic Trouble for Engineering ‘Woman’.Robin McKenna - 2018 - Logos and Episteme 9 (3):335-342.
    In a recent article in this journal, Mona Simion argues that Sally Haslanger’s “engineering” approach to gender concepts such as ‘woman’ faces an epistemic objection. The primary function of all concepts—gender concepts included—is to represent the world, but Haslanger’s engineering account of ‘woman’ fails to adequately represent the world because, by her own admission, it doesn’t include all women in the extension of the concept ‘woman.’ I argue that this objection fails because the primary function of gender concepts—and social kind (...)
  47. Carnapian Explication, Formalisms as Cognitive Tools, and the Paradox of Adequate Formalization.Catarina Dutilh Novaes & Erich Reck - 2017 - Synthese 194 (1):195-215.
    Explication is the conceptual cornerstone of Carnap’s approach to the methodology of scientific analysis. From a philosophical point of view, it gives rise to a number of questions that need to be addressed, but which do not seem to have been fully addressed by Carnap himself. This paper reconsiders Carnapian explication by comparing it to a different approach: the ‘formalisms as cognitive tools’ conception. The comparison allows us to discuss a number of aspects of the Carnapian methodology, as well as (...)
  48. Gettier and the Method of Explication: A 60 Year Old Solution to a 50 Year Old Problem.Erik J. Olsson - 2015 - Philosophical Studies 172 (1):57-72.
    I challenge a cornerstone of the Gettier debate: that a proposed analysis of the concept of knowledge is inadequate unless it entails that people don’t know in Gettier cases. I do so from the perspective of Carnap’s methodology of explication. It turns out that the Gettier problem per se is not a fatal problem for any account of knowledge, thus understood. It all depends on how the account fares regarding other putative counter examples and the further Carnapian desiderata of exactness, (...)
  49. Carnap, Explication, and Social History.James Pearson - 2017 - Social Theory and Practice 43 (4):741-774.
    A.W. Carus champions Rudolf Carnap’s ideal of explication as a model for liberal political deliberation. Constructing a linguistic framework for discussing social problems, he argues, promotes the resolution of our disputes. To flesh out and assess this proposal, I examine debate about the social institutions of marriage and adoption. Against Carus, I argue that not all citizens would accept the pragmatic principles underlying Carnap’s ideal. Nevertheless, explication may facilitate inquiry in the social sciences and be used to create models that (...)
  50. On Strawson’s Critique of Explication as a Method in Philosophy.Mark Pinder - forthcoming - Synthese:1-27.
    In the course of theorising, it can be appropriate to replace one concept—a folk concept, or one drawn from an earlier stage of theorising—with a more precise counterpart. The best-known account of concept replacement is Rudolf Carnap’s ‘explication’. P.F. Strawson famously critiqued explication as a method in philosophy. As the critique is standardly construed, it amounts to the objection that explication is ‘irrelevant’, fails to be ‘illuminating’, or simply ‘changes the subject’. In this paper, I argue that this is an (...)
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