Conceptual re-engineering: from explication to reflective equilibrium

Synthese 197 (3):925-954 (2020)
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Abstract

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 main results are: an adequate method of conceptual re-engineering must focus not on individual concepts but on systems of concepts and theories; the linear structure of Carnapian explication must be replaced by a process of mutual adjustments as described by Goodman; Carnap’s condition of similarity can be analysed into two components, one securing a relation to the specific extensions of the pre-existing concepts, one regulating the transition to the new system of concepts; these two criteria of adequacy can be built into Goodman’s account of reflective equilibrium to ensure that the resulting concepts promote theoretical virtues while being sufficiently similar to the concepts we started out with.

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Georg Brun
University of Bern

References found in this work

Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.Noam Chomsky - 1965 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Word and Object.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1960 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition.John Rawls - 1999 - Harvard University Press.
Two Dogmas of Empiricism.W. Quine - 1951 - [Longmans, Green].

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