Rational Conceptual Conflict and the Implementation Problem

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Conceptual engineers endeavor to improve our concepts. But their endeavors face serious practical difficulties. One such difficulty – rational conceptual conflict - concerns the degree to which agents are incentivized to impede the efforts of conceptual engineers, especially in many of the contexts within which conceptual engineering is viewed as a worthwhile pursuit. Under such conditions, the already difficult task of conceptual engineering becomes even more difficult. Consequently, if they want to increase their chances of success, conceptual engineers should pay closer attention to – and devise strategies to mitigate – rational conceptual conflict. After outlining the phenomenon at greater length and mapping its connections to other similar practical problems (Section 1), I explore the dynamics of such conflict by way of several detailed case studies (Section 2). In particular, I focus on cases driven by material, social, and moral incentives. I then consider some important methodological implications of rational conceptual conflict (Section 3). Among other things, I argue that conceptual engineers should focus more heavily on cultivating settings that modify the payoffs and penalties associated with conceptual conflict. By such indirect means, they can incentivize conceptual cooperation rather than conflict, thus making it easier to achieve success in conceptual engineering. Section 4 concludes.



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Adam F. Gibbons
Lingnan University