Authors
Philipp Haueis
Bielefeld University
Abstract
Polysemous concepts with multiple related meanings pervade natural languages, yet some philosophers argue that we should eliminate them to avoid miscommunication and pointless debates in scientific discourse. This paper defends the legitimacy of polysemous concepts in science against this eliminativist challenge. My approach analyses such concepts as patchworks with multiple scale-dependent, technique-involving, domain-specific and property-targeting uses (patches). I demonstrate the generality of my approach by applying it to "hardness" in materials science, "homology" in evolutionary biology, "gold" in chemistry and "cortical column" in neuroscience. Such patchwork concepts are legitimate if the techniques used to apply them produce reliable results, the domains to which they are applied are homogenous, and the properties they refer to are significant to describe, classify or explain the behavior of entities in the extension of the concept. By following these normative constraints, researchers can avoid miscommunication and pointless debates without having to eliminate polysemous patchwork concepts in scientific discourse.
Keywords Concepts  Polysemy  Patchwork Concepts  Eliminativism  Pluralism
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DOI 10.1086/716179
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