The externalist challenge to conceptual engineering

Synthese 198 (1):327–348 (2021)
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Abstract

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 structures, it seems that they cannot be changed intentionally. This paper gives an extended discussion of this ‘externalist challenge’. Pace Herman Cappelen’s recent take on this issue, it argues that the viability of conceptual engineering crucially depends on our ability to bring about meaning change. Furthermore, it argues that, contrary to first appearance, causal theories of reference do allow for a sufficient degree of meaning control. To this purpose, it argues that there is a sense of what is called ‘collective long-range control’, and that popular versions of the causal theory of reference imply that people have this kind of control over meanings.

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Author's Profile

Steffen Koch
Bielefeld University

Citations of this work

What is Conceptual Engineering and What Should It Be?David Chalmers - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.
Conceptual Engineering and the Implementation Problem.Sigurd Jorem - 2021 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 64 (1-2):186-211.

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References found in this work

A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition.John Rawls - 1999 - Harvard University Press.
The Extended Mind.Andy Clark & David J. Chalmers - 1998 - Analysis 58 (1):7-19.
The Meaning of 'Meaning'.Hillary Putnam - 1975 - Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7:131-193.
Justice as Fairness: A Restatement.John Rawls (ed.) - 2001 - Harvard University Press.

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