Strategic Conceptual Engineering for Epistemic and Social Aims

In Alexis Burgess, Herman Cappelen & David Plunkett (eds.), Conceptual Engineering and Conceptual Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 100-124 (2020)
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Abstract

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 the aim of identifying and explaining gender-based discrimination. It is similar to Haslanger’s well-known account, except that rather than offering a definition of ‘woman’ we focus on ‘gender’ as one among several axes of discrimination. The second concept of gender is to assign legal rights and social recognitions, and thus is to be trans-inclusive. We argue that this cannot be achieved by previously suggested concepts that include substantial gender-related psychological features, such as awareness of social expectations. Instead, our concept counts someone as being of a certain gender solely based on the person’s self-identification with this gender. The third concept of gender serves the aim of personal empowerment by means of one’s gender identity. In this context, substantial psychological features and awareness of one’s social situation are involved. While previous accounts of concepts have focused on their role in determining extensions, we point to contexts where a concept’s role in explanation and moral reasoning can be more important.

Author Profiles

Ingo Brigandt
University of Alberta
Esther Rosario
Dartmouth College

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