Conceptual Engineering, Topics, Metasemantics, and Lack of Control

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 50 (5):594-605 (2020)
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Conceptual engineering is now a central topic in contemporary philosophy. Just 4-5 years ago it wasn’t. People were then engaged in the engineering of various philosophical concepts (in various sub-disciplines), but typically not self-consciously so. Qua philosophical method, conceptual engineering was under-explored, often ignored, and poorly understood. In my lifetime, I have never seen interest in a philosophical topic grow with such explosive intensity. The sociology behind this is fascinating and no doubt immensely complex (and an excellent case study for those interested in the dynamics of academic disciplines). That topic, however, will have to wait for another occasion. Suffice it to say that if Fixing Language (FL) contributed even a little bit to this change of focus in philosophical methodology, it would have achieved one of its central goals. In that connection, it is encouraging that the papers in this symposium are in fundamental agreement about the significance and centrality of conceptual engineering to philosophy. That said, the goal of FL was not only to advocate for a topic, but also to defend a particular approach to it: The Austerity Framework. These replies have helped me see clearer the limitations of that view and points where my presentation was suboptimal. The responses below are in part a reconstruction of what I had in mind while writing the book and in part an effort to ameliorate. I’m grateful to the symposiasts for helping me get a better grip on these very hard issues

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Herman Cappelen
University of Hong Kong


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