Conceptual Engineering and the Dynamics of Linguistic Intervention

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Abstract

The Implementation Problem for conceptual engineering is, roughly, the problem conceptual engineers face when attempting to bring about the conceptual change they support. An important aspect of this problem concerns the extent to which attempting to implement concepts can lead to unintended negative consequences. Not only can conceptual engineers fail to implement their proposals, but their interventions can produce outcomes directly counter to their goals. It is therefore important to think carefully about the prospect of attempted implementation leading to unintended negative consequences: what sort of negative consequences can conceptual engineers expect? Are some forms of conceptual engineering more likely than others to lead to such consequences? And is conceptual engineering still viable even given the risk of such consequences? This paper addresses such questions. I begin by outlining different forms of conceptual engineering (Section 1), before examining how they can produce unintended negative consequences (Section 2). I then discuss some implications of the fact that attempted implementation can produce unintended negative consequences, suggesting that, among other things, some forms of conceptual engineering are less viable than others (Section 3). I conclude, though, by considering some of the ways in which conceptual engineering is nonetheless a worthwhile pursuit (Section 4).

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Adam F. Gibbons
Lingnan University

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