Defending Genealogy as Conceptual Reverse-Engineering

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In this paper, I respond to three critical notices of The Practical Origins of Ideas: Genealogy as Conceptual Reverse-Engineering, written by Cheryl Misak, Alexander Prescott-Couch, and Paul Roth, respectively. After contrasting genealogical conceptual reverse-engineering with conceptual reverse-engineering, I discuss pragmatic genealogy’s relation to history. I argue that it would be a mistake to understand pragmatic genealogy as a fiction (or a model, or an idealization) as opposed to a form of historical explanation. That would be to rely on precisely the stark dichotomy between idealization and history that I propose to call into question. Just as some historical explanations begin with a functional hypothesis arrived at through idealization as abstraction, some pragmatic genealogies embody an abstract form of historiography, stringing together, in a way that is loosely indexed to certain times and places, the most salient needs responsible for giving a concept the contours it now has. I then describe the naturalistic stance that I find expressed in the pragmatic genealogies I consider in the book before examining the evaluative standard at work in those genealogies, defusing the charge that they involve a commitment to a ‘stingy axiology’.

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Matthieu Queloz
University of Bern


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