Conceptual Exploration

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (2021)
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Abstract

Conceptual engineering involves revising our concepts. It can be pursued as a specific philosophical methodology, but is also common in ordinary, non-philosophical, contexts. How does our capacity for conceptual engineering fit into human cognitive life more broadly? I hold that conceptual engineering is best understood alongside practices of conceptual exploration, examples of which include conceptual supposition (i.e., suppositional reasoning about alternative concepts), and conceptual comparison (i.e., comparisons between possible concept choices). Whereas in conceptual engineering we aim to change the concepts we use, in conceptual exploration, we reason about conceptual possibilities. I approach conceptual exploration via the linguistic tools we use to communicate about concepts, using metalinguistic negotiation, convention-shifting conditionals, and metalinguistic comparatives as my key examples. I present a linguistic framework incorporating conventions that can account for this communication in a unified way. Furthermore, I argue that conceptual exploration helps undermine skepticism about conceptual engineering itself.

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Rachel Etta Rudolph
Auburn University

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