Truth and objectivity in conceptual engineering

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 63 (9-10):1001-1022 (2020)
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Conceptual engineering is to be explained by appeal to the externalist distinction between concepts and conceptions. If concepts are determined by non-conceptual relations to objective properties rather than by associated conceptions (whether individual or communal), then topic preservation through semantic change will be possible. The requisite level of objectivity is guaranteed by the possibility of collective error and does not depend on a stronger level of objectivity, such as mind-independence or independence from linguistic or social practice more generally. This means that the requisite level of objectivity is exhibited not only by natural kinds, but also by a wide range of philosophical kinds, social kinds and artefactual kinds. The alternative externalist accounts of conceptual engineering offered by Herman Cappelen and Derek Ball fall back into a kind of descriptivism which is antithetical to externalism and fails to recognise this basic level of objectivity.

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Sarah Sawyer
University of Sussex


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