Conceptual Domination

Synthese (forthcoming)
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Implicit in much of the recent literature on conceptual engineering and conceptual ethics is the assumption that when speakers argue that we should talk or think about a concept in a specific way, they are doing so as inquirers – as speakers who are invested in arriving at the correct or best view of this concept. In this paper I question that assumption and argue that philosophers have been too quick to project idealized versions of themselves into the contexts of conceptual articulation and conceptual dispute. Speakers often engage in this activity to further interests of theirs that have nothing to do with inquiry, instead carrying out what I call ‘conceptual domination’. Speakers are engaged in conceptual domination when they aim to bring about and enforce widespread uptake for a view of a concept by exploiting institutions and institutional authority. They do so because this view best serves interests that are either irrelevant to or actively interfere with inquiry concerning this concept – paradigmatically (but not exclusively) their material interests. I consider sources of evidence for assessing whether speakers are engaging in conceptual domination, analyze two case studies, and consider how to push back against conceptual dominators.
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Archival date: 2021-10-11
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