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Instructor: Thomas Hofweber. This course meets M 4:00 – 6:30 p.m. in CW 213.

“Conceptual Engineering”

Several philosophers are tempted by the idea that there is the following crucial difference between philosophy and the sciences: whereas the science aim to answer questions of fact stated with particular concepts, philosophy is concerned with which concepts we should be employing when we ask questions of fact. Thus the methodology of philosophy is tied to finding out which concepts we should have. Furthermore, some thing that traditional philosophical problems like the semantic paradoxes, skepticism, debates about freedom etc., are the result of employing defective concepts. These problems are not supposed to be “solved” by answering a question stated with a defective concept, but rather “overcome” by replacing the defective concept with a better one. Thinking about what concepts we should have falls under the project of conceptual engineering, sometimes also called “conceptual amelioration” or “conceptual ethics”.

This seminar is about this project, both on the details of the execution of the project, i.e. how to understand conceptual engineering, how to carry it out, and how to know that one got it right, as well as the larger meta-philosophy associated with it. On the former we will discuss such questions like how could one know which concepts to use first, without knowing what the world is like? It would seem that the best concepts are the ones that fit the world best, and thus to separate out what concepts to use and what the world is like (with one going to philosophy and the other to the sciences) seems to be based on a mistake. On the latter we will in particular contrast the prominent neo-Carnapian approach to the significance of conceptual engineering (which holds that philosophical methodology is tied to finding out what concepts to employ) with a neo-Kantian alternative (which holds that metaphysics can achieve substantial results by reflecting on concepts that cannot rationally be replaced by other ones).

Topics will include Carnap’s meta-philosophy, engineering the concepts of race and gender, the rational revision of logic and of our concept of truth, the role of conceptual engineering in metaphysics, the limits of conceptual engineering, and others.

Readings will include papers by Rudolf Carnap, Sally Haslanger, Kevin Scharp, Amie Thomasson, David Chalmers, JC Beall, and others.

The seminar will include virtual or physical visits by JC Beall, Matti Eklund, Kevin Scharp, and Amie Thomasson.

This seminar is officially entitled “philosophy of mind,” but it is just as well on the philosophy of language, the philosophy of logic, and metaphysics.