Why Conceptual Engineers Should Not Worry About Topics

Erkenntnis 88 (5):1-21 (2021)
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This paper argues for explanatory eliminativism about topics (and cognates, such as subject matters) relative to the domain of conceptual engineering. It has become usual to think that topics serve an important explanatory role in theories of conceptual engineering, namely, to determine the limits of revision. I argue, first, that such limits can be understood either as thenormative limitspertaining to the justification of conceptual engineering, as themetaphysical limitspertaining to the identity of the concepts in question, or as theterminological limitspertaining to usage of the original terminology. Second, I argue that the metaphysical reading is disputable as a theory of concepts and inconsequential for conceptual engineers, and that neither of the two leading accounts of topics that have been presented in the literature—the samesaying account and functionalism—determine the limits of revision in either of the two remaining senses. In the absence of more promising competitors, I conclude that there is no theoretical role for topics to play in theories of conceptual engineering. An upshot of my argument is that conceptual engineers should stop worrying about things like topic (dis)continuity, and instead shift their attention to the issues that really matter for justifying conceptual revisions or replacements, making terminological choices, and underpinning conceptual engineering with a theory of concepts.

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Steffen Koch
Bielefeld University

References found in this work

Word and Object.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1960 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Logical foundations of probability.Rudolf Carnap - 1950 - Chicago]: Chicago University of Chicago Press.
Verbal Disputes.David J. Chalmers - 2011 - Philosophical Review 120 (4):515-566.

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