Conceptual Engineering and Making Conceptual Change Happen
Delia Belleri (LanCog, University of Lisbon)

26 March 2021, 16:00 (Lisbon Time – GMT+0) | Online, via Zoom

Abstract: Conceptual engineering is a philosophical project that aims at reflecting on conceptual representations, identifying their flaws, and proposing possible revisions. The next step (at least in theory) is that of implementing such revisions. Yet, how can conceptual engineers get entire linguistic communities to adopt the conceptual changes they recommend? In this talk, I focus on an important background condition for the implementation of conceptual change, which I dub “metalinguistic awareness”. I explain which metalinguistic skills should preferably be displayed by the conceptual engineer’s interlocutor. I survey a number of strategies that could stimulate such skills, and explore some of their ethical and social aspects.

Free Attendance, but preregistration required:

Our next meeting will take place on Wednesday 24 March, and will feature a talk from Samuel Kimpton-Nye (Bristol) on pandispositionalism. All welcome!


For details of past and upcoming talks, please see:



Some philosophers maintain that physical properties are irreducibly modal; that properties are powers. Powers are then employed to provide philosophical explanations of other phenomena of philosophical interest such as laws of nature and modality. There is, however, a dispute among powers theorists about how far the powers ontology extends: are all manner of properties at all levels of fundamentality powers or, are powers only to be found among the fundamental properties? I argue that the answer to this question depends on the details of the metaphysics of powers. More specifically, I argue that if one understands powers as qualitative grounds of dispositions (call this qualitative dispositional essentialism), as opposed to properties whose essences are constituted by dispositions (as orthodox dispositional essentialists would have it), then all properties are powers, i.e., pandispositionalism is true. The conclusion: If qualitative dispositional essentialism is true, then pandispositionalism is true, is significant because there is increasing concern that orthodox dispositional essentialism is explanatorily deficient and perhaps even incoherent, meaning that qualitative dispositional essentialism is gaining increasing support in the literature on powers. All things considered, then, it is beginning to look more likely that pandispositionalism is true simpliciter.

Content Determination for Conceptual Engineers
Timothy Sundell (University of Kentucky)

19 March 2021, 16:00 (Lisbon Time – GMT+0) | Online, via Zoom

Abstract: What do we engineer when we engage in conceptual engineering? Concepts, presumably. Or meanings, perhaps. But of course nobody agrees on what concepts—or meanings—are. The closest thing to a consensus (and it is not a consensus) is that that there are various conceptions of content deserving of these titles in different theoretical contexts. Despite the variety of available metasemantic options, one striking feature of the conceptual engineering literature is that some of its most frequently cited authors are committed content-externalists. This is striking because of a certain awkwardness between, on the one hand, the project of evaluating and modifying our representational devices, and, on the other, the idea that the content of those representations is out of our control and perhaps even unknowable to us. In this talk, I briefly canvas some examples where this tension displays itself. I try to render that tension a bit more precise, expressing it in the form of a handful of actual arguments. I suggest, in turn, that those arguments fail—that in fact externalism itself presents no particular obstacle to the project of conceptual engineering. And I attempt to motivate, instead, a different perspective on the whole dialectic: that while externalism may not be a problem for conceptual engineering, conceptual engineering might well be a problem for externalism.

Free Attendance, but preregistration required:

We invite those interested in take part in the Reading Group on Multipropositionalism, jointly organized by Claudia Picazo (University of Granada) and Laura Delgado (LanCog – University of Lisbon). Our first meeting would be on April 15th at 12pm CET, and thereafter we will meet on alternate Thursdays for about 6 sessions in total – see tentative schedule and readings below. The group will be held online.

If you are interested in joining us, or have any other question, or suggestion, please send us an email (, or

Tentative Schedule

15.04.21 Ciecierski, Tadeusz (2009). ‘The Multiple-Proposition Approach Reconsidered’. Logique Et Analyse 52 (208):423-440.

29.04.21 Buchanan, Ray (2010). ‘A puzzle about meaning and communication’. Noûs 44 (2):340-371.

13.05.21 Bowker, Mark (2019). ‘Saying a bundle: meaning, intention, and underdetermination’. Synthese 196 (10):4229-4252.

27.05.21 TBA

10.06.21 TBA

24.06.21 TBA


Possible Readings

. Clapp, Lenny & Lavalle Terrón, Armando (2019). ‘Multipropositionalism and Necessary a Posteriori identity Statements’. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 100 (4):902-934.

. Corazza, Eros (2012). ‘Same‐Saying, Pluri‐Propositionalism, and Implicatures’. Mind and Language 27 (5):546-569.

. Dorr, Cian & Hawthorne, John (2014). ‘Semantic Plasticity and Speech Reports’. Philosophical Review 123 (3):281-338.

. Grzankowski, Alex & Buchanan, Ray (forthcoming). ‘Content Pluralism’. Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.

. Hodgson, Thomas (2018). ‘Meaning underdetermines what is said, therefore utterances express many propositions’. Dialectica 72 (2):165-189.

. Murday, Brendan (2014). ‘Definite Descriptions and Semantic Pluralism’. Philosophical Papers 43 (2):255-284.

. Sullivan, Arthur (2013). ‘Multiple propositions, contextual variability, and the semantics/pragmatics interface’. Synthese 190 (14):2773-2800.

. Viebahn, Emanuel (2019). Semantic Pluralism (chapter 4). Frankfurt, Germany: Klostermann.

RG Conceptual Engineering – Calendar

1) – Thursday, April 8 (10:00-12:00 GMT) – Cappelen, H. (2020). Conceptual Engineering: The Master Argument. In Burgess, A., Cappelen, H., and Plunkett, D. (Eds.) Conceptual Engineering and Conceptual Ethics: Oxford University Press. (

2) – Thursday, April 22 (10:00-12:00 GMT) – Koch, S. (2018). “The Externalist Challenge to Conceptual Engineering.” Synthese Online.
First: 1–22. doi:10.1007/s11229-018-02007-6.

3) – Thursday, May 6 (10:00-12:00 GMT) – Schroeter, L. & Schroeter, F. (2020). Inscrutability and Its Discontents. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 50 (5):566-579.

4) – Thursday, May 20 (10:00-12:00 GMT) – Deutsch, M. (2020). Speaker’s reference, stipulation, and a dilemma for conceptual engineers. Philos Stud 177, 3935–3957.

5) – Thursday, June 17 (10:00-12:00 GMT) – Andow, J. (2020). Conceptual engineering is extremely unlikely to work. So what?, Inquiry, DOI: 10.1080/0020174X.2020.1850343.

If you are interested in joining us, or have any other question, or suggestion, please send us an email (

Rational Polarization
Kevin Dorst (University of Pittsburgh)

12 March 2021, 16:00 (Lisbon Time – GMT+0) | Online, via Zoom

Abstract: Predictable polarization is everywhere.  When we make decisions about what college to attend, or what books to read, or which friends to hang out with, we can usually predict—not with certainty, but with confidence—that doing so will move our opinions in a particular direction.  Could this process be (epistemically) rational?  A collection of results establish that it can be if and only if the evidence we get is ambiguous, in the sense that it’s rational to be unsure how to react to it.  Thus it’s theoretically possible that a rational sensitivity to ambiguous evidence is what drives predictable polarization. What I want to argue here is that it’s also empirically plausible.  I’ll first report the results of a simple experiment illustrating how this can work.  I’ll then turn to two empirical phenomena that play a substantial role in real-world polarization: confirmation bias and enclave deliberation.  I’ll argue that both processes give rise to particular profiles of evidential ambiguity, and then use simulations to show that such profiles lead to predictable polarization—even amongst people whose goal is to form accurate beliefs.

Free Attendance, but preregistration required:

The threshold of belief and the value of punishment
Julien Dutant (King’s College London)

05 March 2021, 16:00 | Online, via Zoom

Abstract: This paper explores a tension between two putative norms for rational reactions (i.e. reactive attitudes like blame or anger and retributive actions like punishing). The first (Reactive Risk Management) says that how it is rational to react to an (apparent) deed depends on how confident it is rational to be that the deed was done. The second (Reasoned Reactions) says that it is rational to react to an (apparent) deed if, and only if, it is rational to believe that it was done. The two conflict in the context of the Fallibilist idea that rational belief does not require certainty. A well-known source of conflict between them is the problem of ‘naked statistical evidence’ (Buchak 2014). However, one can make the norms compatible even in naked statistical evidence cases by rejecting ordinary intuitions (Laudan 2012, Papineau 2019), or by claiming that reactions have epistemically-sensitive values: namely, that they have no positive value if not done on the basis of knowledge (Littlejohn 2018). This paper considers a separate source of conflict between the two norms: the problem of single-case threshold variance. When one is facing a choice over a range of potential reactions, the level of confidence that rationalizes one reaction appropriate to a deed may differ from that of another reaction appropriate to that deed. This entails that one of the two norms fails. The problem affects even the views that reconcile the two norms with naked statistical evidence. The problem would be avoided if a certain hypothesis, which I call the “Blackstone invariance hypothesi”, was true. Unfortunately, I don’t see much prospect for the hypothesis to hold. I conclude with some challenges to meet if we instead give up one of the three ideas that generate the problem.

Free Attendance, but preregistration required:

Consuming Fake News: Can We Do Any Better?
Michel Croce (Dublin/LanCog) & Tommaso Piazza (Pavia/LanCog)

26 February 2021, 16:00 | Online, via Zoom

Abstract: Extant remedies to the online proliferation of fake news range from promoting a reform of individual epistemic conduct to implementing systemic interventions. This paper defends educational approaches from the charge of being motivated by an excessively strict appraisal of the doxastic conduct of social media users. In particular, we address two versions of this charge, according to which the epistemic conduct of social media users is not criticisable because virtuous (Rini 2017) or because fully excused (Millar 2019). For both authors, we should not target individual behaviors but concentrate on reforming institutions and the architecture of online informational environments. We resist both contentions. Contra Rini, we claim that most fake news is beyond the range of application of the virtue of epistemic partisanship. Contra Millar, we argue that most social media users have some control over their informational diet and, for this reason, can be requested to amend their doxastic conduct

Free Attendance, but preregistration required:

The Classical Limit of Quantum Mechanics: One World, Many Routes
Davide Romano (LanCog, University of Lisbon)

19 February 2021, 16:00 | Online, via Zoom

Abstract: This talk is a presentation of my FCT research project: The Emergence of the Classical World From Quantum Mechanics, hosted by the Centre of Philosophy at the University of Lisbon. The project deals with the problem of the classical limit of quantum mechanics, which can be framed as follows: why does a collection of quantum systems (elementary particles, atoms, molecules) in ordinary macroscopic conditions generally form a classical object (a table, a chair, a human being)? Why does this transition happen, and under which conditions? Nowadays, the standard answer to this problem is given by decoherence theory: when a quantum system interacts with an external environment, it loses some of its characteristic quantum effects (it “decoheres”) and, when measured, it looks like a classical object. Nevertheless, there is no consensus in the literature on what has been really achieved by decoherence and the role it plays in the different interpretations of quantum mechanics. The project will investigate these issues, seeking to provide a comprehensive and ontologically clear account of the classical limit of quantum mechanics.

The talk will be divided into two parts. In the first part, I will present the merits and limits of decoherence. I will show that, despite the experimental success of decoherence, this theory (in the standard context) is unable to provide an explanation of the quantum to classical transition that goes beyond a pure instrumentalist approach. In the second part, I will briefly discuss the role and significance of decoherence theory in three different interpretations of quantum mechanics: the de Broglie–Bohm theory, the Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber (GRW) theory and the Everett/Many Worlds Interpretation. For each of these interpretations, indeed, not only can the problem of the classical limit be framed differently, but even decoherence itself plays either a different role or no role at all. Even though no definite results will be provided, I will suggest what further steps should be taken in order to develop a clear account of the classical limit.

Free Attendance, but preregistration required:

The plan for this term is now ready, as follows:

February 19 – Davide Romano (LanCog)
February 26 – Michel Croce (Dublin/LanCog) & Tommaso Piazza (Pavia/LanCog)
March 5 – Julien Dutant (King’s College London)
March 12 – Kevin Dorst (University of Pittsburgh)
March 19 – Timothy Sundell (University of Kentucky)
March 26 – Delia Belleri (LanCog)
April 9 – Julia Zakkou (Bielefeld University)
April 16 – Robert Williams (University of Leeds)
April 23 – Francisca Silva (LanCog)
April 30 – Bruno Jacinto (CFCUL/LanCog) & José Mestre (Stirling/LanCog)
May 7 – Philip Ebert (University of Stirling)
May 14 – Arturs Logins (University of Zürich)
May 21 – Hugo Luzio (LanCog)
May 28 – epistemology workshop (org. Domingos Faria & Michel Croce)
June 4 – Diogo Santos (LanCog)
June 11 – David Papineau (London)
June 18 – Adam Carter (Glasgow) & Emma Gordon (Glasgow)
June 25 – Liz Jackson (Ryerson University)