Seminar Series in Analytic Philosophy 2020-21, Session 17

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: