, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 161-179
Date: 01 Jul 2011

Carnap on concept determination: methodology for philosophy of science

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Abstract

Recent criticisms of intuition from experimental philosophy and elsewhere have helped undermine the authority of traditional conceptual analysis. As the product of more empirically informed philosophical methodology, this result is compelling and philosophically salutary. But the negative critiques rarely suggest a positive alternative. In particular, a normative account of concept determination—how concepts should be characterized—is strikingly absent from such work. Carnap's underappreciated theory of explication provides such a theory. Analyses of complex concepts in empirical sciences illustrates and supports this claim, and counteracts the charge explication is only suitable for highly mathematical, axiomatic contexts. Explication is also defended against the influential criticism it is “philosophically unilluminating”.

Thanks to John Carpenter, Mark Colyvan, Cory Juhl, Samir Okasha, Mark Sainsbury, Sahotra Sarkar, Joshua Shepherd, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. Audiences at the Sydney University HPS Department and the third annual Sydney–Tilburg conference on philosophy of science provided similarly valuable feedback. This work was generously supported by the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science.