, Volume 81, Issue 6, pp 1211–1241 | Cite as

Explication as a Method of Conceptual Re-engineering

  • Georg Brun
Original Article


Taking Carnap’s classic exposition as a starting point, this paper develops a pragmatic account of the method of explication, defends it against a range of challenges and proposes a detailed recipe for the practice of explicating. It is then argued that confusions are involved in characterizing explications as definitions, and in advocating precising definitions as an alternative to explications. Explication is better characterized as conceptual re-engineering for theoretical purposes, in contrast to conceptual re-engineering for other purposes and improving exactness for purely practical reasons. Finally, three limitations which call for further development of the method of explication are discussed.


Target System Individual Concept Target Theory Rational Reconstruction Theoretical Purpose 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



A first draft of this paper was written while I was a visiting scholar at Harvard University sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation Grant IZK0Z1-125823. For helpful discussions and critical comments, I would like to thank audiences in Zurich, Frankfurt am Main and Karlsruhe, and in particular Christoph Baumberger, Claus Beisbart, Gregor Betz, Catherine Elgin, Jonas Pfister, Geo Siegwart and Inga Vermeulen. Thanks also to two anonymous referees of this journal.


  1. Baker, A. (2013). Simplicity. In Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.
  2. Bar-Hillel, Y., & Carnap, R. (1953). Semantic information. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 4, 147–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beaney, M. (2004). Carnap’s conception of explication. In S. Awodey & C. Klein (Eds.), Carnap brought home. The view from Jena (pp. 117–150). Chicago/La Salle: Open Court.Google Scholar
  4. Belnap, N. (1993). On rigorous definitions. Philosophical Studies, 72, 115–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brun, G. (2004). Die richtige Formel. Philosophische Probleme der logischen Formalisierung (2nd ed.). Frankfurt a. M: Ontos.Google Scholar
  6. Brun, G. (2014). Reconstructing arguments. Formalization and reflective equilibrium. Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy, 17, 94–129.Google Scholar
  7. Brun, G., & Hirsch Hadorn, G. (2014). Textanalyse in den Wissenschaften. Inhalte und Argumente analysieren und verstehen (2nd ed.). Zürich: vdf.Google Scholar
  8. Carnap, R. (1945). The two concepts of probability. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 5, 513–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carnap, R. (1947). Probability as a guide in life. Journal of Philosophy, 44, 141–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carnap, R. (1953). Inductive logic and science. Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 80, 189–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carnap, R. (1956) [1947]. Meaning and necessity. A study in semantics and modal logic (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. Carnap, R. (1962) [1950]. Logical foundations of probability (2nd ed.). Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press/Routledge and Kegan Paul. Referenced as LFP.Google Scholar
  13. Carnap, R. (1963). Replies and systematic expositions. In P. A. Schilpp (Ed.), The philosophy of Rudolf Carnap (pp. 859–1013). La Salle: Open Court. Referenced as RSE.Google Scholar
  14. Carnap, R. (1966) [1926]. Physikalische Begriffsbildung. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.Google Scholar
  15. Carnap, R. (1990) [written 1952]. Quine on analyticity. In Creath, R. (Ed.). Dear Carnap. Dear Van. The QuineCarnap correspondence and related work (pp. 427–432). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  16. Carnap, R. (2003) [1928/34]. The logical structure of the world. Pseudoproblems in philosophy. Chicago/La Salle: Open Court.Google Scholar
  17. Carus, A. W. (1999). Carnap, syntax, and truth. In J. Peregrin (Ed.), Truth and its nature (if any) (pp. 15–35). Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Carus, A. W. (2007a). Carnap and twentieth-century thought. Explication as enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Carus, A. W. (2007b). Carnap’s intellectual development. In M. Friedman & R. Creath (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Carnap (pp. 19–42). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Chiappero-Martinetti, E. (2008). Complexity and vagueness in the capability approach: Strengths or weaknesses? In F. Comim, M. Qizilbash, & S. Alkire (Eds.), The capability approach. Concepts, measures and applications (pp. 268–309). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Copi, I. M. (1953). Introduction to logic. New York: MacMillan.Google Scholar
  22. Creath, R. (Ed.). (1990). Dear Carnap. Dear Van. The Quine-Carnap correspondence and related work. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  23. de Regt, H. W., & Dieks, D. (2005). A contextual approach to scientific understanding. Synthese, 144, 137–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Douglas, H. (2013). The value of cognitive values. Philosophy of Science, 80, 796–806.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Eklund, M. (2014). Replacing truth? In A. Burgess & B. Sherman (Eds.), Metasemantics (pp. 293–310). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Eklund, M. (2015). Intuitions, conceptual engineering, and conceptual fixed points. In C. Daly (Ed.), Palgrave handbook of philosophical methods (pp. 363–385). Basingstoke: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Feyerabend, P. (1993). Against method (3rd ed.). London/New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  28. Goodman, N. (1963). The significance of Der logische Aufbau der Welt. In P. A. Schilpp (Ed.), The philosophy of Rudolf Carnap (pp. 545–558). La Salle: Open Court.Google Scholar
  29. Goodman, N. (1972) [1958]. The test of simplicity. In Problems and projects (pp. 279–294). Indianapolis/New York: Bobbs-Merrill.Google Scholar
  30. Goodman, N. (1977) [1951]. The structure of appearance (3rd ed.). Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  31. Goodman, N. (1983) [1954]. Fact, fiction, and forecast (4th ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Greimann, D. (2007). Regeln für das korrekte Explizieren von Begriffen. Zeitschrift für Philosophische Forschung, 61, 261–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gustafsson, M. (2014). Quine’s conception of explication—And why it isn’t Carnap’s. In G. Harman & E. Lepore (Eds.), A companion to W.V.O. Quine (pp. 508–525). Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.Google Scholar
  34. Hahn, S. (2013). Rationalität. Eine Kartierung. Münster: Mentis.Google Scholar
  35. Hanna, J. F. (1968). An explication of ‘explication’. Philosophy of Science, 35, 28–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Haslanger, S. (2000). Gender and race: (What) are they? (What) do we want them to be? Noûs, 34, 31–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hegselmann, R. (1985). Die Korrespondenz zwischen Otto Neurath und Rudolf Carnap aus den Jahren 1934 bis 1945. Ein vorläufiger Bericht. In H.-J. Dahms (Ed.), Philosophie, Wissenschaft, Aufklärung (pp. 276–290). Berlin: de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  38. Hempel, C. G. (1952). Fundamentals of concept formation in empirical science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  39. Hempel, C. G. (1970). Aspects of scientific explanation. In Aspects of scientific explanation and other essays in the philosophy of science (pp. 331–496). New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  40. Hempel, C. G. (2000) [1988]. On the cognitive status and the rationale of scientific methodology. In Selected philosophical essays (pp. 199–228). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Hilbert, D. (1894/1895). Die Theorie der algebraischen Zahlkörper. Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung, 4, 175–546.Google Scholar
  42. Justus, J. (2012). Carnap on concept determination. Methodology for philosophy of science. European Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 2, 161–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kant, I. (1998) [1781/1787]. Critique of pure reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Kitcher, P. (2008). Carnap and the Caterpillar. Philosophical Topics, 36, 111–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kuhn, T. S. (1977). Objectivity, value judgment, and theory choice. In The essential tension (pp. 320–339). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  46. Laporte, J. (2004). Natural kinds and conceptual change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Leitgeb, H. (2013). Scientific philosophy, mathematical philosophy, and all that. Metaphilosophy, 44, 267–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lutz, S. (2012). On a straw man in the philosophy of science. A defense of the received view. HOPOS, 2, 77–119.Google Scholar
  49. Maher, P. (2006). The concept of inductive probability. Erkenntnis, 65, 185–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Maher, P. (2007). Explication defended. Studia Logica, 86, 331–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Maher, P. (2010). What is probability? MS. Accessed November 10, 2015.
  52. Martin, M. (1973). The explication of a theory. Philosophia, 3, 179–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pfister, J. (2013). Werkzeuge des Philosophierens. Stuttgart: Reclam.Google Scholar
  54. Putnam, H. (1997). A half century of philosophy, viewed from within. Daedalus, 126, 175–208.Google Scholar
  55. Quine, W. V. O. (1960). Word and object. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  56. Quine, W. V. O. (1980) [1951]. Two Dogmas of empiricism. In From a logical point of view (2nd ed., pp. 20–46). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Reck, E. (2012). Carnapian explication. A case study and critique. In P. Wagner (Ed.), Carnap’s ideal of explication and naturalism (pp. 96–116). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Reichenbach, H. (1951). The verifiability theory of meaning. Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 80, 46–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Richardson, A. (2013). Taking the measure of Carnap’s philosophical engineering. Metalogic as metrology. In E. Reck (Ed.), The historical turn in analytic philosophy (pp. 60–77). New York: Palgrave MacMillan.Google Scholar
  60. Scanlon, T. M. (2008). Moral dimensions. Permissibility, meaning, blame. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Schumann, W. (2008). Minerals of the world (2nd ed.). New York: Sterling.Google Scholar
  62. Scorzato, L. (2013). On the role of simplicity in science. Synthese, 190, 2867–2895.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Shepherd, J., & Justus, J. (2015). X-Phi and Carnapian explication. Erkenntnis, 80, 381–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Siegwart, G. (1997a). Explikation. Ein methodologischer Versuch. In W. Löffler & E. Runggaldier (Eds.), Dialog und System (pp. 15–45). St. Augustin: Academia.Google Scholar
  65. Siegwart, G. (1997b). Vorfragen zur Wahrheit. Ein Traktat über kognitive Sprachen. München: Oldenbourg.Google Scholar
  66. Singh, G. (2010). Plant systematics (3rd ed.). Enfield, NH: Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  67. Sinnott-Armstrong, W., & Fogelin, R. J. (2010). Understanding arguments (8th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  68. Sjögren, J. (2011). Concept formation in mathematics. Gothenburg: University of Gothenburg.Google Scholar
  69. Sober, E. (2000). Quine’s two Dogmas. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 74, 237–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sorensen, R. (1991). Vagueness and desiderata for definition. In J. H. Fetzer, D. Shatz, & G. N. Schlesinger (Eds.), Definitions and definability (pp. 71–109). Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sorensen, R. (2013). Vagueness. In Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.
  72. Stalnaker, R. (1976). Propositions. In A. F. MacKay & D. D. Merrill (Eds.), Issues in the philosophy of language. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Stegmüller, W. (1973). Jenseits von Popper und Carnap. Die logischen Grundlagen des statistischen Schließens. Berlin: Springer. (= Probleme und Resultate der Wissenschaftstheorie und Analytischen Philosophie; Bd. 4: Personelle und statistische Wahrscheinlichkeit. Studienausgabe, Teil D).Google Scholar
  74. Strawson, P. F. (1963). Carnap’s views on constructed systems versus natural languages in analytic philosophy. In P. A. Schilpp (Ed.), The philosophy of Rudolf Carnap (pp. 503–518). La Salle: Open Court.Google Scholar
  75. Wagner, P. (Ed.). (2012). Carnap’s ideal of explication and naturalism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for PhilosophyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations