Conceptual Engineering and Ways of Believing
I will argue that those thinking about conceptual engineering should think more about ways of believing. When we talk about what someone “believes”, we could be talking about how they are inclined to act, or what they have put forth as their position on a matter, or what gives rise to a feeling of endorsement when they reflect on the matter. If we further recognize (1) that the contents of our beliefs are at least sometimes framed in certain concepts and (2) that projects of conceptual engineering at least sometimes aim to change our beliefs by changing the concepts they are framed in, the question arises: which beliefs does conceptual engineering target? Is it always “belief” in the same sense? I will argue that it is not, using examples from feminist and mainstream metaphysics. Suppose that revisionary ontologists (such as Trenton Merricks and Peter van Inwagen, interpreted in a Siderian manner) call on us to eliminate the non-joint-carving concept TABLE from our beliefs about the world. They then plausibly have in mind only “belief” in the sense of practically detached reflective assent: they want the concept eliminated from the content of such assent. On the other hand, when feminist metaphysicians of gender (such as Sally Haslanger) call on us to ameliorate the ethically problematic concept WOMAN, they target our “beliefs” in a sense that encompasses both the content of our everyday observations and experiences and what might be called practically engaged reflective assent; but they do not target the practically detached assent.
I have presented previous versions of this paper at the University of Gothenburg (4th meeting of the Nordic Network in Metaphysics) and University of Tartu (analytic philosophy summer camp and the Estonian Annual Philosophy Conference). I thank those audiences for their helpful comments. I also thank Daniel Cohnitz, Matti Eklund, Jonathan Shaheen, Tuomas Tahko, and two anonymous referees for their comments and discussion on this paper, its previous versions and/or related work. This research has been supported by the University of Tartu ASTRA Project PER ASPERA and the Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies (European Union, European Regional Development Fund), and is related to research project IUT20-5 (Estonian Ministry of Education and Research).
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