pp 1–30 | Cite as

Conceptual re-engineering: from explication to reflective equilibrium

  • Georg Brun
S.I. : PhilMethods


Carnap and Goodman developed methods of conceptual re-engineering known respectively as explication and reflective equilibrium. These methods aim at advancing theories by developing concepts that are simultaneously guided by pre-existing concepts and intended to replace these concepts. This paper shows that Carnap’s and Goodman’s methods are historically closely related, analyses their structural interconnections, and argues that there is great systematic potential in interpreting them as aspects of one method, which ultimately must be conceived as a component of theory development. The main results are: an adequate method of conceptual re-engineering must focus not on individual concepts but on systems of concepts and theories; the linear structure of Carnapian explication must be replaced by a process of mutual adjustments as described by Goodman; Carnap’s condition of similarity can be analysed into two components, one securing a relation to the specific extensions of the pre-existing concepts, one regulating the transition to the new system of concepts; these two criteria of adequacy can be built into Goodman’s account of reflective equilibrium to ensure that the resulting concepts promote theoretical virtues while being sufficiently similar to the concepts we started out with.


Explication Reflective equilibrium Definition Reconstruction Conceptual engineering Carnap Goodman 



The research for this paper is part of the project “Reflective Equilibrium – Reconception and Application” (Swiss National Science Foundation Project 150251). It draws on material I wrote while I was a visiting scholar at Harvard University (supported by SNSF Grant 125823). Earlier versions have been presented in Berne, Frankfurt a.M., Prague and Zürich. I would like to thank the audiences, two anonymous reviewers of this journal and especially Christoph Baumberger, Claus Beisbart, Catherine Elgin, Leon Geerdink, Jaroslav Peregrin, Geo Siegwart, Vladimír Svoboda and Nicolas Wüthrich for helpful comments and discussions.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for PhilosophyUniversity of BernBern 9Switzerland

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