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Conceptual engineering, truth, and efficacy

  • Jennifer NadoEmail author
S.I. : Knowledge and Justification, New Perspectives


Traditional views on philosophical methodology characterize our primary philosophical goal as production of a successful conceptual analysis. The notion of conceptual analysis, however, faces several challenges—from experimental philosophy to more traditional worries such as the paradox of analysis. This paper explores an alternate approach, commonly called conceptual engineering, which aims at recommending conceptual revisions. An important question for the conceptual engineer is as follows: what counts as a case of successful conceptual engineering? What sorts of revisions are permitted, and what sorts are too revisionary? In this paper I examine ‘functional’ approaches to conceptual engineering, ultimately arguing for a ‘radical’ functionalism according to which even revisions which ‘change the subject’ are permitted, and successful re-engineering is constrained only by the requirement that continuity in needed functions of a pre-engineering concept be maintained somewhere in the postengineering conceptual scheme. I further argue that this approach suggests a heightened role, in metaphilosophical discourse, for a neglected epistemic goal—conceptual efficacy.


Conceptual engineering Conceptual analysis Intuition Explication 



Thanks to Max Deutsch, Michael Johnson and Dan Marshall for helpful input on earlier drafts of this paper. Thanks also to the very helpful comments from the reviewers for Synthese.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Hong KongPokfulamHong Kong

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