On Strawson’s critique of explication as a method in philosophy

Pinder, Mark (2020). On Strawson’s critique of explication as a method in philosophy. Synthese, 197(3) pp. 955–981.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-017-1614-6


In the course of theorising, it can be appropriate to replace one concept—a folk concept, or one drawn from an earlier stage of theorising—with a more precise counterpart. The best-known account of concept replacement is Rudolf Carnap’s ‘explication’. P.F. Strawson famously critiqued explication as a method in philosophy. As the critique is standardly construed, it amounts to the objection that explication is ‘irrelevant’, fails to be ‘illuminating’, or simply ‘changes the subject’. In this paper, I argue that this is an unfair characterisation of Strawson’s critique, spelling out the critique in more detail and showing that, fully understood, it is not undermined by extant responses. In light of both the critique and extant responses, I close by making some substantive comments about what explication can, and cannot, be used to do in philosophy.

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