The phenomenon objection to conceptual engineering

Pinder, Mark (2022). The phenomenon objection to conceptual engineering. Philosophical Studies, 179(11) pp. 3281–3305.



Conceptual engineering is sometimes presented as an alternative to conceptual analysis. But one important objection to conceptual analysis threatens to carry across: that philosophy investigates phenomena—knowledge, truth, freedom, etc.—rather than concepts of those phenomena. This poses a prima facie problem insofar as conceptual engineering targets concepts or terms rather than phenomena. Call it the ‘phenomenon objection’. I begin by examining recent discussions of the phenomenon objection by Cappelen and Scharp, rejecting their responses. I then clarify and strengthen the objection, discussing the challenge that the ‘strong phenomenon objection’ poses to conceptual engineers. Finally, I develop a new response to the strong phenomenon objection. In doing so, I motivate, articulate and defend an account of philosophy and its problems on which conceptual engineering is the appropriate method for tackling many philosophical problems—as well as, perhaps surprisingly, some problems in the sciences.

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