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Breaking Down the Barriers: Applied Conceptual Engineering (ACE)

May 13 - May 14

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Conceptual engineering focuses on how best to assess and improve our conceptual apparatuses. In less than half a decade, it has become a central topic of contemporary analytic philosophy. Current work in conceptual engineering goes in two main directions. Case study research, on the one hand, which focuses on specific concepts and then advocates for specific improvement. Metaphilosophical research, on the other hand, which focuses on conceptual engineering qua philosophical method and deals, for instance, with issues related to its theoretical foundations. The ACE Conference takes the next step: It bridges the gap between these two trends of research in conceptual engineering and concentrates on how conceptual engineering actually works. Thereby, it aims to contribute to turning conceptual engineering into a form of applied philosophy that has a direct bearing on areas of practical concern.








The ACE conference will run over two days, divided into four sessions. Each session will include two one-hour talks, an open space, and a final round table.

  • Session 1: Thursday 13th May | 09.00 – 12.00 (BST/GMT+1) [Chair: TBA]
  • Session 2: Thursday 13th May | 14.00 – 17.00 (BST/GMT+1) [Chair: TBA]
  • Session 3: Friday 14th May | 09.00 – 12.00 (BST/GMT+1) [Chair: TBA]
  • Session 3: Friday 14th May | 14.00 – 17.00 (BST/GMT+1) [Chair: TBA]



UK Time 13 MAY 14 MAY


09.00 – 09.15 Opening Open space
09.15 – 10.15 Nancy Cartwright Michela Massimi
10.15 – 10.30 Break Break
10.30 – 11.30 Herman Cappelen Manuel Gustavo Isaac
11.30 – 12.00 Round table 1 Round table 3


14.00 – 15.00 Édouard Machery Nicholas Shea
15.00 –15.15 Break Break
15.15 – 16.15 Kevin Scharp Catarina Dutilh Novaes
16.15 – 16.45 Round table 2 Round table 4
16.45 – 17.00 Open space Closing



#01 | Nancy Cartwright (Durham University): “Engineering Objectivity – For Responsible Science Use” — This talk is about engineering the concept of scientific objectivity to fit it to serve the demand for responsible use of science’s practices, products and endeavours. It is based on work from the forthcoming Tangle of Science, with Jeremy Hardie, Eleonora Montuschi, Mat Soleiman and Ann Thresher. Rather than engineering the concept to make it more precise, we urge leaving it as a loose ‘Ballung’ notion, similar to ‘duty of care’, where context sets what is demanded in any given case. In particular we argue for the importance of a concept that we label ‘objectivity to be found’: the duty to be objective involves the duty to find what is required in the case. This duty intertwines epistemic and moral considerations because it demands finding the right tools for the right purposes.

#02 | Herman Cappelen (Hong Kong University): “Conceptual Engineering as Lexical and Conceptual Abandonment: “Democracy” as a Case Study” — Some of our terminology shouldn’t be improved, but instead abandoned. Abandonment Theory is the study of the conditions under which lexical and conceptual abandonment is appropriate. The first part of this talk is an introduction to abandonment theory and its relationship to amelioration, replacement and elimination. The second part applies abandonment theory to a core concept in political philosophy: ‘democracy’. I argue that ‘democracy’ is an ideal candidate for abandonment.

#03 | Édouard Machery (University of Pittsburgh): “Should We Really Engineer Confused, Unclear, or Otherwise Deficient Concepts? The Case of Scientific Concepts” — Following Carnap, conceptual engineers have long thought that confused, unclear, or vague concepts, particularly scientific concepts, are deficient, and should be explicated (Carnap), prescriptively analyzed (Machery), or engineered (Cappelen). This talk will review several challenges to this view, arguing in particular that confusion, lack of clarity, and vagueness are not necessarily deficiencies in science.

#04 | Kevin Scharp (University of St Andrews): “Conceptual Engineering and the Omnicide Problem”

#05 | Michela Massimi (University of Edinburgh): “Conceptually Re-Engineering ‘Phenomena’” — In this paper I will re-engineer one of the oldest concepts in philosophy of science: the concept of ‘phenomena’. For long time this concept has been a battleground for empiricist, metaphysical realist and constructivist views about science. I will lay out the reasons why the concept of ‘phenomena’ requires to be re-engineered so as to address some outstanding problems facing the empiricist tradition and the metaphysical realist one too. The solution is not a de novo conceptual engineering but instead a ‘re-engineering’ that goes back to a Kantian insight and tries to make good of it for 21st century debates about realism and perspectivism in philosophy of science.

#06 | Manuel Gustavo Isaac (Swiss NSF/University of St Andrews): “Applied Conceptual Engineering Applied conceptual engineering primarily concerns the application of conceptual engineering to real-world cases. It ranges from across academic disciplines to society at large. This talk aims to take the first step toward making conceptual engineering an effective tool to achieve real-world changes with measurable impact via the development of a multistakeholder participatory model for knowledge co-creation.

#07 | Nicholas Shea (University of London): “How People Appraise Their Concepts”. — One way of addressing various social injustices is by changing the way we conceive of the relevant social categories. However, to stop people using a familiar concept may take more than exhortation. We will need to find ways to act on the psychological factors that make people select some concepts, and leave others aside, when they engage in communication and reasoning. At the moment we have little idea what those factors are. They may be implicit as well as explicit. The findings reported here are a first step in the direction of gaining that insight. Our studies found that people have a unified sense of how well they understand a concept (a Sense of Understanding). They also appraise concepts along a number of other dimensions. These forms of appraisal are shown to affect which concepts are relied on for category-based induction. They also predict the hierarchical structure (superordinate-basic-subordinate) of taxonomic concepts. That gives us an indication of how aspects of the structure of a concept may affect whether or not it is selected for various uses, including for communication with others. It thus points the way towards potential places to intervene if we want people to stop using certain commonplace but problematic concepts.

#08 | Catarina Dutilh Novaes (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): “The Role of History and Genealogy for Conceptual Engineering.” — What is the relevance of historical, and in particular genealogical, investigations for projects of conceptual engineering? This question has received some attention in the literature (in particular in (Plunkett 2016)), but it deserves further attention. In this presentation, I address this question by focusing on Carnapian explication, in particular the preliminary step of clarification of the explicandum, which remains an under-developed component of Carnap’s own presentation of explication. I argue that a genealogical perspective, in particular inspired by Foucault, is eminently suitable for the clarification of an explicandum: it provides the conditions for a successful conceptual intervention because it may provide a diagnosis of what is defective in the explicandum. I illustrate this approach by means of two examples: the concept of marriage and the concept of logical form.



THOUGHT Trust Conference Grant



Dr. Manuel Gustavo Isaac // SNSF-PM2018 Fellow @ ARCHÉ Philosophical Research Centre

Dr. Kevin Scharp // Reader in Philosophy, Director of ARCHÉ @ University of St Andrews


May 13
May 14


Manuel Gustavo Isaac
Kevin Scharp


A virtual Conference – by Zoom