Home / Pages /

Loading Events

« Full list of events

  • This event has passed.

Online Workshop: The Implementation Challenge for Conceptual Engineering (2)

March 15 - March 16

Event Navigation


CONCEPTUAL ENGINEERING is an exciting new movement in analytic philosophy that focuses on assessing and improving our conceptual schemes and repertoires. The ICCE Open Online Workshop takes the next step and addresses the issue of how to implement on the ground the ameliorative strategies that conceptual engineers may have come to advocate for. To date, the implementation challenge for conceptual engineering has been formulated (Cappelen and Plunkett 2020, Deutsch 2020), but never specifically addressed, except in a couple of very recent or forthcoming works (Fischer 2020, Jorem 2020, Koch forthcoming, Machery forthcoming). By systematically investigating its ramifications, the workshop aims to contribute to a better understanding of what conceptual engineering practically amounts to as a method to apply to specific case study.







Arché’s ICCE Open Online Workshop will run over two days, divided into four sessions. Each session will include three 45-minute talks, including 20 mins for the Q&A, plus a final 30-minute round table.

  • Session 1: Monday 15th March 09.45 – 13.00 (UK Time) [Chair: M.G. Isaac]
  • Session 2: Monday 15th March 15.00 – 18.00 (UK Time) [Chair: T. Marques]
  • Session 3: Tuesday 16th March 09.00 – 12.00 (UK Time) [Chair: K. Scharp]
  • Session 3: Tuesday 16th March 14.00 – 17.00 (UK Time) [Chair: D. Belleri]



UK Time Monday 15 March UK Time Tuesday 16 March
09:45 – 10.00 Opening session


10.00 – 10.45 Teresa Marques 09.00 – 09.45 Paul-Mikhail Podosky
10.45 – 11.30 David Ludwig 09.45 – 10.30 Emilia Wilson
11.30 – 11.45 Break 10.30 – 10.45 Break
11.45 – 12.30 Delia Belleri 10.45 – 11.30 James Andow
12.30 – 12.55 Round table 1 11.30 – 12.00 Round table 3


15.00 – 15.45 Ryan Nefdt 14.00 – 14.45 Manuel Gustavo Isaac
15.45 – 16.30 Inga Bones 14.45 – 15.30 Eleonore Neufeld
16.30 – 16.45 Break 15.30 – 15.45 Break
16.45 – 17.30 Nat Hansen/Sam Liao 15.45 – 16.30 Allison Koslow
17.30 – 18.00 Round table 2 16.30 – 17.00 Round table 4



#01 | Teresa Marques (University of Barcelona): “The Moral and Political Limits of Meaning Revisions” — By meaning revision I will here mean proposals to change the current meaning of an existing word of a language. A meaning perversion is not a mere lie. In lying, a speaker makes a statement that he believes to be false, mischaracterizing features of a thing or situation. By meaning perversion I will refer to attempts to revise the meaning of words in current use by speakers of a language, where those words have (or come to be used as if they have) a dual character, and an additional condition is met. A word can be said to have a dual character when it has an extension which is presupposed to realize a normative standard or value. A word can be used as if it has a dual character when this additional presupposition is added. This is the additional condition: the speaker perverts the meaning of a word when the speaker not only misapplies the word; he further conveys that the thing referred to realizes a norm or value that a proper referent of the word is presupposed to realize. Various writers (from Victor Klemperer and George Orwell to Hanna Arendt and Masha Gessen) have written about the effects of phenomena that fall under meaning perversions: “an impoverished experience”, “a destitute language”, “the loss of a shared reality”, the loss of individual autonomy in the use of a language that “thinks for us and dictates our feelings”, “eviscerating words” while “leaving the thing itself undescribed”. The political dangers of these effects are often the effects autocrats intend, since they diminish a population’s capacity to resist control over social and political reality.
In this talk, I want to explore how meaning perversions can undermine people’s capacity for autonomous deliberation, and how we can make sense of this loss of a shared reality.

#02 | David Ludwig (Wageningen University): “The Politics of Conceptual Engineering from a Global Perspective: Lessons from Latin America and West Africa” — This paper addresses methodological and political challenges of conceptual engineering in cross-cultural perspective. Based on four case studies of interdisciplinary (empirical and philosophical) research projects in Latin America and West Africa, the talk demonstrates the heterogeneity of epistemological and ontological perspectives of stakeholders and the often-hidden politics of their inclusion/exclusion in the negotiation of conceptual resources. Beyond a critical perspective on the current state of conceptual engineering, the paper also outlines a positive framework of a globally engaged and participatory methodology. Starting with the increasingly global orientation of experimental philosophy, the framework emphasizes the need for mixed-methods strategies that supplement experimental methods for conceptual analysis with qualitative evidence and participatory methods for an inclusive negotiation of conceptual resources.

#03 | Delia Belleri (University of Vienna): “The Implementation Challenge to Conceptual Engineering and the ‘Metalinguistic Scoreboard’” — Recent literature in metaphilosophy suggests that so-called ‘merely verbal disputes’ in philosophy are more common than one might have thought. In light of this datum, it would arguably be reasonable for philosophers to adopt a more conscious metalinguistic stance over their own philosophical debating: they should be ready to adopt a ‘metalinguistic scoreboard’ so as to be able to prevent, or even just more easily recognize, merely verbal disputes. I also argue that the idea of the ‘metalinguistic scoreboard’ bears on the implementation challenge to conceptual engineering. If language users are more aware of what the words they use mean, and of the possibility of meaning-shifts (be they deliberate or not) they can arguably achieve better coordination – where this might make it easier to achieve conceptual change. I articulate some challenges related to increasing the ‘metalinguistic awareness’ of speakers and propose some strategies to address them.

#04 | Ryan Nefdt (University of Cape Town): “I-Language: Linguistics as a Case Study of Successful Implementation” — What is a language? What kind of science is linguistics? The dominant picture in linguistics claims that the study of language is the study of a particular kind of brain-state (Chomsky 1965, 1995, Rey 2020). But before the 1950s this would not have been the most likely answer to those questions. Something changed with the advent of generative linguistics. The very concept of ‘language’ was ameliorated and with it many academic views on the subject. An I-language is an internal state of the language faculty which generates the expressions and structural descriptions of English, Swahili, Norwegian and all the world’s languages (and other possible ones beside). Linguists often remark that there just is no such thing as a public language in any robust sense. In this talk, I want to explore the success of this ameliorative project and use it to produce a set of guidelines for such projects in general. My argument does not depend on the acceptance of generative grammar or similar views.

#05 | Inga Bones (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology): “Changing Language for the Worse? On the Permissibility of (Re-)Engineering in the Social Realm” — Arguably, conceptual (re-)engineers should not only be prepared to meet challenges pertaining to the general feasibility of their endeavour, but also to answer questions regarding its moral permissibility. Assuming that (re-)engineering is possible, is it permissible? In a recent paper, Marques formulates a normative constraint for (re-)engineering projects, according to which the latter are permissible only if they avoid so-called meaning perversions. Drawing on Gallie’s notion of essentially contested concepts I argue that the proposed conditions for meaning perversions run the risk of misclassifying some perfectly legitimate (re-)engineering efforts as meaning perversions.

#06 | Nathaniel Hansen (University of Reading) & Shen-yi Liao (Pudget Sound University): “‘Extremely Racist’ and ‘Incredibly Sexist’: An Empirical Response to the Charge of Conceptual Inflation in Expressions Condemning Oppression” — Critics on both sides of the political spectrum have worried that ordinary uses of words like ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, and ‘homophobic’ are becoming conceptually inflated, meaning that these expressions are getting used so widely that they lose their nuance and, thereby, their moral force. However, the charge of conceptual inflation, and indeed also the responses to it, are standardly made without any systematic investigation of how ‘racist’ and other expressions condemning oppression are actually used in ordinary language. Once we examine large linguistic corpora to see how these expressions are actually used, we find that English speakers have a rich linguistic repertoire for qualifying the degree to which and dimensions along which something is racist, sexist, homophobic, and so on. These facts about ordinary usage undermine the charge that ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, and ‘homophobic’ have lost their nuance through overextension, because ordinary speakers regularly qualify and make precise to what extent and in what respects they consider particular things to be racist, sexist, or homophobic. Without awareness of the facts concerning the ordinary uses of these expressions, theorists risk making linguistic prescriptions that are unnecessary, or even counterproductive, given the resources already present in ordinary language.

#07 | Paul-Mikhail Catapang Podosky (University of Melbourne): “Barriers to Change, Possibilities for Resistance” — Conceptual engineering has strong political roots, within the academy and activist circles alike. But if conceptual engineering, understood as the development of non-dominant conceptual practices, is to be a useful tool for the purposes of achieving or contributing to social justice, there must be a means by which the concepts we design in theory, or within smaller communities of practice, can take root and propagate in dominant contexts. This, broadly speaking, is known as the implementation challenge for conceptual engineering. Recent literature, I will argue, poses the challenge of implementation far too individualistically; focusing too squarely on the role of individual conceptual advocacy. In this talk, I will defend the claim that we, as conceptual engineers, should be more attentive to the social forces and infrastructure that support dominant patterns of conceptual engagement, and which stifle conceptual innovation. Specifically, we should take in account mechanisms of conceptual reproduction that maintain the conceptual status quo when developing implementation strategies. What we will see is that individuals are often mostly powerless against the conservative forces that work to keep things conceptually as they are.

#08 | Emilia Wilson (University of St Andrews): “Eroticised Refusal and Rape Myths” — ‘Rape’ is frequently offered as an example of a term which has undergone successful meaning change. However, this is an ongoing shift and there continues to be widespread belief in rape myths. Feminists have long argued that eroticised depictions of refusal have a central role in perpetuating rape myths and legitimising rape. In this paper I develop an original account of the mechanism by which these depictions can cause harm and alter the audience’s disposition to label certain scenarios ‘rape’. These depictions pose a practical challenge to attempts to implement a progressive definition of ‘rape’. Moreover, if my proposed account is correct, I show that there are difficulties in dismantling rape myths which have been overlooked to date. My account thus sheds light on challenges to the specific project implementing a progressive meaning of ‘rape’, and offers an interesting case study for conceptual egineering more broadly.

#09 | James Andow (University of East Anglia): “Engineering Dispositions: Some Lessons from Normative Ethics” — Conceptual engineers aim to bring about change. How to bring about that change? Given similarities between the task of implementation in conceptual engineering and the task of supporting moral development, conceptual engineers can draw on ethics for inspiration. Strategies inspired by ethics emphasise themes such as habituation, environment, practice, and community.

#10 | Manuel Gustavo Isaac (Swiss NSF/University of St Andrews): “Applied Empirical Conceptual Engineering” — Conceptual engineering is a groundbreaking programme in philosophy that focuses on how to best assess and improve our concepts. Yet, it still lacks an actionable framework in order for its case studies to be run effectively. And without such implementation strategy, it will never live up to its proclaimed ambitions: Changing people’s minds and the narratives that shape our world so as to make tangible differences in the face of the big issues of our times. The rationale for the AECE Project is to overcome this applied knowledge gap. Its overall goal is to make conceptual engineering an effective tool to achieve real-world changes with measurable impact. This talk outlines the AECE Project with a focus on its theoretical and applied objectives.

#11 | Eleonore Neufeld (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign): “Engineering Social Concepts: Lessons from the Science of Categorization” — One of the core insights from Eleanor Rosch’s work on categorization is that human categorization isn’t arbitrary. Instead, two psychological principles constrain possible systems of classification for all human cultures. According to these principles, the task of a category system is to provide maximum information with the least cognitive effort, and the perceived world provides us with structured rather than arbitrary features. In this paper, I draw two lessons from these principles for current efforts in social conceptual engineering. First, from a cognitive perspective, the way we categorize the world is to be expected given the two principles. Thus, conceptual change must be accompanied by social change, and implementation proposals that don’t prioritize changes to our input are likely to be cognitively unfeasible. Second, due to the principles of categorization, naming practices play an extremely important role in the construction of perceived similarities and dissimilarities within and between categories, and, correspondingly, the dissemination of social stereotypes that serve as markers between different categories that are otherwise similar. As a consequence, naming practices play an extremely important role in eliciting conceptual change, and social change must be accompanied by corresponding change in naming practices in order to effectively elicit conceptual change.

#12 | Allison Koslow (University of California Irvine): “Semantic Drift and Concept Revision” — Changes in a word’s usage can produce changes in its meaning. While usage is chaotic, and its relationship to meaning exceedingly complex, things are not so obscure as sometimes made out. There are several under-appreciated empirical constraints on how meanings change that stem from the following observation: word use finely reflects equilibrium between various communicative pressures (just as, say, product sales finely reflect equilibrium between various market pressures). Notably many such constraints apply as much to so-called intensions as well as mental representations.  In this way, the empirical study of meaning change can be brought to bear on the conceptual engineer’s normative project. Given that meanings change over time as they do, conceptual revision is not an impossible task. But it is has different contours than its fiercest advocates, and opponents, appear to believe.


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


March 15
March 16


A virtual workshop by Zoom
The University
St Andrews, KY16 9L United Kingdom
+ Google Map