Major: Philosophy and Comparative Literature
Faculty Advisor: Professor Ernie Lepore
Policy Presentation Theme: War, Development and Sustainable Peace
How can we improve our (linguistic) representational devices? Can words change their meanings? These are some of the questions at the heart of the current philosophical literature surrounding the topic of conceptual engineering. Conceptual engineering is a metaphilosophical topic, and it is directly relevant to issues in philosophy of law, language, mind, and feminist philosophy. Consider, for example, the case of the word “marriage.” This word has supposedly changed its meaning over time from “a civil partnership between a man and a woman” to “a civil partnership between people of any gender.” What are the underlying metaphysical facts of this case? If a new word that shared sound and spelling conventions with the word “marriage” was created, and queer people are married only in the sense that the newly created word refers to their relationship (but not the old word “marriage,” which shares an articulation with the new one), then we must say that queer people cannot be married in the sense that straight people are married. This is a deeply unsatisfying solution! A complete theory of conceptual engineering should be able to avoid such politically undesirable outcomes, and I offer one such account. My account emphasizes the role of epistemic amelioration–improving one’s grasp of a word’s meaning–in conceptual engineering.