Conceptual Engineering: A New Approach To Philosophy

Is this just ‘quibbling semantics’?

Now, in an era when we outsource so much cognitive work onto google and, increasingly, digital assistants, this can seem attractive. But also, you might think, it’s kind of pointless. Clark and Chalmers want to change how we use ‘knowledge’. But who cares who we exactly use this one English word? It’s just, as the phrase goes, quibbling semantics, and that’s a waste of time. The question whether we should call googled-knowledge knowledge is a pointless one. It doesn’t matter — if we think googled-knowledge is interesting, we can just introduce a new term for it. Arguing about what words exactly mean is for lawyers (and their clients, and former presidents) and pedants.

You can’t just change the meanings of words!

Even if you’re on board with the above, and so think conceptual engineering might be a useful project, you might nevertheless think that it’s impossible. Philosophers sometimes speak of the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ theory of meaning after the following passage from Alice in Wonderland:

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store