From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defence of Conceptual Analysis

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My own sympathies lie here with Jackson.

From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defence of Conceptual Analysis

This paper, subsequently, concerns itself not with any challenges to conceptual analysis along the what-are-now traditional lines. Instead, it makes the relevant concessions to Jackson, and aims to address certain problems concerning conceptual change, which I take to be manifest in some contemporary versions of conceptual analysis associated with Jackson. The structure of the paper is as follows. In the first part of the paper, I shall provide a brief exposition of the Canberra plan Sect.

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I argue that one of these problems is doubly troublesome because it also inhibits our ability to reliably perform serious metaphysics. In the second part of the paper, I explain how the version of conceptual analysis actually spelt out by Jackson is immune from the problems of conceptual change Sect. I take the conjunction of these two parts to show that neither version of conceptual analysis discussed can prove helpful when it comes to settling serious metaphysical debates. A caveat.

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Most Canberra planners, as well as Jackson, are deflationists about concepts in the sense that they take talk of concepts and conceptual analysis to be that of words especially concept-terms , and the possible situations covered by their use. As Jackson notes, the talk is maintained only in deference to the traditional terminology. This paper will follow suit with the additional proviso that the notion of conceptual change will be understood as the employment of the same concept-terms in referring to distinct subject-matter.

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That being said, most of the issues discussed will, I take it, apply even if one assumes an inflationist framework. I shall, however, leave it up to inflationists themselves to work out the finer details of how these issues relate to their particular theories. Step 1: Give a functional analysis of the theoretical terms. Entailment thesis. The point of interest for us here is step 1 , as it this that is germane for conceptual analysis. Canberra planners typically explain this step by applying the Ramsey—Carnap—Lewis RCL method for defining theoretical terms.

Formally, this tells us that there is at least one actual realization of T. But implicitly, it also defines the t-terms in terms of the variables and o-terms. According to Lewis , what this yields is a functional analysis of the theoretical terms, as the Ramsey sentence defines them in terms of the functional roles their referents occupy within that theory. Jackson makes two crucial additions. First, he extends this approach beyond scientific theories to any possible theory, including folk theories. Second, and consequently, he takes the theoretical roles to be whatever the theory deems relevant—even if they surpass the causal roles typically associated with scientific theories.

Jackson, for his part, still takes the theoretical roles to be functional, but he no longer supposes that they have to be causal. For example, a folk theory of pain might declare the relevant theoretic roles to be non-causal descriptive roles, like revelation : having certain intrinsic-cum-essential features of experiences, in this case pain experiences, revealed to you experientially.

All this concerns conceptual analysis in the following sense. Lewis, Jackson, and the Canberra planners all agree that the central goal of conceptual analysis is precisely to make these roles explicit. Recall, according to Jackson, the broad aim of conceptual analysis is to identify our subject-matter. This, as we now see, involves identifying the relevant theoretical roles. To elaborate, when it comes to the subject-matter of the sciences, presumably, the causal roles the entities posited are supposed to play can be read off the scientific theories themselves.

Therefore, it is our job, as philosophers, to make explicit what these theoretical roles are. Only then can we take our cues from the RCL method, and define their subject-matter via these roles. It bears noting that making folk roles explicit might be construed as a far cry from the standard conception of conceptual analysis, which sees us attempting to define necessary and sufficient conditions for something to fall under a given concept.

Nevertheless, as Jackson notes, our endeavour still bears a resemblance to the old one in that our work is still a priori and done from the armchair. According to the Canberra planners, we collect all the platitudes we can about our folk concept, and we then add them together to form the relevant theoretical roles.

There is also another similarity; one that gets rarely mentioned, perhaps, owing to its obviousness. That is, like the old conceptual analysis, the aim here, ultimately, is finding reference-fixing devices—be they conditions, roles etc. On standard conceptions of conceptual analysis, a concept-term applies to something when that thing satisfies certain necessary and sufficient conditions.

Likewise, according to the Canberra plan, a concept-term refers to something when that thing occupies the relevant roles. Here eliminativism is seen to be the better option, not location. The last point helps spell out the problems of conceptual change. According to the RCL method as defined so far, the theoretical terms only refer if the theory is a true theory, i. Subsequently, when we abandon a theory, we should abandon its theoretical terms as well. We should, in effect, be eliminativists about t. This in itself is fine.


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We are allowed to use t-terms as we see fit. Moreover, on pains of coming up with new terms every time a theory has been discredited, we may very well opt to keep the t-terms of abandoned theories. The problem with this implication of the RCL method is that it flies in the face of our actual terminological use.

We often keep the theoretical terms of abandoned theories. This is evident from the use of scientific terms themselves. For example, the atomic theory of Dalton has been widely discredited on grounds that it took atoms to be both indivisible and indestructible. Now, if we follow the RCL method—as described so far—we should, ipso facto, abandon the atomic theory and be eliminativists about atoms. This, however, goes against the data provided by the history of science. The preceding atomic theories, e.

These theories, as well as the ones we have around today are regarded as being about the same stuff, namely atoms. Explaining this data is a problem for advocates of the RCL method, as the method, presently understood, entails that scientists have simply changed the concept and are now referring to something else altogether.

Note, technically speaking, there are in fact two related problems here. The first concerns how our terms get to refer when we abandon the term-introducing theories with which we define our terms. In other words, how do we avoid eliminativism each time a term-introducing theory is shown to be false? The second problem is about how two or more distinct theories, which share the same t-terms, but define them differently, can be said to be referring to the same set of entities.

This problem is better described as being about conceptual change. While the two problems are distinct, the second piggybacks on the first. That is, we only get worries about conceptual change in the second instance because it is an implication of the RCL method that we get eliminativism if the term-introducing theory is false.


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Moreover, and not surprisingly, the proposed solution to the first offered by the Canberra planners also proves to be a way addressing the second problem. The standard solution to both problems, of course, is to invoke best-deservers. Here Lewis grants the dualist that the folk roles for phenomenal concepts involve a role that cannot be accommodated by materialists, i. Nonetheless, he argues that materialists can still be realists about qualia because they can accommodate the other roles associated with the folk concept, i.

The best deserver-approach tends to be employed without much by way of elucidation. Lewis warns that theoretical terms ought not to be defined by the whole theory precisely because if any part of the theory is false, this will mean that our t-terms will fail to refer. Instead, any given t-term is to be defined as the unique entity, if any, which satisfies most of the theoretical roles. This strategy is also exploited by Jackson to explain the distinction between entities we want to locate and ones that we want to eliminate.

We are eliminativists about phlogiston because phlogiston theory gets most of the theoretical roles wrong, whereas we are realists about atoms because original atomic theories got enough of the relevant roles right. Hence, we get to keep the term, and we do so, crucially, without changing the subject. A term according to the Canberra plan, then, refers only if the relevant theoretical roles of the term-introducing theory are occupied—where the relevant roles need not be understood as all the theoretical roles; they can be enough of them. This helps address the problems concerning conceptual change in the following sense.

In which case, the modified RCL method suggests, prima facie correctly, that any persistent use of the terms of old abandoned theories would be tantamount to conceptual change. Therefore, either way, the method seems to deliver the correct results. The modified RCL, I grant, does save Canberra planners from charges of conceptual change in some instances, e. What I contest is whether the best-deserver approach can be invoked to explain all the historical data, which are found to be troubling.

Here it is instructive to carefully examine some actual examples from the history of science for the following reason. The best-deserver approach is, prima facie, very plausible, and has proved to be an effective way to ward off sceptical responses to the Canberra plan which concern conceptual change. Subsequently, the real force of any challenge to it, I take it, comes not from whether it works as a problem-fixer in abstract philosophical debates about defining theoretical terms, but whether it adequately captures what the present debate is really supposed to be about: cogent real-life cases where we seem to be referring to the same subject-matter despite there being significant differences between the term-introducing theories and those which we presently adopt.

From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defence of Conceptual Analysis

According to the standard narrative, twentieth Century atomic theories, from that of Dalton onwards, are a continuation of those of seventeenth Century mechanistic philosophers, e. Descartes, Gassendi and Boyle, who in turn are seen to revive ancient Greek atomism. Historians of science are now challenging this picture. Perhaps the best-deserver response to conceptual change is more plausible if we restrict our domain to twentieth Century atomic theories. But even here, the issue is much more controversial than Canberra planners typically assume.

But did it have enough theoretical roles in common with the atomic theories that followed? Arguably not. Rutherford and Bohr replaced this body with empty space, and posited something that looked like a solar system where planets orbit a sun, i. Further still, the quark model of Gell-Mann and Zweig saw the electrons and neutrons, amongst other hadrons, being formed by more elementary particles called quarks, and so on.

This outline, of course, is much too brief to warrant a definite negative answer to our question.