251221 – Conceptual engineering

… I play the philosopher.


[1] Two kinds of conceptual engineering – Veit, Browning


[2] A Guided Tour of Conceptual Engineering and Conceptual Ethics – Cappelen, Plunkett


“We are as sailors who are forced to rebuild their ship on the
open sea, without ever being able to start fresh from the bottom
up. Wherever a beam is taken away, immediately a new one must
take its place, and while this is done, the rest of the ship is used as
support. In this way, the ship may be completely rebuilt like new
with the help of the old beams and driftwood—but only through
gradual rebuilding.”
– Otto Neurath (1921, pp. 75-76) *1


*1 Technically this can be done in a double ship, in which the crew moves to one ship and the experiment takes place in the other. The experiment is repeated until it succeeds. And then the other ship becomes the building material for the construction of the next experiment. And so forth.


(1) “the constant reworking of our concepts with concepts
already in play” *2

(2) the usage of concepts as change operators in the systematic operations of change (classification engineering)

(3) “the diverse set of methods and practices with a loose degree of family resemblance”

(4) “we aim at making concepts more scientifically adequate, and improving them for epistemic and pragmatic purposes” *3 *4

(5) “we often want our concepts to do work in the moral or political sphere, and must consider the relevant consequences there”.


*2 The constant reworking is not an instantaneous change, but as in calculus, (a differentiation, first derivative), it is a continuous change between the two time stamps…i.e. only when we have the first derivative, we can examine its instantaneous change by the second derivative.

*3 I propose to the conceptual engineering to think about (4) and (5) as infinite linear combinations of vectors, that are their probably approximately correct finite solutions at the reasonable time, capacity and computational complexity, with the result of none, one, two, infinite many solutions. I.e. not as the two separate essences.

*4 Pragmatic purposes in terms of pragmatist experimentation (Peirce, Dewey), and not an opportunistic adaptation.


(1) “a monistic attempt to provide a general account or framework of models in science


[3] Model building in philosophy – Williamson

[4] Model building as a philosophical method – Williamson


“Even in evolutionary biology, progress may consist
more in the development of better models than in the discovery of
universal laws


“Many natural scientists aim at a distinctive kind of progress which philosophers are just starting to recognize as an appropriate aim for them too.The stereotype of scientific progress is discovering a new law of nature. Such laws are meant to be universal generalizations about the natural world, holding without exception for all times and places, by some sort of necessity: nice, if you can find one. However, most natural science studies messy complex systems – cells, animals, planets, galaxies – which are hard to characterize by universal laws. What laws must hold of all tigers, for example? ‘All tigers are striped’ won’t do, because there are albino tigers. ‘All tigers are four-legged’ won’t do either, because there are three-legged tigers, and so on. ‘All tigers are animals’ is true, but doesn’t get us far. Although tigers obey the fundamental laws of physics, like everything else in nature, that won’t console a biologist who wants to say something specific about living things as contrasted with elementary particles and stars. If we keep watering down our initial attempts, we may eventually reach something exceptionless, but the danger is that it will be too weak and uninformative to be of much interest. This isn’t just a problem about animals. Complex systems of all shapes and sizes tend to be messy and unruly”.

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