Making Progress: Pragmatism, Conceptual Engineering, and Ordinary Language

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Pragmatists are interested primarily not in representing a purportedly unchanging Reality but in articulating prophetic future possibilities on the basis of the values most venerated by a culture/society in the present. This makes pragmatism sound a little like “Conceptual Engineering”. Conceptual engineers too are interested in transforming our ways of talking, which implies some notion of how such improvements are to be evaluated. Nevertheless, this paper argues that accounts of conceptual engineering that regard it as key to the project of elucidating an externalist semantics find it difficult to accommodate on their own terms the problem-phenomena taken to be of shared interest: regions of discourse where the demand for change are at their most pressing culturally. This difficulty takes the form of what I call the Conceptual Engineering Dilemma (CED), an inability to accommodate simultaneously the ethical and ameliorative dimensions of contestation. I argue that acknowledging the formalist commitments that undergird CED should make pragmatism more appealing to the practically-orientated analytic philosopher and conclude with a brief survey of some of the tools that it makes available for the pressing work of changing minds for the better.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalInquiry (United Kingdom)
Early online date30 Jun 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Jun 2022


  • Pragmatism
  • Metaphilosophy
  • Metasemantics
  • Ordinary Language Philosophy
  • Conceptual Engineering

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