Lumping and Splitting. A One-Day Symposium on Conceptual Analysis, Its Uses, and Its Discontents
Organised byUniversity of Exeter, ESRC Research Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis) and Department of Sociology and Philosophy
VenueEgenisUniversity of ExeterByrne HouseSt Germas RoadExeter, EX4 4PJ
Discussants: Kenneth C. Waters (Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science), Paul Griffiths (University of Queensland), Samir Okasha (University of Bristol), Lenny Moss (University of Exeter)
Since Plato, at least, conceptual analysis has been the defining trade of philosophers. Philosophers make a living by insisting that things ordinary people believe to be one are actually two or many different things, or the other way round, that what ordinary people believe to be many things is actually all the same. Plato satirized this kind of discourse in his two dialogues The Sophist and The Statesman by having his protagonists – Socrates, Theodorus, Theaetetus, a stranger, and the younger Socrates – engage in a discussion about the definition of sophist, philosopher, and statesman, including long-drawn and tedious digressions into the definition of all sorts of arts like angling, weaving, and rearing animals. In subtle and ironic ways, the two dialogues thus bring out the relationship between dialectics, practices, and power.
In this symposium, Kenneth C. Waters from the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science, Paul Griffiths from the University of Queensland, Samir Okasha from the University of Bristol, and members of the Department of Sociology and Philosophy of the University of Exeter, discussed what philosophers do, ought to do, or should not do when they engage in conceptual analysis. What is it exactly we are trying to understand when analyzing concepts? Is this a contemplative activity only, dedicated to a purely philosophical agenda, and with no intrinsic consequences for the discourse it looks at? Or is philosophical analysis, quite on the contrary, incisive, correcting prejudices, purifying language, and clarifying confusions? What, in particular, is the role of the philosopher of science in this respect? Is his or her proper task to merely observe science in action, or to rectify and even evaluate science? Is what philosophers have to say about science a contribution to the sciences themselves, epistemology, or a even a broader philosophical agenda? And what, once the agenda is settled, are the adequate methods to pursue conceptual analysis?