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What can philosophy do today?

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Takaaki Matsui
Graduate School, The University of Tokyo / PhD student / Visiting scholar
Pledged: 399,593 JPY
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Thank you very much for your support. The initial goal has already been achieved. But I'm still asking for funds to attend other international conferences and to write a dissertation. I'd very much appreciate your support.

Comment from academist staff
Exploring the Possibility of Conceptual Engineering from an Inferentialist Perspective

Mr. Matsui has been researching in the U.S. to become a internationally well-known philosopher. In the late 19th to the early 20th , empirical sciences including psychology rapidly development in German, and German philosophers sincerely discussed what the proper task and method of philosophy is. According to him, the situation is similar to today. Mr.Matsui expects philosophy as Conceptual engineering and research it in response to this question. In this project, he challenges to collect funds for participating international workshop held in University of Vienna in this April. Please check!

Prof arai

Shun Arai

“Identity Crisis” of Philosophy

The central question of my research is “What is the proper task and method of philosophy?” Does philosophy have to be continuous with natural and/or social science? Or is there any task and method specific to philosophy?

I have been approaching these questions by considering German philosophy in the late 19th to the early 20th century. During this period, German philosophy was suffering from a so-called “identity crisis” due to Hegel’s death and to the rapid development of empirical sciences including psychology. German philosophers discussed the question of “What is the significance and role of philosophy?” and then, different new philosophical movements arose such as Neo-Kantianism, phenomenology, and logical positivism.

I think our situation is similar to theirs in that we need to consider the significance and role of philosophy, and I have been trying to learn from their discussions what philosophy can do today.

01

The Possibility of Philosophy as “Conceptual Engineering”

What can philosophy do today? In my view, one of the central tasks of philosophy is “conceptual engineering,” the basic idea of which dates back to a logical positivist philosopher, Rudolf Carnap.

Conceptual engineering aims to assess, revise, and improve our concepts for various purposes. Removing conceptual confusions and inventing new concepts will enable us to ask new questions, to consider new possibilities, or to formulate new hypotheses. Conceptual engineering is thus an important activity in science, politics, and everyday life. Certainly, conceptual engineering has been implicitly practiced both inside and outside philosophy. But it was not until recently that conceptual engineering has become the subject of extensive research.

Conceptual engineering has both practical and theoretical tasks. As a practical task, we examine our concepts, and if needed, revise them or invent new ones. For instance, when the question “Do robots have moral responsibility” becomes urgent, we need to examine the concept of “moral responsibility” as well as related concepts such as “free will” and “intention.” On the other hand, theoretical tasks include to answer questions such as “What mechanism underlies conceptual revision and construction of new concepts?” To answer questions of this sort is not only theoretically interesting, but also practically important because it will tell us how to assess, revise, and improve our concepts. This project is mainly concerned with a theoretical task.

02

An “Inferentialist” Approach to Conceptual Engineering

The aim of this project is to answer the theoretical question “What mechanism underlies conceptual revision and construction of new concepts?” from an inferentialist perspective.

Inferentialism is a theory of concepts that explain the meaning of a concept in terms of the network it forms with other concepts. Inferentialism has an advantage in explaining the meanings of abstract concepts such as “rightness” and “responsibility.” But it is sometimes said not to be able to explain “dynamic” phenomena such as conceptual revision. This study aims to show that inferentialism can well explain conceptual revision.

My approach is to develop the work of Wilfrid Sellars. Although he is well-known as an early proponent of inferentialism, it is less known that he tried to account for conceptual revision. Considering his neglected work will be enables us to explain conceptual revision from an inferentialist perspective.

Why I need your support


I am asking for funds to pursue this project. I was accepted to present a paper related to this project at a workshop to be held at the University of Vienna, “The Social Institution of Norms: A Workshop with Robert Brandom,” but I don’t have enough travel budget. If I could attend this workshop, this project would be developed further. I’d very much appreciate your support.

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Profile

I’m a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Tokyo, Japan. I’m currently a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College, USA, and a research fellow at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). I run a blog, Phil-nous, which aims to offer world news about philosophy to Japanese philosophers and philosophy fans in Japanese (https://phil-nous.hatenablog.com/).

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Takaaki Matsui

Project timeline

Date Plans
February 2019 crowdfunding campaign launched
March 2019 return to Japan
March 2019 prepare for the workshop
April 2019 present a paper at the workshop in Vienna
May 2019 revise and submit a paper to a philosophy journal

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