Critical Review of Fixing Language: An Essay on Conceptual Engineering, by Herman Cappelen.


  • Samuel Maia Programa de Pós-Graduação em Filosofia da UFMG



Feminism, Testimony, Experience, Words, Sexual Difference


This is a critical review of Herman Cappelen’s Fixing Language (2018), an excellent and thought-provoking introduction to a hot topic in metaphilosophy: conceptual engineering, which defines the process of evaluating and improving/revising our representational devices (popular known as concepts). Here, I first present an overview of the book, summarizing his General Theory of conceptual engineering. Second, I point out some limits of the General Theory, in particular the putative consequence of his semantic externalism, the Lack of Control thesis. According to it, the processes behind changes in meaning are too complex and amorphous for revisionary projects to be generally successful. However, I claim that a proper investigation of Lack of Control demands us to look at the sciences, especially the social sciences, something absent in Cappelen’s book. Furthermore, I remember that many conceptual engineers do not put forward large-scale revisions, but rather local ones – i.e., restricted to specific scientific and institutional contexts, and therefore more feasible and potentially relevant.


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Book review