Conceptual Analysis and Epistemic Progress

Balcerak Jackson, Magdalena
October 2013
Synthese;Oct2013, Vol. 190 Issue 15, p3053
Academic Journal
This essay concerns the question of how we make genuine epistemic progress through conceptual analysis. Our way into this issue will be through consideration of the paradox of analysis. The paradox challenges us to explain how a given statement can make a substantive contribution to our knowledge, even while it purports merely to make explicit what one’s grasp of the concept under scrutiny consists in. The paradox is often treated primarily as a semantic puzzle. However, in “Sect. 1” I argue that the paradox raises a more fundamental epistemic problem, and in “Sects.1 and 2” I argue that semantic proposals—even ones designed to capture the Fregean link between meaning and epistemic significance—fail to resolve that problem. Seeing our way towards a real solution to the paradox requires more than semantics; we also need to understand how the process of analysis can yield justification for accepting a candidate conceptual analysis. I present an account of this process, and explain how it resolves the paradox, in “Sect. 3”. I conclude in “Sect. 4” by considering the implications for the present account concerning the goal of conceptual analysis, and by arguing that the apparent scarcity of short and finite illuminating analyses in philosophically interesting cases provides no grounds for pessimism concerning the possibility of philosophical progress through conceptual analysis.


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