Concepts, functions, and conceptual engineering

Oslo, June 12-3, 2020

Call for papers

Conference Venue

University of Oslo, Norway


We invite submissions of papers to be considered for presentation at the workshop Concepts, functions, and conceptual engineering, co-organized Herman Cappelen (ConceptLab, University of Oslo) and David Plunkett (Dartmouth), and held in Oslo on June 12-13 2020.


Conceptual engineering is the field of philosophy concerned with assessing and improving our representational devices. Related fields such as conceptual genealogy are concerned with tracing the development of such devices through time.

An important question for this area of philosophy, accordingly, is what is it to change a representational device, such as a concept. When we conceptually engineer the concept "woman" or the concept "truth", something changes: the concept comes to represent different things (if the engineering project is successful). But change is different from replacement or abandonment: change implies continuity, and that there is underlying something that remains constant through the process of change. What, if anything, is that underling constant thing?

An influential thesis in the conceptual engineering literature (defended in some form by Sally Haslanger, Jennifer Nado, Peter Railton, Timothy Sundell, David Plunkett, Amie Thomasson, and others) is that concepts have functions or job descriptions. If those remain constant, then perhaps they can be used to explain continuity. Concepts (and other representational devices) play certain functions in our thought and talk, and a successful conceptual engineering project ought to ensure that its function remains the same, insofar as one wants to preserve continuity.

That is to say, much work defends something like this claim:

(*) Concepts perform functions (or have jobs)

The workshop is concerned with this claim. Can it be made true and philosophically significant, like the above mentioned people think? If the claim is false (as Herman Cappelen has argued), why is it false? If the claim is true, what does ‘concept’ mean, what does ‘function’ mean, and what’s the philosophical significance of the claim? How important is preserving continuity for projects in conceptual engineering?

We encourage submissions that address these claims and closely related ones, as it pertains to conceptual engineering, genealogy, and related areas. We particularly welcome submissions from underrepresented groups in the profession and junior scholars.

Confirmed Speakers

Tim Sundell (University of Kentucky)

Jennifer Nado (University of Hong Kong)

Amie Thomasson (Dartmouth College)

Mona Simion (University of Glasgow)

Chris Kelp (University of Glasgow)

Matthieu Queloz (University of Oxford)

Justin Garson (Hunter College)

David Plunkett (Dartmouth College)

Herman Cappelen (University of Oslo)


The workshop will be held in Oslo and funded by ConceptLab. Travel and accommodation expenses for all speakers will be covered. Any queries should be addressed to

Submission Guidelines

Please submit an extended abstract of 2 pages, prepared for blind review to, no later than February 4 2020, noting “Conference Submission” in the subject line. The proposed paper should be suitable for a 40 minutes presentation. In the body of your email, please include (i) your name, (ii) the title of your paper, (iii) your institutional affiliation and (iv) a shorter abstract of no more than 200 words.

The conference website is at