London Lectures

Against Amelioration

Many philosophers are calling for the “re-engineering” of certain concepts, arguing that they currently don’t serve political and ethical purposes. This talk explores why conceptual engineering is impossible, undesirable and unnecessary.

Part of the Royal Institute of Philosophy’s 2022 London Lectures series, Words and Worlds.

Many philosophers are calling for the “re-engineering” of certain important concepts, arguing that current concepts do not and cannot serve important political and ethical purposes. For example, some philosophers have argued that our ordinary concept woman is inadequate for feminist politics because it does not incorporate the idea that gender is essentially hierarchical, and thus that the concept should be somehow altered — “re-engineered” — so that it does.

In this lecture, Louise Antony argues that this movement is misguided in several ways:

  1. there is no account of what a concept is that makes such re-engineering possible;
  2. re-engineering, even if it were possible, would be undesirable; and
  3. there is no political or ethical goal that requires re-engineering.

Along the way, she distinguishes the matter of concept acquisition from the matter of concept re-engineering, ideas which are frequently confused.

  • Speaker

    Louise Antony is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She specialises in philosophy of mind, epistemology, feminist theory, and philosophy of language.