Reality Engineering and social kinds

  • Duccio Calosi

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (MPhil)


Conceptual Engineering is a new and interesting trend in Philosophy. However, it is not free from problems. The most relevant issue is that, at least following a Cappelen-like account, we are forced to commit to the controversial metaphysical view that the world has a linguistic structure. Under such view, a modification in the semantics of a term implies a modification in nature of the thing which is referred by that word. I propose to explore the implications of the reversal of such principle, thereby committing to the idea that a modification in the nature of things implies a modification of the semantics of the terms that refer to them, and not the other way around. Following this new principle, I am interested in developing an alternative account to Conceptual Engineering, which I call (following Greenough) Reality Engineering.

In this dissertation, I will focus on the analysis of two major points about Reality Engineering, trying to define what it is about and how to perform it. I will argue that Reality Engineering has kinds as its scope and I will restrict the focus of the present enquiry to social kinds only. I will proceed by providing a taxonomy of the most popular views about the metaphysics of social kinds, since in order to modify something properly, first we have to be clear on what that something is. Out of this taxonomy, I will generate two general theories on social kinds. The first one is what we can call a Top-down view, and it says that a social kind is generated via the acceptance of constitutive rules by some group of authorities and the successful application of those rules in ordinary practice. The second one is what we can call a Bottom-up view, according to which social kinds are nothing but the reification of social external norms, where social external norms are to be intended as the set of attitudes/behaviours/treatments/practices that people who are not members of the kind have towards the members of such kind (trivially, if the kind in question, like money, does not include people as its members, then everyone is external to such kind). After presenting these two views, I will explore the possibility of engineering kinds within them, focusing on some case studies and examples. I will highlight various ways in which social kinds can be defective and propose solutions for all kinds of defectiveness.

In conclusion, I will briefly discuss how typical worries concerning Conceptual Engineering projects translate to my framework, focusing on the problems of Feasibility and Control.
Date of Award13 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorAaron Cotnoir (Supervisor), Patrick Michael Greenough (Supervisor) & Derek Nelson Ball (Supervisor)

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