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Dr. Michael Strevens, 4:00pm May 9th, 2017

Michael Strevens

Philosophy Department, New York University

    Tuesday, May 9th
    Swift 107
    Reception to Follow 

Conceptual Innovation in Science without Definitions

How are novel scientific concepts -- such as 'magnetism', 'phlogiston', 'phylum', 'gene', 'general intelligence', 'symbolic capital' -- introduced into science? The classical view is that a concept is introduced by framing a definition. The currently most popular view is different, but still involves something like a definition (a 'stipulative truth'). But there is reason to think that many scientific theories contain few or no definitions or other stipulative truths, suggesting that the theoretical terms in these theories got there some other way.

How? I turn to recent work on the psychology of natural kind concepts to look for answers, and posit a new kind of concept acquisition that goes hand in hand with a scientific speech act that is capable of simultaneously saying something empirically contentful (not making a mere stipulation) while also conferring semantic significance of a sort on a term that appears for the first time in the assertion in question. The talk will be about one-half philosophy and one-half psychology.