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Contested Concepts and Competing Conceptions

Criley, Mark Edward (2008) Contested Concepts and Competing Conceptions. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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I explore and defend the distinction between an abstract concept and conceptions of that concept—different ways of explicating thecontent of that concept. In particular, I investigate contested concepts: concepts for which there appear to be genuine, principled disputes about which of several competing conceptions is the correct one.Although philosophers (e.g., John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin) and others often employ the concept/conception distinction, it has seldom been the subject of sustained philosophical inquiry. In particular, little attention has been paid to its consequences for philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. This is unfortunate, for if they are adequately to explain certain common andimportant features of language and thought, theories of content must find a place for the concept/conception framework.I begin with a presentation of some examples of contested concepts, and then offer four conditions that jointly specify contested concepts and articulate four desiderata for an account of contested concepts. Next, I assess work inthis area by W.B. Gallie, Christopher Peacocke, and James Higginbotham, and briefly consider the ramifications of the concept/conception framework for any general account of concepts. After presenting a hypothetical example of anextended conceptual contest, surveying the features of such disputes, I arguethat the contested concept phenomenon is theoretically novel with respect totheories of content, in the sense that it resists assimilation to similar, familiar phenomena (e.g., ambiguity, vagueness, or confusion). Finally, I develop a positive account of contested concepts, arguing that when we attend to the considerations that exert rational force in disputes over contested concepts, we see that the contents of such concepts are intimately connectedwith the notion of reflective equilibrium. I close with a brief survey of some areas for future research and applications.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Criley, Mark
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairGupta, Anilagupta@pitt.eduAGUPTA
Committee MemberSparling, Georgesparling@math.pitt.eduSPARLING
Committee MemberManders, Kennethmandersk@pitt.eduMANDERSK
Committee MemberWilson, Markmawilson@pitt.eduMAWILSON
Date: 23 January 2008
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 30 November 2007
Approval Date: 23 January 2008
Submission Date: 28 November 2007
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: contested concepts competing conceptions
Other ID:, etd-11282007-104502
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:06
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:52


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