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The Philosopher (Summer 2021) cover.jpg

Publication Date: 10th August 2021


Revolutions in reality cause earthquakes in concepts – and vice versa. Thomas Kuhn famously argued that scientific revolutions transform the meanings of key terms, while Spinoza instigated his own philosophical revolution by stripping the meaning of the term “God” of many features inherited through Christianity. More recently, Sally Haslanger’s “ameliorative” analysis of concepts such as race and gender prioritises the social and political functions of our representational devices over their descriptive purpose. “What”, she asks, “is the point of having the concept in question…? What concept (if any) would do the work best?” Such examples drive at a core philosophical conundrum: What are the linkages between the world itself, our understanding of it, and our representations? The essays and conversations that follow tackle the interactions between concept and reality from a multitude of perspectives in order to consider: what is at stake – cognitively, morally, politically, and metaphysically – in debates over conceptual-representational devices? 


Amie Thomasson opens the issue with an expansive overview of philosophy as “conceptual engineering”, arguing that this places the normative element of philosophy at centre-stage, thus extricating philosophy from its futile rivalry with the natural sciences while still retaining much rich and important territory for exploration. Lewis Gordon looks at the shameful “witch hunt” of Rebecca Tuvel over her paper “In Defense of Transracialism” and asks what lessons we might draw from this as our thinking on the relation between race and reality evolves. In a wide-ranging conversation, Peter Wolfendale clarifies many of the central philosophical debates over concepts, as well as the role philosophers should be playing in debates over the status of social concepts like race and gender, while Matthieu Queloz looks to pragmatic genealogy as an historical method that helps us to consider the human concerns to which concepts like truth respond. In their conversation on the ontology of gender, Katharine Jenkins and Kate Ritchie explore the distinction between natural and human categories, as well as the rise of “ameliorative” projects in philosophy. Finally, geographer Maximilian Hepach raises some very interesting and unusual questions related to climate, arguing that beyond the clear scientific consensus concerning the reality of both climate and anthropogenic climate change, climate is real in a further way, namely experientially


Other highlights in this issue include: in-depth conversations with four leading thinkers: poet and critic Maggie Nelson, political philosopher Amia Srinivasan, and historians Jonathan Rée and Zoltán Boldizsár Simon; a qualified defence of “cosmic consciousness” by Jonardon Ganeri; essays on pressing contemporary moral issues from two brilliant young philosophers, Catherine Brewer and Rosie Sumsion; and Adam Ferner offers a critical account of the dominant status of “reasonableness” as an educational and social ideal. Finally, the topics under discussion are complemented by the entrancing images of Peruvian artist Nicole Franchy. My gratitude to her for permission to use them in the issue.