ConceptLab Hong Kong

This is the web page for ConceptLab HongKong, a center based at the University of Hong Kong’s philosophy department the purpose of which is to foster collaborative research in and on:  

◘ Conceptual engineering and its metaphilosophy  
◘ Xphi and the “method of cases”
◘ Social and political philosophy of language
◘ Conceptual amelioration in moral and political philosophy 
◘ The role of conceptual engineering and conceptual construction in translating between different philosophical traditions (e.g., between ‘Western’ and ’non-Western’ philosophy) 

This is non-exhaustive: Our remit is broad and dynamic, and governed in large part by the current interests of the participants. An easily accessible introduction to the field of conceptual engineering is provided by Cappelen and Plunkett in their paper ‘A Guided Tour of Conceptual Engineering’.  An extensive biography of the field can be found here:

On this page, by scrolling down, or clicking the above tabs, you can read details of our ongoing projects and events and news (such as recent publications).

Funding for ConceptLab Hong Kong is provided by The University of Hong Kong (through their startup funding for Cappelen’s Chair Professorship), and the Norwegian Research Council (through their funding for the project Conceptual Engineering)


Herman Cappelen

Herman Cappelen is the author of eleven monographs and over fifty papers in all areas of systematic philosophy, co-editor of three, and editor-in-chief of Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal Of Philosophy. His most recent monograph, Fixing Language: An Essay On Conceptual Engineering, was published in 2018 by Oxford University Press

Max Deutsch

Max Deutsch works on metaphilosophy, the philosophies of language and mind, and epistemology. His book The Myth Of The Intuitive (MIT Press), was published in 2015, and he has published about 15 papers spanning his research interests.

Jennifer Nado

Jennifer Nado works on various issues in metaphilosophy, with a focus on the epistemological status of intuition.  She is also interested in experimental philosophy, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of psychology, in particular moral psychology and folk psychology. She has published about 20 papers in these areas.

Rachel Sterken

Rachel Sterken is author of around ten papers, and co-editor (with Justin Koo) of the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Social and Political Philosophy Of Language. She is also interested in the consequences for philosophy of language of online communication, and is co-director of two research-council-funded projects on the topic, along with Eliot Michaelson and Jessica Pepp.


ConceptLab is home to several projects in conceptual engineering and allied areas.

Conceptual Engineering and Epistemology (PI: Jennifer Nado)

Epistemology has traditionally been overwhelmingly focused on knowledge, but there are countless other potential ways of carving epistemic space which might yield novel epistemic categories of equal – or even greater – theoretical interest. Particular areas of focus within this project include investigation into the purposes or functions that our current knowledge concept serves, exploration of the applicability of CE to recent epistemological trends such as the study of ‘understanding’, and consideration of the prospects for subdividing ‘knowledge’ into multiple, specially-designed epistemic successor concepts.

Online Communication and Conceptual Engineering (PI: Rachel Sterken)

This project explores ways in which conceptual engineering can help us understand online communication. Can bots makes assertions and perform the speech acts? If the answer is yes, does that require a revisionary attitude towards the concept of communication? Does it require a revisionary metasemantics? The project also explores more specific question, such as how we should understand the concept of ‘fake news’

Pure Externalism (PIs: Herman Cappelen, Max Deutsch)

The back cover of some editions of Naming and Necessity have the blurb: ‘if there’s such a thing as essential reading in philosophy of language, this is it’, and Kripke’s work undoubtedly revolutionized 20th century semantics and metaphysics. The thought underlying this project is that, despite the massive attention it has received, the externalist theory introduced by Kripke (and Burge, and Putnam, and others), remains incomplete and lacking. Looking at the foundational concepts of externalist metasemantics, such as baptism, communicative chain, and deference, it evaluates them and removes or improves them as necessary.

Conceptual Engineering Of Political Concepts (PI: Herman Cappelen)

Recent work by Brennan, Estlund and others raises questions about whether we can do better than democracy. This project is concerned with the more radical thought that the concepts of democracy, legitimacy, and authority are defective. It explores the possibility that after having been passed down over 2,500 years, these concepts have ceased to be meaningful representational devices. The overall aim of the project is to better understand conceptual defectiveness in general and to propose concepts that are better than e.g., democracy: its goal is to construct a new conceptual foundation for political theory. 

Value and Uncertainty (PI: David McCarthy)

The aim of this project is to articulate an extremely general understanding of how utilitarianism and competing views about value should be understood, with applications to topics in epistemology and political philosophy. One of the main ideas is that uncertainty is integral to a full understanding of utilitarianism and its competitors. Even without uncertainty though, value comparisons may be highly incomplete, and the appropriate representation of uncertainty in many contexts may fall well short of a single, standard probability measure. Thus the project aims to do without completeness assumptions, and to allow representations of uncertainty to be vector-valued, covering both imprecise and lexicographic probabilities as special cases. 

Skepticism about the Feasibility and Value of Conceptual Engineering (PI: Max Deutsch)

This project explores various objections to the versions of conceptual engineering that have recently emerged in the literature. Questions are raised both about the feasibility of conceptual engineering and its value. More generally, this project aims to promote increased skepticism about the field. 

Translation Between Different Philosophical Traditions: Concept Construction (PIs: Cappelen and Chaturvedi

Should we translate terms from Non-Western traditions (e.g., Indian and Chinese philosophy) using familiar Western concepts (like knowledgejustificationconsciousness,  freedom, person), or should we construct new concepts to serve as Bridge-Concepts between different traditions? This project explores the second option and aims to outline various strategies for the engineering of Bridge-Concepts, drawing on recent work in Conceptual Engineering. 



CLHK’s Inaugural Talk: Topic Continuity in Conceptual Ethics and Beyond

Talk by David Plunkett (Dartmouth) and Tristram McPherson (OSU).

Date/Time: Friday March 5th, 9am Hong Kong Time.

Via Zoom: contact Matthew McKeever at if you’d like to attend.

Abstract. One important activity in conceptual ethics and conceptual engineering involves proposing to associate a new intension with an existing lexical item. Many philosophers think that one important way to evaluate such a proposal concerns whether it preserves the “topic” picked out the existing lexical item, and several have offered competing proposals concerning what is required for topic continuity. Our paper does two things. First, we distinguish the descriptive question of what is required for “topic continuity” as we currently understand it, from the conceptual ethics question of how it would be best for conceptual ethicists to use ‘topic continuity’ in evaluating their projects. Second, we motivate and provide a context-sensitive answer to the conceptual ethics question. This answer is motivated by the idea that there are several distinct considerations that we can care about in thinking about topic continuity, and how best to weigh them against each other can vary from context to context. We conclude by locating our account in a broader way of thinking about topic across a range of inquiries.


Talk by Amie Thomasson (Dartmouth): Title TBA.

Date/Time: Monday, March 22nd, 9pm Hong Kong Time

Via Zoom: contact Matthew McKeever at if you’d like to attend.

Talk by Una Stojnić (Princeton): Nonnegotiable Meanings: Communication, Ignorance, and Metalinguistic Negotiation

Date/Time: Friday, March 26th, 9am Hong Kong Time

Via Zoom: contact Matthew McKeever at if you’d like to attend.

Abstract. A piece of received wisdom among philosophers is that successful communication requires shared content. A speaker can convey to an audience a desire for water by uttering “I want water” just in case both can coordinate on a shared content—that the speaker desires water. Another piece of received wisdom emphasizes that competent speakers can fail to know, and often make errors about, the meanings of expressions without disrupting linguistic usage (Burge, 1979; Kripke, 1980; Putnam 1975). What allows them to do so is that they are situated in a network of causal/social/historical connections, to which they defer in linguistic usage. Deferential Network Models were introduced to sidestep any clash between successful usage and “arguments from ignorance and error” (Devitt and Sterelny, 1999). But, given potential ignorance, how can agents coordinate on substantive shared information successful communication presumes? How is communication possible in a world of deference?

One reaction is to argue that little antecedent semantic knowledge is needed since we can coordinate on meanings on the fly. Some argue that meanings are dynamic, i.e., constantly changing, and potentially negotiated by members of a linguistic community even during a single conversation (Armstrong, 2016, Cappelen, 2018, Carston 2002, Davidson, 1986, Haslanger 2012; 2018, Ludlow 2008, 2014, Plunkett and Sundell 2013, i.a.). We, however, argue that given the practice of linguistic deference, meanings are non-negotiable, i.e., are not dynamic. Meta-linguistic negotiation can neither change word meaning nor secure a mutually shared content presupposed by communication. Indeed, accounts of meta-linguistic negotiation are unsuccessful in part because they already assume coordination on shared content. In response, one can either, deny that there is widespread ignorance and error, and so, a need for deference, or deny that communication requires a non-trivial mutual grasp of shared content. But either option carries a cost.

Talk by Mona Simion (Glasgow): Title TBA

Date/Time: Friday April 5th, 6pm Hong Kong time

Via Zoom: contact Matthew McKeever at if you’d like to attend.

About Our Events:

Details of events held by the center will be posted here (CFPs and so on will also be posted in the usual places, such as philevents, philos-l, and so on). Spring semester 2021 talks will be held on Zoom, and open to all interested.

Our first set of confirmed visiting speakers are:

◘ Laura Schroeter (Melbourne),

◘ Una Stojnic (Princeton)

◘ Cian Dorr (NYU)

◘ Sara Sawyer (Sussex)

◘ Mona Simion (Glasgow)

◘  David Plunkett (Dartmouth)

Amie Thomasson (Dartmouth)

Ishani Maitra (Michigan)

Dates in each case to be decided.


The center is based in the University of Hong Kong Philosophy Department, Centennial Campus, Run Run Shaw Tower. The best way to get in touch with us is by emailing one of the PIs.