Alejandro Pérez Carballo will spend his year at CASBS working on a book project about conceptual evaluation: about when, how, and why some ways of thinking about and conceptualizing the world are better than others.
Intellectual progress often involves forming better beliefs about the world. But it also sometimes involves introducing better conceptual tools: to take one example, introducing the concept of a germ – a “seed of disease” – was crucial to understanding the spread of disease. And while it is clear what it is for our beliefs to improve – they improve to the extent that they get closer to the truth – it is less clear what makes some way of conceptualizing the world an improvement over another. The motivating concern behind Pérez Carballo’s project is providing an answer to this question. The project has two primary goals. The first is to provide a framework to help understand the norms governing our choice of tools for making sense of the world, one that is sensitive to the subtly different roles that different sets of conceptual tools play in inquiry across a wide range of fields. The second is to articulate and defend a particular answer to the question what makes for conceptual progress, according to which concepts are better because and to the extent that they help us meet worthy explanatory goals. On this account, how good a concept is largely depends on considerations internal to various domains of inquiry – on how much theoretical work in can do for us – considerations that are sensitive to our epistemic interests and cognitive capacities.
Pérez Carballo is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and previously held appointments at the University of Southern California and the University of Sydney. Some of his recent work has focused on the nature of preference, on applications of probability theory to the study of epistemic rationality, and on what theories of moral and mathematical thought tell us about how we should think about meaning, cognition, and rationality. Pérez Carballo received his PhD in philosophy from MIT after studying philosophy, mathematical logic, and musicology at the University of Paris.