Concepts, History and the Game of Giving and Asking for Reasons: A Defense of Conceptual History*

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
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This article offers a defense of the theoretical foundations of Conceptual History (Begriffsgeschichte). While Conceptual History has successfully established itself as an historical discipline, details in the philosophy of language that underpin Conceptual History continue to be opaque. Specifically the definition of what constitutes a “basic concept” (Grundbegriff) remains problematic. Reinhart Koselleck famously claimed that basic concepts are “more than words,” but he never spelled out how these abstract entities relate to words or can be subject to semantic transformation. I argue that to clarify the definition of what constitutes a basic concept we should turn to the functionalist and inferentialist philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars. By viewing historical sources as partaking in what Sellars calls the ‘game of giving and asking for reasons,’ Conceptual History can accurately trace the semantic changes of basic concepts and thus offer an important tool to the historical discipline.

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