Multicoloured optical illusion triangle which seems 3 dimensional

Functional Hypotheses and the Engaged Point of View

A recent popular trend proposes that we can make progress in disciplines such as ethics, epistemology, aesthetics, and modality by turning attention away from an investigation of their apparent objects (goodness, knowledge, etc.), towards the question of what purposes might be served by thinking in terms of their characteristic concepts. As part of this trend, we find hypotheses concerning the functional role the concepts of goodnessknowledgenecessity, and beauty, among others. But how should we understand the notion of functional role contained within such hypotheses? And how should those who actively deploy those concepts react to such hypotheses? These and related questions have recently begun to be explored in general ways that bridge boundaries between philosophical subdisciplines (for example, in M Queloz’ 2021 book The Practical Origin of Ideas). This conference aims to further this inter-sub-disciplinary approach.

The aims of the conference, then, are threefold. First, to explore diverse ways of understanding the notion of "function" used in functional hypotheses (concerning a concept, set of concepts, or conceptual/linguistic practice). Second, to explore the impacts that distinct types of functional hypotheses can and should have on the perspectives of the engaged users of those concepts. Third, to pursue these first two aims in an inter-sub-disciplinary way that builds bridges between philosophy of science, philosophical methodology, (meta)epistemology, metaethics, modality, philosophy of language, aesthetics, and other philosophical subdisciplines.


A02, Humanities Building University of Nottingham


Thursday 14 September 11am - 6pm and Friday 15 September 9am - 12pm 2023

Book your tickets

Register here.

Bursaries available for graduate students

Conference organisers

Neil Sinclair

Conference essentials

Getting to the University

Parking on campus


If you require book accommodation we recommend the on-campus Orchard Hotel 

The Orchard Hotel


  • The Aristotelian Society
  • University of Nottingham School of Humanities
  • Analyst Trust




  • Matthieu Queloz (University of Bern) - Keynote

Do Functional Hypotheses Undermine the Engaged Point of View?

  • Lilith Mace (University of Glasgow) 

The Point of Doubt

  • Alexander Prescott-Couch (Oxford University) 

Genealogy and Functional Pluralism

There has been a flurry of recent interest in so-called “pragmatic genealogies” (Craig 1990, Williams 2003, Queloz 2021), idealized state-of-nature models that serve to help us understand the function served by a concept, institution, or practice. Such genealogies are often contrasted what I will call “deconstructive genealogies” in the Nietzschean-Foucauldian tradition, which emphasize historical specificity and functional plurality. Should we think of these two different species of genealogy as complementary or in tension? After discussing some ways in which they might be thought complementary, I argue that there are significant tensions between these two types of genealogy.

  • Angie O'Sullivan (University of Glasgow)

From Function to Fiction

  • Michael Hannon (University of Nottingham)

Reflective Stability & the Function of Moral Practices

We humans live by high-minded ideals such as justice, knowledge, and truth. These are familiar philosophical notions, but we rarely think of these ideas in terms of their point or practical function. In this talk, I argue that we should think of our conceptual practices as tools serving practical needs. I then explore whether these practices are 'reflectively stable.' A common view (endorsed by Hume, Bernard Williams, Matthieu Queloz, and others) is that our commitments to justice, truthfulness, and other ideals are 'stable' under philosophical reflection. Hume and Williams claim that we can remain committed to justice and truthfulness while recognising the instrumental function of these practices. In contrast, I ask whether our commitment to justice and truthfulness is threatened once we come to understand these practices in instrumental terms.

  • Catarina Dutilh Novaes (online; VU University Amsterdam)

Should we be genealogically anxious?



  • All conference spaces are fully accessible and rooms for conference sessions have hearing loop fitted (all speakers will be asked to use microphones). Disabled parking is available nearby.
  • Conference venue will include a quiet (low-sensory environment) space, and seating will be available in communal areas.
  • Delegates are encouraged to use our AccessAble app: 
  • Please feel free to contact the conference organiser ( for any accessibility queries.
  • Accessibility requirements can be noted during the delegate registration process.
  • Online attendance available.
  • Delegate pack will include detailed information regarding the venue, transport links, emergency contact etc.



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