top of page

Denis Kazankov













I am a PhD candidate in Philosophy at the Central European University in Vienna. Before that, I was a BPhil student at the University of Oxford and an undergraduate student at the University of Leeds (my CV with all the details can be found here).

My PhD research project is in conceptual ethics and conceptual engineering, which situates it at the intersection between metaphilosophy, meta-semantics, value theory and metaphysics. I am trying to find out what grounds the value of concepts and which ways of conceptualising the world are more valuable than others by inquiring into what kind of entities concepts are, metaphysically speaking. I argue that the value of concepts cannot be duly appreciated unless we attend to an important role that concepts play in human agency, practical reasoning and the formation of evaluative attitudes.

Below is an overview of some of my work in progress as well as of my past projects. I’m happy to share any of my manuscripts upon request. In the unlikely but highly welcome case that you wish to discuss any of them with me, feel free to reach me at kazankov [dot] denis1 [at] gmail [dot] com. :)



Linguistic Concepts as Functionally Individuated Kinds


In this paper, I tackle the question as to how linguistic concepts are individuated from one another. I start by proposing that it is theoretically desirable to understand linguistic concepts as entities which meet the following two conditions: (i) while they are manifested by phonetic or orthographic tokens, unlike words, they are not uniquely associated with a particular phonetic or orthographic form, and (ii) they are not uniquely associated with a single semantic content but rather with a set of closely related but distinct semantic contents. With this initial characterisation of linguistic concepts in mind, I then examine two dominant positions about how linguistic concepts are individuated from one another. I first examine the position according to the individuating criterion of linguistic concepts is their causal historical ancestry and argue that even the strongest interpretation of this position conflicts with several theoretical desiderata associated with linguistic concepts. Next, I examine the position according to which the individuating criterion of linguistic concepts is their presently manifest feature(s). I argue that even this position is problematic because it fails to account for some normative features of the use standards of linguistic concepts. I then propose instead an alternative hybrid account of individuating linguistic concepts which combines some aspects of the above two positions but resolves the difficulties faced by each of them. Specifically, I argue that linguistics concepts are individuated by their proper function, i.e., the function, which is presently possessed by a concept, but which explains the purpose for which the concept historically entered its language. I conclude by discussing possible implications that my proposed functional individuation of linguistic concepts has for the investigation of their general metaphysical nature.

Why Conceptual Negotiation Isn’t Arbitrary


What properties should concepts, as representational devices, possess? It has become influential to argue that disagreements about this and similar questions in conceptual ethics are not merely verbal disputes but substantive metalinguistic negotiations over conceptual matters. A prominent objection against this construal of conceptual negotiations is Objection from Arbitrariness: conceptual negotiations cannot be substantive because their outcome is determined solely by interlocutors’ arbitrary decisions. In my paper, I defend conceptual negotiation against this objection by arguing that its arbitrariness can be significantly reduced.

The starting point of my argument is Thomasson’s pragmatic approach to conceptual ethics (2020) according to which conceptual negotiation isn't arbitrary because of being constrained by two types of considerations: worldly considerations and site-considerations. Worldly considerations concern the facts in the world where a conceptual negotiation takes place. Site-considerations concern other concepts in the language of interlocutors to which the negotiated concept is theoretically related. I diagnose that the appeal to these two considerations doesn’t defeat the objection unless there is a constraint on how to weigh them against each other whenever they are in conflict. Then, I argue for the constraint according to which site-considerations trump worldly considerations in their importance. The gist of my argument is that rational interlocutors of a conceptual deliberation are committed to believing that site-considerations, unlike worldly considerations, will remain true in all possible circumstances in which the deliberated concept could be used. Finally, I use the proposed constraint to design a systematic method of conceptual negotiation following which makes conceptual negotiations significantly less arbitrary.

Conceptual Engineering and The Wrong Kind of Reasons



There is a discussion in meta-ethics about the so-called wrong kind of reasons. These are those considerations for performing an action or forming an attitude that fail to bear on its internal standards of correctness. For example, the fact that an evil demon threatens to punish me unless I admire him might count broadly in favour of admiring him but is still a wrong kind of reason for doing so because it is unrelated to the relevant features that the internal standards of admiration require the demon to possess to be admirable. Simion (2018) has recently argued that there are the wrong kind of reasons for engineering concepts. She argues that concepts are epistemic tools whose central function is to represent the world without epistemic loss and, therefore, to engineer concepts in response to non-epistemic considerations is to engineer them for the wrong kind of reasons.


The objective of my paper is to show that Simion’s argument is unsuccessful. The paper is structured as follows. Firstly, I argue that Simion is wrong to assume that the claim that concepts are representational tools entails that they are epistemic tools because representation may also serve a lot of non-epistemic purposes. Next, I show that Simion cannot justify the primacy of epistemic considerations on the grounds that the concepts that represent the world without epistemic loss are the most metaphysically ‘joint carving’ ones. Finally, I argue that even if Simion’s assumption is correct, it is dubious whether the considerations that bear on the internal standards of engineering concepts are only those that conform to their central function. I argue that the internal standards of engineering a concept recommend engineering it so that it serves its central function satisfactorily but only to the extent to which this function makes it an all-things-considered valuable tool.


Meta-Semantic Normative Encroachment



In this paper, I defend what I call Meta-Semantic Normative Encroachment (MNE). MNE says that the meaning of a linguistic concept can be at least partially grounded in the normative facts about its value for the linguistic community of its users. I claim that MNE has an explanatory utility in meta-semantics because it presents a promising alternative to an influential meta-semantic theory called Temporal Externalism (TE). According to TE, a concept’s meaning is sometimes determined by the future linguistic practice of its users. Hence, TE denies that what a concept means at a time necessarily supervenes upon the totality of the events that have taken place up to that time. What makes TE a compelling meta-semantic thesis is that it purports to provide the best explanation of the following two phenomena:


(Determinacy) There are cases in which the events that have taken place up to a certain time seem to underdetermine a concept’s meaning, but we are still reluctant to describe the concept as semantically indeterminate at that time.


(Deference) There is a widely accepted thesis in meta-semantics called social externalism, according to which we defer to experts in our linguistic community for the meaning of our concepts (Putnam, 1975, p.186; Burge, 1979). The main evidence for such deference is that we are disposed to correct our understanding (and use) of a concept when discovering that experts understand (and use) it differently. This evidence seems equally compelling even if experts are situated in the future.


I defend MNE on the grounds that it can account for Determinacy and Deference better than TE. My argument is structured as follows:  I first lay out how TE is supposed to explain Determinacy. I introduce Jackman’s case (1999) of a putative linguistic community that possesses the concept ‘ave’ which seems semantically underdetermined by the totality of the events that have taken place until a certain time, t, but whose meaning doesn’t seem to change at t and thus doesn’t seem indeterminate before t. I explain why TE prima facie looks like the strongest explanation of this and similar cases. I then lay out how TE is supposed to explain Deference. I present some reasons why TE is thought to be a special kind of social externalism which pertains to the cases when experts are situated in the future. Afterwards, I show that the way in which TE is supposed to explain Determinacy and Deference is problematic because the members of the putative linguistic community aren’t disposed to defer to their future selves on the meaning of ‘ave’. I argue that MNE avoids similar problems and thus offers a better explanation of the two phenomena.

In Defence of Socially Conditioned Beliefs


Socially conditioned beliefs (SCB) are beliefs that we have formed under the influence of arbitrary social factors, such as our upbringing, education or lucky encounters with some epistemic sources. In this talk, I will tackle the following question: does the very fact that our SCB have been formed under contingent social influences (Contingency Evidence) makes it impossible to hold them rationally? This would be so if Contingency Evidence was overriding evidence that our SCB are unsafe, i.e., such that even if true, formed by the method which could have easily led us to forming false beliefs instead. I will argue that such a consequence doesn’t necessarily follow because insofar as we are able to critically and selectively reflect upon the reasons for retaining our SCB, countervailing evidence confirming their safety is in principle accessible to us. I will argue that while the given evidence is often difficult to acquire, it can be at least as strong as Contingency Evidence.

Carnapian Explication: Exactness, Similarity and Fruitfulness


In the initial chapter (entitled 'On Explication') of his later book Logical Foundations of Probability, Carnap (1950) presents conceptual explication as one of the key methods of philosophy and science. Carnap defines explication as a process of replacing an inexact concept, the explicandum, with a more exact concept, the explicatum, and thus makes exactness the defining criterion that a successful explicatum should satisfy. In this paper, I challenge Carnap’s account of explication by arguing that exactness, as Carnap characterises it, is inconsistent with the two other two criteria that he requires the explicatum to satisfy: similarity, and fruitfulness. My conclusion is that the only viable version of Carnapian explication is the one in which exactness is no longer its defining criterion.

Thin Is Not Prior to Thick, or Why Thin Centralism Fails


In this paper, I argue against the view that thin ethical concepts are included in the definitions of thick ethical concepts because of being prior to them (thin centralism). I start by discussing a previous attempt to undermine thin centralism that attacks the conceptual priority of thin concepts on the grounds that thick-thin is not a genus-species relation but determinable-determinate relation. I argue that even if this is so, thin centralism may still be true as long as thin concepts are explanatorily prior to thick concepts. Next, I propose a criterion for explanatory priority according to which A concept X is explanatorily prior to a concept Y if and only if it introduces a patterned relation between X and Y that helps to explain why the objects in its extension have been grouped together as well as to distinguish them from the other exclusive concepts, but not vice versa. Upon that, I argue that thin concepts fail to satisfy this condition when we test them against a difficult case in which they must help to explain why two extremely similar moral acts fall under incompatible thick concepts. Finally, I outline an alternative picture according to which thick concepts may have an evaluative function even if evaluation isn't their definitional component.

Some older pieces in philosophy of language

What Are Epistemic Modals Relative to?


Epistemic modals are expressions that quantify over possibilities about how the actual world is that are compatible with someone's information about it. There is a long-lasting disagreement among philosophers about the semantics of these expressions. For instance, the sentence 'it might rain' is taken to say that, as far as someone knows (relative to someone's knowledge), it is possible that it will rain. The disagreement then surrounds the question of whose knowledge is relevant in this instance (e.g. the speaker's knowledge, the assessor's knowledge, the knowledge of participants in a conversation). Nevertheless, in the background of this disagreement, there is a tacit agreement that epistemic modals are expressions referring to epistemic possibilities relativised to someone's knowledge. In this paper, I throw doubt on this view and defend instead an understanding-relative account of epistemic modals. Firstly, I argue that, because of being an inferentially structured and non-factive attitude that comes in degrees, understanding can help us in resolving such issues as the translatability of evidential epistemic modals in the languages other than English, unreliable claims about epistemic possibilities or the problem of ignorance (Dietz, 2008). Upon that, I attempt to show that the understanding-relative analysis deserves more attention also because it re-frames the problems faced by the two dominant semantic approaches to epistemic modals (standard contextualism and relativism). I show that the analysis creates problems for group contextualism (a type of standard contextualism that is immune to the objection from rejection and retraction) because of the inscrutability of collective understanding as a sensible epistemic attitude. I also argue that the analysis seems to be useful in dealing with the problems related to relativism.


敬語を言語行為理論から考える (A Speech Act Analysis of Japanese Honorifics)


Abstract (in Japanese):

本稿の目的は、日本語の敬語をサールの言語行為理論、そして、それに基づき展開された発語内論理の枠組に組み入れば、敬語の様々な性質を体系的に解明でき、そうした解釈が望ましいと論じることである。第1章では、敬語の根源的な翻訳の不可能性に言及し、クワインの翻訳の不確定性テーゼを反駁する。第2章では、敬語の5種類を表出型の言語行為として分析すべきと提言し、各々の敬語の種類の発語内の力の要素に対して、その分析を実際に行う。次に、言語行為の枠組みの中でクワインの不確定性テーゼをむしろ未完全確定テーゼとして解釈するなら、ブラウンとレビンソンの ポライトネス理論、松本の理論かつ井出の理論といった敬語についての理論が穿ちすぎ、謂れのないことが判明するという議論を立てる。第3章では、言語行為理論により敬語の種類の間にある論理的関係を定式化してみたい。 第 4章では、サールの間接言語行為の理論の下、敬語がよく現れる指令型の言語行為、又は、拘束型の間接言語行為が日本語で持つ特徴を指摘する。最後に、そうした間接言語行為の二つの例を持ち出し、聞き手はそれを読み取るために経なければならない推理過程を再現してみたい。


Is Kripke’s Puzzle about Belief a Genuine Puzzle?

Areté: The Undergraduate Philosophy Journal of Rutgers University, Spring 2019 Volume XII, pp.25-42.


According to Strict Millianism, the meaning of proper names is exhausted by their reference. This position entails the principle substitutivity of co-referential names, meaning that if two names are co-referential, then they are mutually substitutable in all contexts without the change in the truth value of the sentence in which they occur. However, one can offer a reductio ad absurdum argument of this principle when it is applied to attitude reports. Kripke (1979) attempts to show that the above reductio argument does not undermine Strict Millianism. This is because, regardless of whether we accept Strict Millianism, a contradiction can be derived even without the principle. In this paper, I argue that Kripke’s puzzle isn't a genuine one. In particular, I argue that, in attitude reports, a speaker must refer either to constructions (hyperintensional semantic entities) or to propositions by ‘that’-clauses depending on how accurately she wants to describe the understanding of the subject towards the content of her attitude. It is then shown that if the speaker refers to propositions, the contradiction in Kripke’s puzzle turns out to depend on the principle of substitutivity after all. On the other hand, if she refers to constructions, the contradiction cannot be derived, so the puzzle doesn't arise. Finally, I discuss possible objections to my argument.

bottom of page