Social Externalism and Conceptual Errors



I offer a defence of individualism by critically examining the preconditions of Tyler Burge's famous thought-experiment involving the concept of arthritis. I argue that the thought-experiment relies on a problematic notion of conceptual error, one of which Burge himself should be critical, given his Quinean commitments. Once this misstep in the experiment is made explicit, individualism emerges as a much stronger position than it is usually taken to be. Questioning the assumption that the patient uttering ‘I have arthritis in my thigh’ makes a conceptual error makes it possible for the individualist to grant Burge the claim that the patient has the standard concept of arthritis, rather than his own deviant concept, and yet avoid the social externalist conclusions.