What gets to count as conceptual

Oftentimes we face some sort of distinction between conceptual affairs and empirical matters. Sometimes a great deal of emphasis is placed on it. The distinction has the nifty consequence that philosophers deal in eternity, the unchangeable, the perennial. And who wouldn’t want that?

Fact is, in time many different disciplines grew out of philosophy and some tried to stay away from it, with varying success. Physics grew from natural philosophy, introspectionist psychology grew from rationalist epistemology, rational choice theory from utility-based accounts of economic behavior. Pick your favorite example.

With every newborn scientific discipline leaving its philosophical nest, the goalposts are shifting. We can frankly admit that our concept „empirical” changes as we go along. Ditto for our concept „non-empirical”. And your concept of what gets to count as empirical may well differ from my own; that’s just fine.

We might think our preferred way of drawing the empirical v. non-empirical distinction is privileged, turning a blind eye to the scientific and philosophical changes that occur within our lifespan. We might correspondingly insist that conceptual affairs are perennial notwithstanding, and only our grip on concepts gets firmer as time passes.

But what if what gets to count as conceptual in no way necessarily excludes what gets to count as empirical? They might differ on occasion, but no reason to think they differ in principle. The whiff of eternity might wane, but we might then gain a firmer footing in our real cognitive lives.