G4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)
Essentially contested concepts : Gallie's thesis and its aftermath (2021)
Olennaisesti kiistanalaiset käsitteet : Gallien teesi ja sen jälkimainingit

Pennanen, J. (2021). Essentially contested concepts : Gallie's thesis and its aftermath [Doctoral dissertation]. Jyväskylän yliopisto. JYU Dissertations, 420. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-8802-9

JYU authors or editors

Publication details

All authors or editors: Pennanen, Joonas

eISBN: 978-951-39-8802-9

Journal or series: JYU Dissertations

eISSN: 2489-9003

Publication year: 2021

Number in series: 420

Number of pages in the book: 539

Publisher: Jyväskylän yliopisto

Place of Publication: Jyväskylä

Publication country: Finland

Publication language: English

Persistent website address: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-8802-9

Publication open access: Openly available

Publication channel open access: Open Access channel


This study examines W.B. Gallie’s claim that a special group of concepts, i.e., essentially contested concepts, bring about endless and rationally irresolvable yet perfectly genuine disputes about their proper employment. The obscurity of Gallie’s original thesis has contributed to diverging interpretations and thus rendered the term ‘essentially contested concept’ ambiguous today. Moreover, attempts to make a firm enough case for the existence of essentially contested concepts have arguably failed. This work sets things straight in three main ways. First, it offers the most detailed discussion of Gallie’s thesis of essential contestedness to date. Second, it provides a comprehensive account of the critical reception of Gallie’s thesis. Third, it argues for an improved account of essential contestability. Part one guides to the study and contextualizes the thesis of essential contestedness. Gallie was influenced by several intellectual strands of the 20h century, and his idea has inspired numerous scholars of different disciplines. Part two presents and analyzes the seven conditions of essential contestedness which are commonly understood as inhering in a particular kind of concept. Instead, they are best divided into two groups, one belonging to semantics, the other to pragmatics. Part three delves deeper into the nature of contestation, the required sense of essentiality, the rationality of having an irresolvable and endless dispute, the genuineness of disputes manifesting essential contestedness, and the presumed unity of an essentially contested concept. Part four evaluates the soundness of a concept-centered thesis that understands contestation as revolving around a single concept that has a special structure. Options found in the literature are presented and analyzed. In the end, the concept-centered thesis is discarded in favor of individuating essentially contested concepts functionally. This study explicates for the first time virtually all elements of Gallie’s thesis, clarifies his terminological choices, and extensively covers the secondary literature that has accumulated over the years. It is claimed that the key to essential contestability is found in the specific way concepts are employed, that is, anthropocentrically with an aim to persuade others within the parameters set by a decision-based reasonable disagreement.

Keywords: concepts (notions); interpretation (cognition); meanings (semantics); semantics; pragmatics; philosophy of language; intellectual history

Free keywords: Gallie, Walter Bryce; essentially contested concept; conceptual disagreement; reasonable disagreement; endless dispute; essential contestability

Fields of science:

Contributing organizations

Ministry reporting: Yes

Last updated on 2021-16-09 at 15:57