Conceptual frameworks: Their uses and potential abuses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Stewart Thau


Wilfrid Sellars, Ian G. Barbour, Framework diversity, Conceptual frameworks, Abuses

Subject Categories



This work concerns itself with an analysis and clarification of the notion of a conceptual framework and, given its use in an effort to resolve particular philosophical problems, some of the potential confusions and difficulties to which its implementation may lead, namely epistemological and ontological relativism, and dualism.

The work begins with a general introduction to the notions of "concept," "framework," and conceptual diversity and proceeds to a detailed description and explication of the idea of a "conceptual framework," followed by a formal presentation of framework diversity. Two specific uses of the notion of a conceptual framework are then dealt with beginning with the philosophical thought of Wilfred Sellars. A presentation of Sellars' philosophical system is given followed by a discussion of how Sellars utilizes the concept of a framework within his system to solve the philosophical problem of free-will vs. determinism. An evaluation of Sellars' system, his compatibility argument, and his implementation of the notion of a conceptual framework, follows the discussion.

The work of the contemporary physicist and theologian Ian G. Barbour in regard to his comparative study of science and religion and his implementation of the terms myth, model, metaphor, and paradigm as they pertain to his implicit use of the notion of a conceptual framework is then taken up showing how Barbour's approach is used in an effort to resolve the issue of scientific discourse vs. religious discourse. An evaluation of Barbour's thought and use of the idea of a conceptual framework follows.

A comparison of Sellar's and Barbour's work comes next. And a summary and conclusion complete the work. Two appendices have been added: one deals with the idea of a linguistic framework as developed by Rudolph Carnap, and the other considers the notion of Inter- and Intra-Linguistic Conceptual Frameworks following the work of Donald Davidson.

The overall conclusion reached is that framework thinking is as philosophically interesting and useful as it is potentially problematic, and that there is not a diversity of conceptual frameworks that disallow a unified, well justified theory of reality.


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