Saturday, February 27, 2010

Science is Real!

Here's a surprising and fun reference to Carnap for your Saturday enjoyment:

The video is from the delightful album (and DVD) for kids called Here Comes Science by the rock band They Might Be Giants (aka The Twin Quasars of Rock). I highly recommend it to readers with kids that want to get them excited about science.

As John Holbo pointed out a while ago, there's at least one small philosophical gaffe in the reference to Carnap at the beginning of the song:
As I was saying, one of the Johns quotes Rudolf Carnap, “science is a system of statements based on direct experience and controlled by experimental verification.” And the other John then says: “Or as we say, Science Is Real!” And the song starts. But these two statements are hardly equivalent. Indeed, even the graphic for the song title is eloquently anti-Carnapian... This clearly implies that science does not consist of sentences. It is a thing that itself contains the things that sentences about science are about. Or as we say: things! Reality!
Anyhow, the album is still fantastic. I particularly enjoy "I Am a Paleontologist," "My Brother the Ape," "Photosynthesis," and "What Is a Shooting Star?" What I enjoy more is seeing my daughter and her friends sing along to fun songs about evolution, astronomy, states of matter, electric cars, etc.

Chomsky rules?

When I was an undergraduate (at an institution where senior faculty warmly spoke of their former teacher and colleague, 'Noam') and a graduate student (where a class on philosophy of mind meant reading Jerry Fodor's unpublished manuscripts--I warmly recall debating whether 'DOORKNOB' is innate!) Chomsky ruled. (The upside of this is that the language of thought could be relied upon to make fun of Wittgensteinians.) But is this still the case? An article in my local newspaper referred me to a paper by Nicholas Evans and Stephen C. Levinson, "The myth of language universals: Language diversity and its importance for cognitive science," (Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2009), 32:429-448), which looks as if it contradicts most of Chomsky's claims about language. What's the state of play in philosophy of language/mind? Does Chomsky still rule?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Arló-Costa on Woodward's Theory of Causal Explanation

Readers of IOAT may well want to check out Horacio Arló-Costa's interesting thoughts on Woodward's theory of causal explanation here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

CfP: Theoria: An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science

Established in 1952 by Miguel Sánchez-Mazas, THEORIA. An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science is one of the leading philosophy journals in the Spanish-speaking world and a well-ranked publication in the Europe Science Foundation index (ERIH: B). It is also listed in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index.

We are pleased to inform you that we have just appointed a new editorial team: Gabriel Uzquiano (Oxford), Genoveva Martí (ICREA & Universitat de Barcelona), Josefa Toribio (ICREA & Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), José Antonio Díez Calzada (Universitat de Barcelona), Marga Vicedo (University of Toronto) and Javier Moscoso (CSIC). Andoni Ibarra (UPV/EHU) remains the journal's editor-in-chief. We welcome submissions in their respective areas of competence. You can find further details here.

THEORIA is a non-profit editorial venture of the University of the Basque Country. Our papers are published under a Creative Commons licence and we are gradually providing free access to all our back catalogue, starting with the 2009 volume. In this spirit, we have joined the Open Journal Systems (OJS) developed by the Public Knowledge Project and now you can submit your papers directly through our website.

Please do not hesitate to contact us, if you need further information about THEORIA.

Journal : HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science

Another new journal that may be of interest to readers of this blog:

At long last HOPOS has its own journal. Published by the University of Chicago Press, the first issue is scheduled to appear Spring 2011 in both print and electronic formats.

The editors invite submission of article-length manuscripts to be published in HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science.

We seek to publish highest-quality scholarship concerning the history of philosophical discussions about science. The history of philosophy of science is broadly construed to include topics in the history of related disciplines, in all time periods and all geographical areas, using diverse
methodologies. The journal aims to:

  • provide an outlet for interdisciplinary work
  • increase the already unusually high level of participation of international scholars in the history of the philosophy of science,
  • raise the level of work in the history of philosophy of science by publishing scholarship that helps to explain the links among philosophy, science, and mathematics, along with the social, economic, and political context, which is indispensable for a genuine understanding of the history of philosophy.
HOPOS scholarship is firmly concerned with situating philosophical understandings of science within the broader historical and philosophical settings in which they were developed, and against the backdrop of mainstream issues in philosophical thought, covering epistemological,
methodological, metaphysical, and moral issues relevant to the growth of our knowledge of the world and human nature.

The journal does not limit submissions to HOPOS members. Scholars from all related disciplines are encouraged to submit to the journal. The length of articles is flexible, and all articles published in HOPOS are peer reviewed.

Please see the HOPOS journal home page at for further informationand for author instructions.

HOPOS does not consider unsolicited book reviews, but if you would like to be considered for a future review, please contact Warren Schmaus, Book Review Editor, at All other editorial correspondence should be sent to Rose-Mary Sargent, Editor, at

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sydney-Tilburg conference on The Future of Philosophy of Science

The conference below looks like a fun and exciting conference with a great theme. Nevertheless, looking over the program line-up, I think the Tilburg gang seem to have chosen a hotchpotch of high standard conference papers [including a good number of my new Ghent colleagues] rather that sticking to a focused conference theme. I think this is a missed opportunity. Because general philosophy of science needs some fresh thought.
Anyway, wish I could attend, but I'll be somewhere in the Finnish Arctic Circle for an early modern workshop--yeah, we Early Modernist have all the fun!

Sydney-Tilburg conference on The Future of Philosophy of Science
Wednesday 14 - Friday 16 April 2010
Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science (TiLPS)
Philosophy of science deals with the foundations and the methods of science. While the scope of philosophy of science is rather uncontroversial, there is considerable disagreement about its methodology. A look into the relevant journals reveals that there is a plurality of approaches. Some researchers use the traditional method of conceptual analysis, others engage in formal modeling, conduct case studies and – more recently – experiments, or consult the history of science in considerable detail. Despite the differences in these approaches, there also seem to be undeniable trends in our discipline, such as the increasing specialization, and the increasing co-operation with empirical scientists and policy makers. This conference will explore the future of philosophy of science. In particular, we are interested in how the different methods philosophers of science use relate to each other, whether they can fruitfully complement each other, and whether current trends allow predictions about the development of our field.
The program of the conference is now online. Please visit:
The invited speakers are Michael Friedman, Chris Hitchcock, Hannes Leitgeb and Samir Okasha. Contributed speakers include William Bechtel, Ronald Giere, Alfred Nordmann, Michael Stoeltzner, and Paul Teller.
The registration deadline is 15 March 2010.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The importance of historical data

In two recent papers -- one aimed at historians of economics ["Philosophy and a Scientific Future of History of Economics"], the other aimed at economic historians ["Prophecy, Eclipses and Whole-Sale Markets: A Case Study on Why Data Driven Economic History Requires History of Economics, a Philosopher's Reflection"] - I argued that historical data can play a constitutive (and important) role in ongoing research.
In both papers I argued that historians can not merely supply crucial data for economic theorizing but also help improve theorizing. While I offered some clever suggestions from economics and its history (including an example from Babylonia!), some of my best evidence was derived from crucial episodes in history of astronomy (in which historical data and historical knowledge played a non-trivial role). I was a bit annoyed with myself for not finding an example from more 'relevant' and 'contemporary' economics.
Anyway, in a recent review of Thomas A. Stapleford, _The Cost of Living in America: A Political History of Economic Statistics, 1880-2000, Trevon Logan concluded his favorable review of Tom's very fine book [disclosure: Tom is editing one of my papers in an edited volume on Chicago economics] with a telling and informative annecdote: "About a year ago I was attending a seminar on the misuses of the Penn World Tables -- the large and well used panel dataset of country GDP and other macro indicators. The seminar speaker discussed the fact that revisions of the data changed the results of many well-cited and influential papers. These included studies of the effects of assassinations on growth, the relationship between volatility and growth, and civil conflict and growth. An elder statesman remarked that economists today do not pay much attention to issues such as the measurement of prices and inflation, and that we (as a profession) are worse for it. I agree. [...] Even more, all of our time series or panel estimates depend, critically, on getting the prices right -- applied microeconomists are not exempted."
How cool is that?!
Anyway, it is to be hoped that Tom's book will help people make the case that in economics historians are more than worth keeping around. (Certainly, the financial crisis should have taught folk that having people around that know something of the past can be very useful.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Philosophy of evolutionary biology, economics, and management blog

I am teaching a unique graduate seminar in the philosophy of science class this semester at the University of Missouri, Columbia. The focus is on evolution theory applied to a variety of disciplines, especially economics and management. We're using the topic as a foil to delve into the conceptual issues of evolution theory (what is its nature, scope, and limits, etc.) and general philosophy of science topics (explanation, causation, idealization, etc.). What makes the seminar unique is that many seminar days will be lead by various experts, including Michael Weisberg (UPenn), Jay Odenbaugh (Lewis and Clark), Chris Pincock (Purdue), Denis Walsh (Toronto). And, several economists and an historian (all from University of Missouri) are participating in some way to the class. We've started a blog which has turned out to be very lively. Check it out here. If anyone is interested in the reading material let me know and I can tell you where it is posted. And, if you want to join the blog you are more than welcome to.



Monday, February 1, 2010

Copy of Letter to the Principal of KCL,

Dear Professor Rick Trainor, Principal of King's,
Dear Professor Jan Palmowski, Head of School for Arts and Humanities,
Dear Professor Keith Hoggart, Vice Principal of Arts and Sciences,

I am writing to express my concern about your decision to dismiss Dr. Ginzburg, Prof Lappin, Dr. Meyer-Viol, and Prof Travis. In particular, I understand that your decision was made without consultation of the department, the wider university community, nor the particular people affected. This lack of professional collegiality and lack of respect for academic self-governance is shocking. Moreover, from reports available online it seems you are not honoring the university's word when it recruited professor Travis. These actions are hurting KCL's reputation and it will damage its future efforts to recruit and retain senior faculty. Moreover, because of KCL's prestige inside and outside of academia you are setting dangerous precedents that may tempt other, lesser universities.

Writing you as a professional philosopher I am aghast to learn that you are seriously damaging one of the very best and most admired departments in the world. It is especially noteworthy because it is one of the most intellectually diverse and balanced departments within philosophy. Cutting Dr. Ginzburg, Prof Lappin, Dr. Meyer-Viol, and Prof Travis will seriously diminish the reach and breadth of the department and lower its standing.

Of course, I understand that you need to make often painful budgetary choices. I also realize that if you were to reconsider this decision other valued members of your community may come under fire. But from published reports, including The Times Online, it appears your decisions are driven entirely by financial considerations. This goes against the very idea of a university; if cost benefit analysis is the only metric that informs funding priorities then academic leadership has become meaningless.

For all these reasons I urge you to reconsider your current approach.

Eric Schliesser
BOF Research Professor (2010-2015), Philosophy and Moral Sciences, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, Ghent, B-9000, Belgium. Phone: (31)-(0)6-15005958

[Not in original letter:] PS I should mention that Jonathan Ginzburg is technically in the Computer Science Department, but it is still a loss to philosophy at KCL.