Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hacking and Franklin on the Functional Complexity of Evidence

After posting my paper here, in the last few days, I've just happened to come across two fabulous statements related to my position. Of course, just when you start to think you're doing something a little bit original, you come across all kinds of people saying basically the same thing.

Ian Hacking, on the first page of the monumental "Experimentation and Scientific Realism":
Experiments, the philosophers say, are of value only when they test theory. . . So we lack even a terminology to describe the many varied roles of experiment.  (Hacking 1982, p. 71)
And Allan Franklin, on the first page of his Selectivity and Discord:
Experiment plays many roles in science.  One of its important roles is to test theories and provide the basis for scientific knowledge.  It can also call for a new theory. . . Experiment can provide hints about the structure or mathematical form of a theory, and it can provide evidence for the existence of the entities involved in our theory. . . it may also have a life of its own, independent of theory: Scientists may investigate a phenomenon just because it looks interesting. Such experiments may provide evidence for future theories to explain. (Franklin 2002, p. 1)
It is a nice surprise to find myself in such good company.  The aim of my paper, of course, is to try to provide a coherent picture of and some terminology for the various roles of evidence.  One of the points that I make in the paper, which I'm not sure Hacking or Franklin would accept, is that there is a useful (functional) distinction to be drawn between observational and experimental evidence.  I suspect they might even say that I leave some roles out of my picture.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Milton Friedman and Richard Swinburne, coupled

Charles Manski, an economist at Northwestern associated with the prestigious NBER, has a working paper, POLICY ANALYSIS WITH INCREDIBLE CERTITUDE:
It explores an important topic, namely the tendency of policy sciences "to regularly express certitude about the consequences of alternative policy choices." In the paper Manski offers a typology of variants of this problem and offers an alternative. (I must thank one of my regular informants from within economics, Robert Goldfarb (who has done some lovely empirical work on how economists handle empirical data), for calling Manski to my attention!)
Now early in the paper Manski goes after Milton Friedman's famous (1953) methodology paper (known as F1953) and couples him with the philosopher Richard Swinburne (well known in metaphysics and philosophy of religion), and criticizes both of them for their advocacy of the simplest hypothesis at the exclusion of others. (To the best of my knowledge Milton Friedman has never been compared to Richard Swinburne before.)

So far so good. Then Manski writes: "Does use of criteria such as “simplicity” to choose one hypothesis among those consistent with the data promote good policy making? This is the relevant question for policy analysis. To the best of my
knowledge, thinking in philosophy has not addressed it."
Funny that. My recently published paper on the influence of Milton Friedman's methodology on the Chilean Chicago Boys explores precisely this issue:
Rarely have I had a better advocate for the relevancy of my work! there other work on the relationship between simplicity and policy science?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Varieties of Evidence Redux

About a year ago, I posted three blog posts here, arguing that scientific evidence serves a more complex and dynamic set of functions in scientific inquiry than simply supporting hypotheses.  I've finally manage to work the idea out in a form that I'm satisfied with:

The Functional Complexity of Scientific Evidence (Draft)

I'm especially indebted to the commenters on this blog for the content of section 6, including Thomas Basbøll, Greg Frost-Arnold, Gabriele Contessa, and Eric Winsberg.  (I hope I've appropriate credit where credit is due there.  I was a bit stymied in how exactly to refer to a conversation we had on the blog, and so made the acknowledgments there fairly general.  Advice on that point is welcome.)

I hope I've managed to present it in a compelling way and answer the objections in a satisfactory way, even though I'm sure many traditionalist won't be convinced.  The goal in this paper is to motivate the need for more complex, functionalist, dynamic model of evidence in contrast with the oversimplification of the traditional-type model, to set out in detail such a model, to illustrate it with an example, and to reply to some basic objections.  I've got a second paper in progress which applies the basic framework to a variety of problems of evidence, from theory-ladenness and the experiment's regress to "evidence for use" and evidence-based public policy.  My central claim there is that this apparently diverse set of problems all share a set of assumptions, and the strongest way to solve them all is to adopt the dynamic evidential functionalism that I've laid out in this first paper.

One reason that I needed to whip this paper into shape is that I'm presenting on the topic of the sequel at the Pitt workshop on scientific experimentation.  Getting this in final form is part of finishing up that paper.  The working title there is "From the Experimenter’s Regress to Evidence-Based Policy: The Functional Complexity of Scientific Evidence."

If anyone gets a chance to look at the paper, I'd appreciate any comments, here or via email. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

1st Dutch-Flemish Graduate Conference on Philosophy of Science and/or Technology, Ghent 25-26 November

1st Dutch-Flemish Graduate Conference on Philosophy of Science and/or Technology
The NFWT organizes its first graduate conference for advanced master students, Phd-students, and recent Phd’s, working on philosophy of science and/or technology. The goal of this conference is to help such researchers establish a research network, and try out papers in a cordial setting. All participants will be alloted ca. 30 minutes to present a paper, followed by 15 minutes of discussion.
There will be two keynote lectures on the topic of “levels of organization in the life sciences”, and contributions related to this topic are especially encouraged, without this being an exclusionary criterion.
Abstract of maximum 500 words should be submitted no later than October 1, 2010, by email to: Notification of acceptance will be sent by October 10.
Dates: 25 and 26 November 2010
Venue: Het Pand, Ghent University, Ghent
Keynote speakers: Jon Williamson (Kent University) and Gertrudis Van de Vijver (Ghent University)
For more information on the NFWT (Dutch-Flemish Network for Philosophy of Science and Technology), see:

CFP: EPSA, Athens, Greece 5-8 sept, 2011.

The Third Conference of the European Philosophy of Science Association (EPSA) will take place at the University of Athens, Greece, 5-8 October 2011. Contributed papers and proposals for symposia are invited by 28 February 2011.
For details of the call, please visit this website:

Monday, September 20, 2010

PhD Position (Ghent)

The Department of philosophy and moral sciences Ghent University has a vacancy for a PhD researcher in connection with the research professorship of Prof. Dr. Eric Schliesser. The area of interest is open with a slight preference for candidates interested in philosophy and history of economics, history and philosophy of science, early modern philosophy (from Descartes to Kant), and metaphysics.
For more information:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

CFP: NOVEL PREDICTIONSFebruary 25-26 2011, Heinrich-Heine Universitaet Duesseldorf, Germany.

Organisers: Gerhard Schurz, Ludwig Fahrbach and Ioannis Votsis

Invited Speakers: Martin Carrier (Bielefeld), Deborah Mayo (Virginia
Tech), Cornelis Menke (Bielefeld), Stathis Psillos (Athens), Roger White
(MIT) and John Worrall (LSE).

The aim of the conference is to explore new and fruitful answers to
three central questions: What are novel predictions? Ought novel
predictions have more epistemic weight than mere accommodations? Can
novel predictions help us make headway in the scientific realism debate?
We expect that the talks will cover one or more of the following related
topics, simplicity, unification, curve-fitting, approximate truth,
inference to the best explanation, the no-miracles argument and
scientific theory change.

We invite abstracts of up to 500 words on any of the above or closely
related topics. Please e-mail contributions to Ioannis Votsis ( ). Make sure to include your full
name, institutional affiliation and e-mail address.

Submission Deadline: 15 OCTOBER 2010
Acceptance Notification: 15 NOVEMBER 2010

We hope to publish the proceedings of the conference in a reputable
scientific journal. Upon completion of the conference, we will invite
participants to submit written-up versions of their talks. Submitted
papers will then be subjected to a peer-review process.

Speakers – Provisional Talk Titles:
Martin Carrier (Bielefeld) 'Prediction in Context: On the Comparative
Epistemic Merit of Predictive Success'
Deborah Mayo (Virginia Tech) 'Some Surprising Facts About (the problem
of) Surprising Facts'
Ludwig Fahrbach (Duesseldorf) 'Novel Predictions: In Search of the
Cornelis Menke (Bielefeld) 'On the Vagueness of "Novelty" and Chance as
an Explanation of Predictive Success'
Stathis Psillos (Athens) 'Novelty-in-Use: On Perrin's Argument for
Gerhard Schurz (Duesseldorf) 'Theoretical Parameters and Use-Novelty
Criterion of Confirmation'
Ioannis Votsis (Duesseldorf) 'Novel Predictions: The Few Miracles
Argument for Scientific Realism'
Roger White (MIT) 'Testing'
John Worrall (LSE) 'Prediction and Accommodation: A Comparison of Rival

Attendance is open to all. If you plan to attend please contact Ioannis
Votsis ( ).

CFP: THEORY-LADENNESS OF EXPERIENCE March 10-11 2011, Heinrich-Heine Universitaet Duesseldorf, Germany.

Organisers: Gerhard Schurz, Michela Tacca and Ioannis Votsis
Invited Speakers: William Brewer (Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), Allan Franklin (Colorado), Martin Kusch (Vienna), Athanassios Raftopoulos (Cyprus), Susanna Siegel (Harvard) and Markus Werning (Bochum).

The aim of the conference is to bring together philosophers, psychologists and cognitive scientists whose work contributes to our understanding of the scope and limits of theory-ladenness phenomena, where these are broadly construed to include the domains of perception, scientific evidence and language. We hope that the resulting synergy will help provide novel and fruitful answers to questions like the following: Is perception cognitively penetrable and, if so, how? Does the choice of scientific theory affect how we select, interpret and assess the evidential worth of
data from experiments? Under what circumstances can we doubt the veridicality of scientific instruments? Can we draw a sharp distinction between terms that are theoretical and those that are observational? We thus expect that the talks will deal with one or more of the following topics: the modularity of mind, nonconceptual content, the epistemology of evidence and the semantics of observational terms.

We invite abstracts of up to 500 words on any of the above or closely related topics. Please e-mail contributions to Ioannis Votsis ( ). Make sure to include your full name, institutional affiliation and e-mail address.
Submission Deadline: 01 NOVEMBER 2010
Acceptance Notification: 01 DECEMBER 2010

We hope to publish the proceedings of the conference in a reputable scientific journal. Upon completion of the conference, we will invite participants to submit written-up versions of their talks. Submitted papers will then be subjected to a peer-review process.

Speakers – Provisional Talk Titles:
William Brewer (Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) 'Naturalized Approaches to Theory Ladenness: Evidence from Cognitive Psychology History, and the Ecological Validity Argument'
Allan Franklin (Colorado) 'Theory Ladenness and the Epistemology of Experiment'
Martin Kusch (Vienna) 'Modules and Microscopes'
Athanassios Raftopoulos (Cyprus) 'Cognitive Impenetrability, Nonconceptual Content, and Theory-Ladenness'
Gerhard Schurz (Duesseldorf) 'Ostensive Learnability as Criterion for Theory-Neutral “Observation” Concepts'
Susanna Siegel (Harvard) 'Cognitive Penetrability and Perceptual Belief'
Michela Tacca (Duesseldorf) 'Cognitive Penetrability and the Content of Perception'
Ioannis Votsis (Duesseldorf) 'The Observation-Ladenness of Theory'
Markus Werning (Bochum) 'The Role of Action in Perception'

Attendance is open to all. If you plan to attend please contact Ioannis Votsis ( ).

The Limits of Science

Philosophy of science in the public domain:
I think Gotliebb is a bit unfair to the skeptics, but still pretty decent stuff.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Speculative vs experimental philosophy

There is a new Otago-based blog centered on a fun, timely, and interesting HPS project:
With the rise of experimental philosophy, renewed interest in earlier attempts at experimental philosophy are timely, and I wish the Otago group much luck!
One of the main conceits behind the Otago project is that the Empiricism-Rationalism distinction is a construct of Kantian philosophy and misdescribes Early modern philosophy. This view is widespread among Early modern scholars, although I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of practitioners still buy into some version of the distinction. The Otago group proposes another distinction, that between speculative and experimental philosophers. And that framework drives the project. This has three virtues: 1. The distinction can be mapped onto debates within contemporary philosophy; 2. It's a distinction that does justice to much 17th century thought (it is an actor's category) 3. It allows the group to have a coherence and economies of scale (to use grant-speak).
Now as the wording of my second virtue suggests, I have some qualms. It ignores at least one other group of philosophers, namely those that believed in (mathematical) theory mediated measurement. I am thinking of Galileo, Huygens, and Newton, among the best known. These are not best described as experimental, although all were accomplished experimentalists (and Newton's oOptics is often assimilated to experimental traditions), but their work has very different character from say, Bacon or Boyle. (They are also not best described as speculative, because all three practiced a self-restraint on published speculation.) Certainly after the Principia this approach created standing challenge to all other forms of philosophizing. So the Otago framework will run into big trouble in 18th century.
I have argued that a better contrast can be drawn between those who thought that inspecting ideas (whatever the source--so this includes rationalists and empiricists) was the way forward and those who advocated theory mediated measurement. Moreover, it turns out that this distinction maps onto a related one: between system-building philosophers and the piecemeal approach, and I think better clarifies the predicaments of our philosophic times. But about these matters some other time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


In re-reading Quentin Skinner's classic "Meaning and Understanding in History of Ideas" I was struck that Skinner welds together a Witgensteinian philosophy of language (and Anscombian philosophy of action) with Kuhnian philosophy of science (All acknowledged in the text). (Given the intellectual proximity of Kuhn and Cavell something of this sort can also be found in Kuhn's writings.) The resulting therapeutic aims for the (contingency in, contingency out model supplied to the) historical sciences are only mildly to my liking, but about that some other time. Here my question is does anybody know if in all the writings on Kuhn anybody has targeted or clearly diagnosed the Wittgenstein appropriation of Kuhn or the Wittgensteinian elements in Kuhn?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Philosophy of statistical mechanics

David Albert has a (rather self-indulgent--yes, and that coming from me!), but usefully critical review of a collection of essays on the philosophy of statistical mechanics edited by Gerhard Ernst and Andreas Hutteman, which includes chapters by several contributors to this blog. The review can be found here:

Maybe it's time [sic] for à good discussion?