Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New Philosophy of Cosmology Blog!

As many of you already know, the Templeton Foundation has funded a new project in the Philosophy of Cosmology which involves a number of excellent philosophers (including David Albert, Barry Loewer, Tim Maudlin and Dean Zimmerman) physicists, and mathematicians. What some of you may not know is that the project now has a website and a blog associated with it!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A worry about arguments for values in science

It is becoming increasingly hard to deny that values play a role in scientific practice—specifically non-epistemic, non-cognitive, or contextual values, e.g., moral, political, social, aesthetic and aesthetic values. I will focus on the testing phase, where theories are compared with evidence and certified (or not) as knowledge, as this is the most central arena for discussion value-free vs. value-laden science. Traditionally, philosophers of science have accepted a role for values in practice because it could be ghettoized into the “context of discovery,” while the “context of justification” could be treated as epistemically pure. Once we turn from the logical context of justification to the actual context of certification in practice, to the testing of hypotheses within concrete inquiries conducted by particular scientists, we can no longer ignore the role of value-judgments. 

There are two main arguments in the literature for this claim: the inductive risk argument and an argument based on the underdetermination of theory by evidence that I will call “the gap argument” (Intemann, 2005). While both of these arguments have been historically very important and have successfully established important roles for values in science, they share a flawed assumption, the lexical priority of evidence over values. There are several problems with this assumption, one of which is that its plausibility is closely related to the value-free ideal of science: the best science would be one where we were guided only by considerations of evidence. Wherever this is possible, we should prefer value-free science. However, this situation may be rare or impossible, and so we must allow value-judgments to play a role where the evidence leaves some uncertainty. The lexical priority assumption leads to a tension because it continues to recognize the normative weight of the value-free ideal of science. While these arguments have allowed their proponents to construct value-laden ideals of science that preserve some version of the objectivity of science, that alternative is rendered unstable by the lexical priority assumption. They may be taken as insisting that the value-free ideal is the real ideal; in circumstances where it is impossible to satisfy, we have to settle for a pragmatic compromise that is as close as possible.

This is taken from the introduction of a paper I'm working on, and I'm trying to work out how precisely to express this worry and whether the worry seems like a real worry. I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Philosophy of science as it was taught to John Rawls

[crossposted at Footnotes on Epicycles]

My colleague Jon Mandle has been looking at John Rawls 1950 doctoral dissertation, A Study in The Grounds of Ethical Knowledge. Jon asked me about a section in which Rawls contrasts ethical theory and scientific theory. The philosophy of science that he presumes is really just background. Yet he discusses what is now often called the Duhem-Quine Problem, a couple of years before Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism". So where did Rawls get it from?

I did not have a good answer to this, beyond the obvious suggestion. So I decided to share the interesting bit here.

Some historical context: After coming back from service in World War II in the mid 1940s, Rawls began graduate work at Princeton. He spent a year at Cornell, where he interacted with Norman Malcolm and Max Black. Although he did not defend his disseration until February 1950, it was completed by about Fall 1948. (He had funding which was contingent on him still being a student.) So the bit here reflects philosophy of science as he was taught it at Princeton and Cornell in the mid to late 1940s.

The obvious answer, suggested by the footnote, is that he got his philosophy of science primarily from Max Black at Cornell. If you have other ideas as to who he might have learned philosophy of science from, please mention them in the comments.

One crucial distinction between the use of a theory in natural science, as opposed to its use in ethics, is that in the former the subject matter is the empirical laws expressed by different causal relations, and whenever the theory does not explain these the theory must be modified; whereas in the latter, the subject matter is the rational judgements of reasonable men, and while we have defined them to be coercive over a theory in the preliminary stage of inquiry, they can be altered, if reasonable men wish to do so; and they may want to change them should they discover that a few recognized judgments are not in harmony with some general principles which explicate most of their other judgments, and which seem to be justifiable. While an explication could hardly cause us to change all our judgments, it may, after we have reflected upon it, cause us to change some of our opinions. Therefore, not only may an ethical theory provide an answer where there is a genuine conflict, and so where there is no opinion at all; but it may actually change some accepted appraisal which was originally considered a part of the subject matter.

Thus an adequate and comprehensive ethical theory may have a control over its data which we generally do not allow to a theory in a natural scienoe. We cannot think that physical processes, having found that Newton's theory explained much of their behavior, would voluntarily agree to act in a manner conformant to its predictions. But in ethical theory this is just what may, and does, happen. Consider, for exanple, the argument of a reformer. He points out that an accepted moral judgment, or an accepted pattern of moral behavior, actually conflicts with a principle which explicates most of our best and soundest opinions. He appeals to us to recognise that such and such a judgment or pattern of conduct violates the principles which underly our common morality. He urges us to bring those discordant judgments and modes of conduct into line. This we can do; and this is a point at which the final use of an ethical theory may be so different from the final use of a theory in the natural sciences.

It may be objected to this difference that it is not so great as I have stated it. Scientific theories control their data, and exercise a coercive power over observations. For example, if an observer were to report that he had seen a body grow hotter in surroundings of lower temperature; or that he had seen all the molecules of a gas collect in a small volume at one end of a container; or that he had watched a heavy body float up in the air; - we should, on the basis of well-confirmed theories, strongly doubt his observations. We should use the evidenced strength of certain physical theories to argue that it is more probable that the observer is mistaken than that the recorded events have happened as he describes. A theory may be so generally accepted that it will throw out numerous reports on similar grounds. This is why, for example, miracles of one kind or another are not scientifically acceptable. It is more likely that the report of a miracle is false than that the theory it contradicts is mistaken. Naturally there is a limit as to how far a theory can discard observations relevant to it. Otherwise, it would not be a theory at all, but an opinion stubbornly maintained in the face of contradicting reports. But, by and large, the general rule obtains that a widely successful theory will serve to discard the few and scattered observations against it; and this is because we take it as more probable that the reports are mistaken than that the theory is incorrect. A theory is refuted by showing that there is a general law which is directly contrary to it; and a few random reports are not sufficient to show this.[footnote; see below]

Thus, while it is true that physical theory may control its data, the relation is entirely different from that which may exist between an ethical theory and its data. In the physical case, it is a question of weighing probabilities, and, in view of a satisfactory theory, there must be strong doubt as to whether a reported event contradictory to the theory eer occurred. But not so with an ethical theory: No one doubts that the common sense jugments contradicting an explication happen every day. We egrant, of course, their existence, but demand, in the light of the explication, that they be changed. This can be done, men being what they are. Ethical theory can have a distinctive control over its data; and it is part of its value that it can have this control, since it then can serve as a means for the reform and improvement of common morality.
[footnote:] The subject matter of a natural science like physics is, primarily, laws, which are stated, when the science is developed, in mathematical terms. If not, they may be called routines. See the discussion in Campell, Physics; the elements, Ch. 4. Or, as Feigl says, the 'Erkenntnisziel' of physics in the 'gesetzliche Gerust dar Welt', of Theorie und Erfahrung in die Physik, 16-18. Thus to refute a theory we must establish a law contradicting it. Popper, in Logik der Forschung, made an attempt to avoid the overstrict criterion of meaning then held by the Vienna Circle by urging that a theory be considered meaningful if it could be conclusively falsified. This test, he thought could be carried. out strictly, since he believed that a finite number of observations could refute a theory. But Black, in a review, exposed the fallacy: "...no scientific law is rejected on the basis of a finite number of contrary observations unless it is believed that the number of such observations could be indefinitely extended by any competent observer under similar conditions; strictly unique experiments, however discordant with theory, are neglected because their uniqueness guarantees their irrelevance: their importance is merely that of the inexplicable." 45 Mind 105 (1936).

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stereotypes about Philosophy

Please consider taking this 15-minute survey! Your help would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Workshop: Objects, Kinds and Mechanisms in Biology (Leeds, April 2012)

Objects, Kinds and Mechanisms in Biology: A One Day Workshop

School of Humanities
University of Leeds,
Leeds UK

Friday April 13th 2012

The purpose of the workshop is to encourage discussion of the natures and roles of objects, structure and mechanisms in biology with a view to achieving clarity on a number of issues, including:

How can the heterogeneity of biological objects be appropriately accommodated?

Is a metaphysics of mechanisms as entities and activities sustainable in biology?

What would be an appropriate metaphysics for biological kinds?


10.30-10.55 Coffee
10.55-11.00 Welcome
11.00-12.15 Phyllis Illari (Hertfordshire) The Indispensability of Objects in Biology
12.15-13.30 Ellen Clarke (All Souls) The Organism as a Problem in Biological Ontology

13.30-14.15 Lunch (provided)
14.15-15.30 Marcel Weber (Geneva) Individual, Cell Lineage, and Functional Integration

15.30-15.45 Tea
15.45-17.00 Emma Tobin (UCL) Biomolecular Classification
17.00-18.15 Angelo Cei (Leeds) TBA
18.15-18.30 wrap up

A limited number of student bursaries will be available.

Registration is free but please indicate your interest in attending.

For further details contact:
Steven French s.r.d.french@leeds.ac.uk<

Financial support for this workshop has been provided by the British Society for the Philosophy of Science.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tracking Azzouni

We (Eric Schliesser, Victor Gijsbers, Lieven Decock and me) are reading Jody Azzouni's Knowledge and Reference in Empirical Science (in Amsterdam), because it seems to some of us a rather ignored book. Laudably Azzouni respects the philosophical tradition, meaning that he does not ignore what Carnap, Quine, Kripke and the like have said, while at the same time pays attention to scientific practice --- the movement in philosophy of science that puts the practice of science central ignores the philosophical tradition, whence their deterioration into a philosopically shallow science journalism of sorts. Not so Jody Azzouni.

Azzouni begins to attack deductivism (theories plus auxiliaries entail testable propositions) as well as confirmation holism (to be sharply distinghuished from meaning holism).

The distinction between program and scope is doing a lot of work in the first 47 pages we have discussed. So much that a more careful description of these concepts is warranted.

Section 2
Program for a science (p. 16): "what its terms hold of, and on which its laws are supposed to operate." That's it! 'A science'? 'Its terms hold of'? What does 'which' refer to? Does the
'program' remain fixed over time?

Scope (p. 17): "domain of application of the laws and techniques of the science achieved to date". A more common term for this is: its track record. Clearer than program.

On p. 29, Azzoun asserts that the hard sciences are far less immune to sociological factors
than the soft ones. True or false? Best explanation of Azzouni: "extending the scope of such
a sciene [hard] is arduous". No argument. One illustration. N.D. Cartwright says that
in QM extending its scope is finding good Hamiltonians. Difficult. Students learn paradigmatic
examples and then are supposed to vary. Why are there so few Hamiltonians to begin with?
Cartwright: phenomena are endlessly complex so you have to start with simple Hamiltonians,
which is what QM does and by means of variations on a few simple ones, QM covers large ranges of phenomena (scope extension, in Azzouni's words). Trying to find the right Hamiltonian for each case all over again is a crazy methodology. Azzouni:

"But this gives an entirely false impression of the motives here. The way of proceeding Cartwright describes is required only because the mathematics of Schrodinger's equation and the Hamiltonians is so hard. If it were easy to construct the Hamiltonian for every situation,
and derive its evolution, then the crazy method would be just the right one."

Not the phenomena are complex but the mathematics of the Hamiltonians is hard?
The question is: how to find the right Hamiltonian. THAT is not a mathematical issue.
Suppose you write down one that seems reasonable for the situation at hand. It may
be very difficult to solve its eigenvalue eq. If the Hamiltonian is not time-dependent,
and the Hilbert-vectors factorise in a time-dependent and non-time dependent part (which
they usually do), then the Schrodinger eq. is solved uno tenore.

I think that both Cartwright and Azzouni are right! Finding the right Hamiltonian is hard,
and solving its eigenvalue equation is also hard. This disagreement that Azzouni is
creating here is not there.

By the way, what does this have to do with sociological factors?

Section 3
In the web of belief one can delineate relatively autonomous patches, and these can
be confirmed or disconfirmed. The entire web is never confronted as a corporate body
by the tribunal of scratsches are nerve endings. The patches are belong to different sciences and tractability problems (to extend the scope in line with the program).

Question: is this going contra Quine or is this 'merely' a refinement of Quine?

Victor's Question: are the patches allowed to be inconsistent? (Quine's answer would
be negative, we suppose. Then a broadening of Quine rather than a refinement?)

Section 4
Azzouni thinks conceptions of reduction from metaphysics are not helpful for understanding what is going on in science, and wants a conception of reduction tailor-made for science,
called scientific reduction. What is that? This (44-45):

"we really do take As, and what is going on with them, to be nothing more than Bs, and what is going on with them; we recognise and expect that if, in certain cases, we overcome particular tractabililty problems in treating As as Bs, we will not discover recalcitrant emergent phenomena."

Reduction defined in terms of emergence. Way to go, Jody!

And a physicalist is not someone who believes that physical vocabulary is always succesfully applicable, but someone who adopts a particular methodology: treating failures of demonstrating that physical laws apply, not as having found something that the physical laws fail to apply to, but as a failure to solve intractability problems.

How do you discern an intractability problem from an inapplicability problem?
Azzouni's physicalist can never be refuted: for every problem the anti-physicalist throws in his face, he responds: not applicable, intractable!

So much for now, from me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Job: Postdoc in Logic and/or Philosophy of Science (Calgary)

The Department of Philosophy at the University of Calgary invites applications for a one-year postdoctoral fellowship starting on September 1, 2012. The area of specialization is logic or the philosophy of science. The fellow will be expected to have a well-defined research project, teach up to one course each term, and participate in the research activities of the Department. All requirements for the PhD must have been completed by the starting date and no earlier than September 2007. The stipend is $50,000 Canadian per year.  Specific inquiries about this position may be directed to:  Ali Kazmi, Head Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary akazmi@ucalgary.ca  Complete dossiers, including a cv, at least three letters of reference, a recent sample of writing, and a detailed research proposal may be sent to:  Merlette Schnell, Manager Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4 CANADA schnell@ucalgary.ca  Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. Review of the applications will begin on March 22, 2012.

CFP: Science-Policy Interactions and Social Values

UPDATE: The deadline is extended to February 15, 2012!

Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology conference on

Science-Policy Interactions and Social Values

at the University of Texas at Dallas
April 13-14th, 2012

Keynote Speaker: Kevin Elliott, University of South Carolina

The Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology seeks proposals for papers and symposia for a conference to wrap up our 2011-2012 public lecture series on "Funded and Forbidden Knowledge: Science, Politics, and Cultural Values." The conference will be interdisciplinary, engaging the areas of science and technology studies, history and philosophy of science, science and technology policy studies, ethics and political philosophy, and science policy in exploring the interactions between science and policy-making, with special attention to the role of values in those interactions.

In these areas of scholarship, several categories of discussion concerning science and policy have emerged. Some focus on the role of science in the policy process, while others look at the inverse relationship of how politics influence scientific research. Some approach the topic in a very empirically grounded and particularistic fashion, while others take a normative approach and aim for general accounts. While there have been important interdisciplinary conferences in this area, the scholarship remains somewhat disjointed and piecemeal, whereas tackling the major issues in this area requires thinking across such boundaries. This conference will emphasize that the relationship between science and politics is mutually influential rather than unidirectional; it will emphasize the importance of normative or critical approaches that are also empirically grounded in the practice of science and realities of political institutions. We seek submissions that bring to the forefront issues of values in science-policy interactions.

Suggested topics (not an exhaustive list):

 * Democratization of science
 * Evidence-based policy
 * Policy and the value-free ideal of science
 * Forms of scientific and political representation
 * Theories of scientific expertise
 * Models of science advising
 * History of science policy
 * Lessons from environmental policy-making
 * Scientific expertise and political advocacy
 * Commercialization of science and the public good
 * The aims of science and choice of research priorities
 * Science and justice in political institutions
 * Science, non-scientific views, and public reason
 * Expertise and elitism in democratic deliberation
 * Science and democracy in comparative and international contexts
 * The influence of science on ethical values, and political ideals
 * Obstacles to socially or politically responsible science

We're especially interested in proposals that cross the boundaries between already-established research programs.


You should submit your proposal to


We welcome submissions of both individual paper proposals and proposals for symposia and other multi-participant panel formats. For contributed papers, please submit a 250-500 word abstract. For symposia and other multi-participant panels, submit an abstract up to 250 words describing the panel and descriptions of up to 100 words describing each participant's contribution.

Submissions are due February 15 January 5, and decisions will be announced by early February.

Send any questions to centerforvaluesutdallas@gmail.com

Organizing Committee

Matthew J. Brown, UT Dallas - Philosophy of Science
Richard Scotch, UT Dallas - Economic, Political, and Policy Sciences
Magdalena Grohman, UT-Dallas - Psychology
Sabrina Starnaman, UT-Dallas - Literary Studies

Program Committee

Heather Douglas, University of Waterloo - Philosophy of Science, Science Policy
Kevin Elliott, University of South Carolina - Philosophy of Science, Applied Ethics
Mark B. Brown, CSU Sacremento - Political Science
Jeremy Farris, Harvard Law School - Political Philosophy

Friday, February 3, 2012

CfP: Workshop on Theoretical Virtues in Theory-Choice


University of Konstanz, 12th– 14th July 2012

Elena Castellani (Florence), Malcolm Forster (Madison), Stephan Hartmann
(Tilburg), Giora Hon (Haifa), James McAllister (Leiden), John Norton
(Pittsburgh), Samuel Schindler (Aarhus), Elliott Sober (Madison), Dana
Tulodziecki (Missouri), and Jereon van Dongen (Utrecht).

We invite submissions of abstracts (500 words) of papers of
approximately 30 minutes presentation time. The deadline for submissions
is March 15, 2012. Please upload your submissions at
https://www.easychair.org/conferences/?conf=tvtc2012. Preference will be
given to graduate students and/or female speakers. The decisions will be
announced by April 1, 2012.

Travel and accommodation costs will be (partially) defrayed by the

It is a well-known fact that theoretical virtues such as consistency,
unifying power, simplicity, coherence, fertility, and even elegance and
beauty play an important role in scientific theory-choice. Philosophers
are divided over how to interpret this. Early scientific realists held
that some theoretical virtues are epistemic virtues, but this view never
gained wide acceptance among philosophers. Instead, theoretical virtues
have long been treated as pragmatic virtues. Recent developments,
however, warrant renewed attention to theoretical virtues. In the model
selection literature, for instance, it has been argued that the
theoretical virtue of simplicity grounds the predictive power of models.
It is furthermore claimed that simplicity needs to be traded-off against
descriptive ‘fit’. That different theoretical virtues need to be
traded-off against each other is course also a claim made by T.S. Kuhn.
Kuhn furthermore held that the weight assigned to each virtue in
theory-choice very much depends on personal preferences, rendering
theory-choice a highly subjective matter. A recent application of
Arrow’s impossibility theorem to the problem of theory-choice has
invited even less optimistic conclusions than these. But is
theory-choice in science really as irrational as these considerations
seem to imply? Might the traditional realist view about theoretical
virtues being truth-conducive be resurrected in any way? Should our
theories of confirmation not reflect the import of theoretical virtues
in the practice of science? How can notoriously vague virtues such as
simplicity, coherence, and fertility be made more precise? These are
just some of the questions this workshop will try to elucidate.

The workshop is organized by Samuel Schindler (Aarhus), Giora Hon
(Haifa/Konstanz), and James McAllister (Leiden). The workshop has been
kindly sponsored by the Zukunftskolleg at the University of Konstanz.

The conference website can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/TVTC2012.

Please send any queries to samuel.schindler@ivs.au.dk.