Thursday, June 18, 2009

New Journal: "European Journal for Philosophy of Science" (EJPS)

Stathis Psillos announces a new journal on PHILOS-L:
"The Steering Committee of the European Society for Philosophy of Science (EPSA) are pleased to announce that a new journal with the title "European Journal for Philosophy of Science" (EJPS) has been established. EJPS is the official journal of EPSA and is published by Springer. The Editor-in-Chief is Carl Hoefer (Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain) and the deputy editor is Mauro Dorato (University of Rome III, Italy). Franz Huber (Konstanz, Germany) Edouard Machery (Pittsburgh, USA), Michela Massimi (London, UK), Samir Okasha (Bristol, UK) and Jesús Zamora (UNED, Spain) are Associate Editors. The first issue of EJPS is due to appear in January 2011. Members of EPSA will get the journal as part of the membership to
EPSA (current rate 40 Euros per year)."

This is splendid news, and I congratulate EPSA. (I have some knowledge of HOPOS' efforts to start a journal [news about that shortly], so I applaud the efforts by Stathis and EPSA.) It's great that they manage to keep the price down (a real concern with Springer journals). Let's wish they can create high standards and obtain a high ESF ranking.
But Stathis, shouldn't you have announced this first here?
Now for the sociological observation: Hoefer and Dorato both have a US PhD and have some HPS sensibilities. Not what I would have predicted (but no surprise about that).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What should philosophers of science know about philosophy of mathematics?

I am working on a survey article on "Philosophy of Mathematics" for the forthcoming Continuum Companion to Philosophy of Science, edited by French and Saatsi. In the article I aim to give philosophers of science some orientation on the debates within philosophy of math that can be intimidating to the uninitiated. But I would also like to highlight some topics that clearly fall into a common area between philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics, but which are typically pursued in isolation by one specialist or another. Here I am thinking of debates about the role of mathematics within science and what this tells us about mathematics and/or science. A central instance of this is the indispensability argument for platonism about mathematics. While this has been an ongoing debate in philosophy of mathematics for 30 years, the debate is not informed by contemporary philosophy of science. See, for example, the ongoing debate about mathematical explanation of physical phenonomena. At the same time, philosophers of science seem to not have much to say about (i) whether mathematics is indispensable to our best science in some interesting sense or (ii) what this might show about science if it is true.

Any suggestions for other debates in this common area of interest between philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics? Any suggestions for how to close this gap between two areas of contemporary philosophy?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More on chapter 1 of Every Thing Must Go (2)

Let me continue with some critical notes on Ladyman & Ross, Every Thing Must Go, chapter, 1. I will number where I left off.

6. (p. 28): I like that R&L (et al) argue from the specialization/division of labor within the sciences and demand for efficiency to a role for metaphysics as 'critically elucidating consilience networks accross the sciences'; shortly thereafter (30ff), they draw on Kitcher's work on unification to spell out what they mean with this phrase. But what I don't get is why they think this argument allows them to rule out competing tasks for metaphysics.

7. (p. 28): Given that R&L insist that metaphysics must in an important sense be constrained by science, they need a criterion to demarcate science from non-science. Amazingly, they opt for "solely institutional norms" (in terms of "institutional error filters"). But they don't consider that these may be a necessary condition for a body of practices and beliefs to be scientific, but by no means a sufficient condition. They are blind to the fact that, especially after success of Kuhn's Structure, a lot of disciplines dressed themselves up with a lot of scientific institutions and insisted on a sole paradigm (etc), stampinging out dissent. There is plenty of what one may call 'zombie' science to go around (they look like science, but produce junk). R&L et al forego any critical evaluation of the epistemic success of these institutions and show a remarkable lack of curiousity in the body of research that empirically investigates institutional error filters in practice. It is especially ironic that they claim "a naturalistic demarcation principle should be based on reference to criteria that are empirically observed to regulate the practices of science" (33)! Yet, they do not want to hear about these practices at all. Instead they use a proxy, "fundable research" (34). They certainly would not want to hear about funding practices.

8. (29): R&L offer a "non-positivist version of verificationism". It has two components: "First, no hypothesis that the approximately consensual current scientific picture declares to be beyond our capacity to investigate should be taken seriously. Second, any metaphysical hypothesis that is to be taken seriously should have some identifiable bearing on the relationship between at least two relatively specific hypothesis that are either regarded as confirmed by institutionally bona fide current science or are regarded as motivated and in principle confirmable by such science." I am not going to kvetch about wording of these two aspects. (R&L admit that there is plenty to complain about.) I wonder how this leaves enterprises that want to unify two distinct domains of science mathematically, but without offering new empirical content (or empirical content to be found in dimensions unavailable to us). It looks to me that this verificationism rules out much effort, say, to connect GR and QM. Also, why *two* hypotheses? Why not develop implications of one? Or why not demand, a minimum of three?

9. (36): R&L wish to exclude metaphysical projects "that are primarily motivated by anthropocentric (for example, purely engineering driven) ambition, as opposed to ambitions anchored around attempts to determine the objective structures in nature." It's nice to see pure/applied distinction so unabashedly affirmed. Yet, I wonder how they evaluate research in the bio-life sciences, where the *funding* agencies have their eyes firmly on the potential medical/technological spin-offs.

10 (36): according to R&L metaphysics should not be motivated by engineering practices. Tell that to three of the best analytic, naturalistic works in philosophy of science/metaphysics: *On the Origin of Objects* by Brian Cantwell Smith; *Re-Enginering Philosophy for Limited Beings* by Bill Wimsatt; John Haugeland's classic work on *Artificial Intelligence*. Only Haugeland is mentioned (as a reader of Dennett, 199), although R&L are blind to Haugeland's important criticism of Dennett's project. (Disclaimer, I was a student of both Haugeland and Dennett at one point or another.) This is to say, Ross & Ladyman are breathtakingly parochial.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Suppressing Causally Relevant Factors in the Special Sciences

Can I beg your indulgence? Here is a little parable (712 words). It is meant to undermine Hempel's requirement of maximal specificity in IS-explanation. I would be very interested to know how people react to it:

"Imagine an economist interested in the price elasticity of demand. She finds that price changes have different effects on demand for different kinds of commodity. For necessities such as staple food items, it has very little effect; for small conveniences such as dry-cleaning, the effect of price increases is linear; for luxury items with pretensions of exclusivity, it is inverted – the higher the price, the greater the demand – and so on. She also discovers that hitherto overlooked transaction-factors are relevant: elasticity takes on different values in business-to-business transactions, in on-line purchases, and so forth. Such additional determinants would interest our economist – though she may not have been aware of or interested in different categories of transaction until they turned up in her surveys, such factors are relevant to her question. She is interested in a complete economic theory of price elasticity, not just in some pre-selected set of factors. Her discipline defines the relevant features by its methodology; she does not define them by idiosyncratic interests.

"Let’s suppose that at a certain point in her investigation, the economist has discovered all the economic determinants – even those that she did not anticipate at first. But she has also stumbled upon a non-economic factor involved in some sales transactions. Say, for instance, that for reasons having to do with colour perception, some women’s willingness to tolerate a higher cost varies with the colour and size of the font in which the price of an item is displayed and with the kind of light shining on the price ticket. (Many women are more sensitive to colour differences than men.) In different stores, where the price happens to be displayed differently, price increases affect demand differently on average, because women are differently affected.

"I conjecture that the economist will not count this as an admissible factor. The effect arises situationally; it may vary simply with the prevailing light at different times of day, and with the purely accidental use of different price-tickets in different stores. Such accidental variation has nothing to do with the kinds of interaction that the economist is trying to understand. It affects elasticity, but to include its effects would distort the economist’s understanding of the transactional influences she is investigating. Because this data is irrelevant from her point of view; the economist would average over the perceptual variations – or perhaps even “correct for” them as government economic statisticians correct for seasonal variation in unemployment rates – rather than building them into her model. Of course, she may change her mind about this: she, or economists in general, may come to think that perceptual oddities are actually of economic interest (just as they have recently come to believe that the psychological oddities of consumers are of economic interest). However this may be, the point that I wish to make here is that there are usually some factors of this sort in the “special sciences” – factors that make a causal difference to the explanandum, but are deemed outside of the concern of the investigator.

"A moment ago, I mentioned “averaging over” perceptual variation. This is what I mean. The economist is trying to predict demand: this is the outcome that interests her. Her model predicts how demand varies with price, given certain other characteristics of transactions. Let C be a type or class of transactions that are indistinguishable from an economic point of view. Every transaction in C is, in other words, the same as every other with respect to the factors that interest our economist. The demand for a commodity will be the sum of the demand for it in various types of transaction. However, within a given type, demand will depend (in part) on how transactions happen to be influenced by the perceptual factors just mentioned. The economist ignores this variation in C: she simply lumps these transactions together, and calculates elasticity for C as an average over different modes of display, men and women, and different lighting conditions. In this manner, the economist tolerates a source of variation in instances of C. Consequently, elasticity is predicted only probabilistically. Given an increase of price, there is a probability function associated with various values of demand for C. Some of that uncertainty comes from a suppression of a causally relevant, but theoretically inadmissible, factor."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Notes to Every Thing Must Go

This Summer I am reading Ladyman & Ross (et al) *Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized* (OUP, 2007) in a reading group with the eminent philosopher of physics, Fred Muller (and hopefully a few others who did not show up for our discussion of the long polemical first chapter) in Amsterdam. Ladyman & Ross are preaching to the choir with us; we enjoyed having a spade being called a spade (surely Kim and Lewis deserve some flack! But why make fun of Andreas Hutteman?). But although we enjoyed the unabashed admiration of Russell, Nagel, and Hume, to our surprise we found plenty of problems with the book. Anyway, perhaps some of my notes may stimulate discussion. I'll number them.
1. (p. 16): The role of mathematics has a funny status in the argument in three ways.
1A: I wonder how L&R view philosophy/metaphysics of mathematics. Is the question, 'what is a number' illegitimate metaphysics? I don't see how it contributes to unification of the sciences, so probably not.
1B: Mathematics is somehow listed with the sciences in contrast to a priori metaphysics. But a large chunk of a priori metaphysics is motivated by developments in (modal) logic. Do L&R tacitly distinguish between mathematics (good) and modal logic (bad)? Do they just deny modal realism? Now while I am suspicious of possible world semantics (etc), what if it turned out to be heuristically fruitful for further developments in modal logic to accept metaphysically robust theses? Should we rule it out?
1C: Many of their arguments against far-fetched metaphysics may also be directed at topics in mathematics (the vast majority?) that have no hope of ever being applied to our world. Why can't we be tolerant of a priori metaphysics in the same way we are tolerant of much of mathematics?
2 (p21): L&R are against abstract composition ("philosophical fetish") and mereology more generally; I applaud them. (I have never understood why folks abandon set theory for mereology.) Yet, given their goal for naturalistic metaphysics (increasing unification/explanation), it looks like they rule out a very promising naturalistic enterprise: creating a taxonomy or classification of "composition relations studied by the special sciences." This does not increase unification, but it might well expose fundamental structural similarities. It is funny that structural realists are blind to alternative ways of doing naturalistic metaphysics.
3 (p22): a nit-pick (or typo). They distinguish between laws of functional interdependence and statements of regularities. Aren't these the same? Perhaps they meant to distinguish between laws of functional interdependence and statements of causal regularities (this is suggested by context).
4 (p23): I am all for criticizing Australian arm-chair naturalistic (physicalist) metaphysics. But is Armstrong really silly for thinking that everything that exists is in space and time? Spacetime may well be emergent from some more fundamental structure, but this is still very much at the level of speculation. It looks like L&R sometimes use the appeal to 'science' or 'physics' to promote controversial and contested views. (A propos, 4B: the criticism of Armstrong is ironic, because L&R spend a lot of time bashing emergentist theories.)
5 (p26): one line of attack on analytic metaphysics is the claim that scientists have no reason to be interested in it (it is often implied that it is embarrassing, laughable, etc). But surely, scientists have no reason to be interested in structural realism either? (Not to mention debates over structural realism!)

Next time more, with special comment on the delicious irony that the enemies of naturalistic metaphysics are bashed for their A-Level chemistry/physics, while the edifice of Ladyman & Ross rests on...a (knowingly) naive sociology of science.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Draft: Structure and Representation

I finally got around uploading a draft of my my monstruously long two-part paper 'Structure and Representation', which some of you are already familiar with (Part I can be downloaded from here and Part II from here).

In the paper, I defend an (I think rather unorthodox) version of the so-called structuralist account of representation. I'd really appreciate comments (either here or by e-mail) from anyone who finds the time and the courage to go through it, especially since the paper will form the basis for one of the chapters of my book on "scientific" representation, which is now officially under contract with Palgrave Macmillan as part of their new series New Directions in Philosophy of Science edited by Steven French.