Friday, August 28, 2009

Rawls and Economics

I bet Rawls doesn't often get mentioned in philosophy of science circles. But here goes. A strain of argument in a recent review by Michael Rosen of G.A. Cohen's (idealistic) criticism of Rawls, reminded me of the importance of Rawls' engagement with economics in the 50s and 60s--the crucial years in which *A Theory of Justice* got developed. (Interestingly, some of the most immediate and insightful responses to TJ came from economists like Arrow, Harsany, Buchanan.) Rawls is deeply enmeshed in the language of welfare economics, but he engages rather broadly with moral aspects of economics and he admits he uses economics to illustrate several of his main claims. Contemporary Rawlsians have tended to move away this engagement with the practice of political economy (and science more generally). Anyway, let me turn this into a question: does anybody know of any good secondary literature on Rawls and the Economists (broadly conceived)?

4 CFPs

4 Calls for Participation
Sept 1-4, Prague: Foundations of Uncertainty
Oct 2-4, Konstanz: Explanation, Confirmation, and Prediction in Biology and Medicine
Nov 2, Konstanz: Karen Bennett (Cornell) and Branden Fitelson (UC Berkeley)
Dec 7, Konstanz: Gerhard Schurz (Düsseldorf) and Jiji Zhang (Lingnan)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Should Scientific Methods and Data be Public?

At the last Eastern APA meeting in Philly, I attended an excellent session on The Epistemology of Experimental Practices, with Allan Franklin and Marcel Weber. During the discussion, I asked whether scientific methods and data should be public – that is, whether different investigators applying the same methods to the same questions should get the same data.

Franklin argued that publicity is not necessary, because some experiments might be too difficult or expensive to replicate, and different data analyses by different groups count as different experiments. This seems pretty wrong to me.

For one thing, I got the impression that Franklin didn’t fully understand what method publicity amounts to. Publicity does not require that all experiments be replicated; only that it is possible for different investigators to apply the same methods, and if they did, then they would get the same results. (Of course, much hinges on what we mean by “possible” and who counts as an investigator; for some more details, see here.)

For another thing, it’s better to say that actual replication of experiments is often unnecessary, as Marcel Weber said. Weber pointed out that experimentalists are part of a scientific network that shares techniques and materials, so they often feel they already know what was done. Nevertheless, Weber maintained that publicity is essential to science (and is implemented in the network itself, by the sharing of techniques etc.).

In fact, in his own talk, Allan Franklin listed a number of arguments/reasons for believing the results of experiments, along the lines of those listed in his Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Experiments in Physics. All of Franklin’s reasons seem to have to do with publicity and the public validation of data.

Does anyone else have opinions on this? Should scientific methods and data be public or is this methodological principle obsolete?

I care about this because there are philosophers who have argued that introspection is a private yet legitimate method of observation, and this shows that method publicity is not necessary for science. I think this view is a disaster. If we reject method publicity, it’s not clear why we should reject all kinds of pseudo-scientific methods.

(And incidentally, I’ve also argued elsewhere that introspection is not a private method of scientific observation; rather, it’s a process of self-measurement by which public data are generated.)

(cross-posted at Brains.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

CFP: HOPOS 2010, Budapest, June 24-27

HOPOS 2010, Budapest, Hungary, June 24-27

Call for Submissions
Deadline for Submissions: December 15, 2009.
Notification Date: February 28, 2010.

The conference is open to scholarly work on the history of philosophy of science from any disciplinary perspective. Submissions of abstracts of papers of approximately 25-30 minutes' reading length, and of symposia of three to four thematically related papers will be considered for the program. The members of the Program Committee are listed below.
Submissions should be sent as an email attachment directly to the appropriate Program Sub-Committee chair, either as a Word document or PDF file.
The conference language is English.

Proposals for papers should include:
• title and abstract of the paper (maximum 500 words)
• address of the participant, including e-mail, phone, and institution

Proposals for symposia should include:
• title of symposium
• symposium summary statement (maximum 500 words)
• titles and abstracts of papers (maximum 500 words for each paper)
• address of each participant, including e-mail, phone, and institution
• identification of symposium organizer, who will serve as contact person

Program Committee:
James Lennox (Pittsburgh), Chair ‘Kant and Before’ Sub-Committee
István Bodnar ( ELTE, Budapest)
George Gale (UMKC)
Helen Hattab (Houston)
Don Morrison (Rice, Houston)
Erik Watkins (UCSD)

Martin Carrier (Bielefeld), Chair ‘Post-Kant’ Sub-Committee
Jean Gayon (Paris)
Don Howard (Notre Dame)
David Hyder (Ottawa)
Jutta Schickore (Indiana)
Friedrich Stadler (Vienna)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Downward sloping demand curves (?)

A while back on this blog there was some discussion of the nature of the demand curve in economics. I claimed that economists rather dogmatically insist it is downward-sloping. (To be sure, it had once been a matter of considerable debate, but views seem to have hardened on it post WWII.)
Anyway, recently I was emailing with a bright economist PhD student, David Wiczer, at Illinois. He recounted a discussion he had with a co-author (it has some jargon but the main point should be clear enough):
"We were pretty convinced that it implies we can’t just estimate reduced form models and expect the coefficients to stay fixed, that is the same negative slope on a demand equation doesn’t hold between different contexts, but beyond this, we were pretty unsure where to go.
Finding “true” forms for these relations is fraught, as exemplified by a debate right now about how labor and output respond to news of productivity increases. On the one side, a set of models has it the people work more because new technology makes their wage go up, on the other there’s an effect that labor input goes down and there’s a recession because some friction either in the firm’s demand for labor or household demand for leisure (i.e. supply). I guess the point is that these demand and supply curves are very difficult to pin down, and our understanding the data that should suggest their form is itself in flux. There’s a nice line a Francis Ramey paper on the subject, discussing the proper model to study technology shocks and business cycles:
“It is interesting to note that the first of these models had been previously dismissed in the literature because the implied negative correlation between technology and labor was ‘counterfactual.’ The previous empirical results [their VARs] suggest that the model’s predictions are completely in line with the ‘facts.’”
As a student who’s spent most of his life receiving truth and wisdom put on a chalk board, this is an exciting realization: not only am I ignorant, but so is everyone else."

So, I am glad to correct myself: there is empirical discussion of the demand curve in economics (again). These are exciting times to be following the economics discipline. Because of the implosion of financial markets last year and the recession based on it, there is a lot more willingness to question foundational principles.

PhilPapers General Philosophy of Science Category Structure

The category structure of the General Philosophy of Science area at PhilPapers is undergoing some changes and I'd like to get some feedback from readers about the current category structure.

In particular:

  1. Are there any notable absences?
  2. Are there any superfluous categories?
  3. Would you put any subcategory under a different category or cross-list it somewhere else?
(I answer 'yes' to both 1 and 2 but I'm curious to hear what readers of this blog think)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Two Doctoral Studentships in Bristol

There will be two doctoral studentships as part of the AHRC funded Structuralism project hosted by the Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol (Principal Investigator: James Ladyman).
These fully funded three year studentships are in the following areas:
(1) The student will investigate formal and philosophical aspects of the dependence of the identity and distinctness of entities on other entities. The notions of dependence that are operative here will be considered in terms of abstraction principles and identity criteria.
(2) The student will investigate the status of individuals in physics in the light of recent work by Müller and Saunders on weak discernibility, and Ladyman and Leitgeb on primitive contextual individuality. The student will expand the terms of the debate to take account of field theories, and consider the implications for structural realism.
Further details will be advertised soon but the deadline for applications is expected to be 1st September 2009.
Professor James Ladyman
Department of Philosophy
University of Bristol
9 Woodland Road
Bristol BS81TB
0117 9287609

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Workshop: The Effect of Causality (August 7-8, 2009, Amsterdam)

On August 7-8, the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences hosts a workshop on methodological and philosophical aspects causality. There are still a few places available.

Program Academy Colloquium
"The effect of causality: State of the art, open problems, and future directions"
Kloveniersburgwal 9, Amsterdam, on 7 and 8 August 2009

August 7
8.30 - 8.45 Opening
8.45 - 9.45 Clark Glymour, Carnegie Mellon University
9.45 - 10.45 Rolf Steyer, University of Jena
10.45 - 11.00 Coffee break
11.00 - 12.00 Mark Steyvers, University of California at Irvine
12.00 - 13.30 Lunch
13.30 - 14.30 David Cox, University of Oxford
14.30 - 15.30 Giovanni Marchetti, University of Florence
15.30 - 16.00 Coffee break
16.00 - 17.00 Julian Reiss, Erasmus University Rotterdam
17.00 - 18.00 Drinks
18:00 Dinner

August 8
9.30 - 9.45 Opening
9.45 - 10.45 Nancy Cartwright, London School of Economics
10.45 - 11.00 Coffee Break
11.00 - 12.00 Michael Lee, University of California at Irvine
12.00 - 13.30 Lunch
13.30 - 14.30 Nanny Wermuth, University of Gothenborg
14.30 - 15.30 David Lagnado, University College London
15.30 - 16.00 Coffee Break
16.00 - 17.00 Michael Eichler, Maastricht University
17.00 - 18.00 Drinks

The workshop is free of charge, but registration is required, and there are only few places left. Make sure to register as soon as possible if you want to attend, by sending an email to See for further details.

CFP: The Future of Philosophy of Science (April 14-16, 2010, Tilburg)

I guess this will be of interest to many readers:


Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science

14-16 April 2010


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, other 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. 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. We invite contributions that combine cutting-edge individual research with a general perspective on the methods and future of philosophy of science.

We invite submissions of extended abstracts of 1000 to 1500 words by 15 November 2009. Decisions will be made by 15 December 2009.

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS: Michael Friedman (Stanford), Christopher Hitchcock
(Caltech), Hannes Leigeb (Bristol), and Samir Okasha (Bristol)

ORGANISERS: Mark Colyvan (Sydney), Paul Griffiths (Sydney), Stephan Hartmann
(Tilburg) and Jan Sprenger (Tilburg)

PUBLICATION: Selected papers will be published in a special issue of
European Journal for the Philosophy of Science (subject to the usual
refereeing process). The submission deadline is 1 July 2010. The maximal
paper length is 7000 words.

GRADUATE FELLOWSHIPS: A few travel bursaries for graduate students are
available (up to 200 Euro). If you wish to be considered please submit a CV
and a travel budget in addition to your extended abstract.

The conference language is English.