Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CFP: Special Issue of The Monist on Powers

The Monist


Deadline for Submissions: January 31, 2010
Advisory Editor: Neil Williams, University at Buffalo (new [at] buffalo.edu)

A sewing needle is swiped across a bar magnet, then pushed through a piece of cork and dropped into a glass of water. The needle will point immediately to the nearest pole. A female moth releases a small trace of sex pheromone; immediately males of the species up to two miles away will be attracted to her. The evidence for such causal powers is all around us. And as is shown in the response to the work of authors such as George Molnar and C. B. Martin, the thought that objects might be inherently powerful is on the rise. What is the nature of such causal powers? How are they to be characterised? What place do non-powers have within power-based ontologies? To what extent can powers be explanatory? Can powers exist entirely ungrounded? Contributions are invited addressing these and connected issues about the role and nature of powers.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Spinoza; Science

Kevin Von Duuglas develops his views on Spinoza and science in his blog:

CFP: Models and Simulations 4 (University of Toronto, May, 7-9 2010)

University of Toronto
7-9 May 2010

The University of Toronto is delighted to be hosting Models and Simulations
4, the fourth in a series international conferences examining the nature and
use of scientific models and simulations across the natural and social

Scientific models and computer simulations play numerous roles in the
sciences, but as a class of tools for use in the articulation of theory,
experiment, technological design and application, and prognostication for
purposes of public policy, they have only relatively recently come under
systematic scrutiny by the community of scholars in history and philosophy
of science. The conference aims to raise and investigate important questions
about the methodology of practices of modelling and computer simulation,
providing a forum for ongoing debates and new angles of approach, on such
topics as: how models and simulations are constructed; how they are
confirmed; how they may be understood to represent and explain worldly
phenomena; how they function in cutting-edge research; and how they
influence decision making in the arena of public policy.

Proposals for papers (in the form an extended abstract) are welcome from
both philosophers and scientists. For instructions regarding submission and
information on registration, travel, and accommodation, please visit the
conference website at http://www.hps.utoronto.ca/ms4/index.htm. The
conference language is English, and all submissions will be refereed. The
submission deadline is 20 November 2009.


Anjan Chakravartty, University of Toronto
Margaret Morrison, University of Toronto

Program Committee

Anouk Barberousse, University of Paris
Robert Batterman, University of Western Ontario
Roman Frigg, London School of Economics
Stephan Hartmann, Tilburg University
Paul Humphreys, University of West Virginia
Philippe Huneman, University of Paris
Tarja Knuuttila, University of Helsinki
Ulrich Krohs, University of Hamburg
Uskali Mäki, University of Helsinki
Wendy Parker, Ohio University
Eric Winsberg, University of South Florida
Andrea Woody, University of Washington

Friday, September 25, 2009

Exciting Trends in General Philosophy of Science

I'd like to resurrect in a way a thread from February, where Gabriele posted about whether general philosophers of science are becoming an endangered species and Eric worried about the decline of general philosophy of science. I want to register a dissenting opinion; it seems to me that exciting discussions in general phil sci are on the rise, and this is one of the more exciting times to be working in general philosophy of science.

In comments, Mohan Matthen suggested that there may have been a progressive problem-shift in the area. If one defines the discipline by way of a specific set of questions, this may make it look like the discipline is in decline. I see a discipline regaining its prominence by taking on a more fruitful set of questions and projects. One direction is the move towards formal analyses. The move to engage with mainstream M&E is another. Work on mechanisms and models, insofar as it can be said to be general, is another. Here are some other new projects that interest me:
  1. History of Philosophy of Science—To me, this is a very exciting development, though perhaps the one least likely to be recognized as a proper part of general philosophy of science. We're now starting to recover the early history of the field, both the various pre-20th century influences and the 20th century movements that led to the shape of the discipline today. The work by folks like Alan Richardson, George Reisch, Thomas Uebel, Don Howard, Heather Douglas, Jordi Cat, Nancy Cartwright, Michael Friedman and others uncovering the original interests and motivations of the members of the Vienna Circle is one of the best examples. This is great for general philosophy not only because it helps us remember why these general projects were important in the first place (no small achievement!), but also because it (a) reminds us of other projects which may have largely been forgotten about and (b) shows us that there are significant differences between the "received view" of what certain projects mean and the original projects themselves.

    An example of (a) is Neurath's project of attempting to identify and help bridge "gaps" between different areas of science, which differs significantly from most familiar discussions of "intertheoretic reduction" and "unity of science" by being a more practical aid to scientists and the consumers of science. There is a related example of (b), since this goal was part and parcel of Neurath's conception of the Unity of Science movement, and these histories have uncovered that members of that movement like Neurath, Frank, and Dewey were up to something very different than what Feyerabend, Dupré, and others were attacking.

    Turning back to history can often be a source of renewal for philosophy. It can shake our assumptions, offer radically different perspectives, and spur a change of approach. Philosophers of science turning back to the history of the discipline promises to be the beginning of a renewal of the field.

  2. Values in Science—This is not exactly a new area, but it is definitely one that is receiving a new life in recent years. Talk of "cognitive values" has been around for quite a while, but in the 1970's, for suggesting that science was susceptible not only to epistemic and metaphysical analysis, but moral and political critique (among other things), Feyerabend was considered to have gone off the rails. In the 1990's, a small but important cadre of feminist philosophers insisted on important relationships between science and values. In recent years, gladly, there has been an explosion of such work. Recent work examines in detail the complex relations between science, ethics, social values, and public policy. Kitcher's Science, Truth, and Democracy is obviously a landmark work, as much as for who produced it as for its contents (though the contents, blending methods from philosophy of science and political philosophy, provides ). Putnam, Longino, Kourany, Douglas, Howard, and Martin Carrier have also made exciting contributions, and there is an exciting group of scholars coming out of Bielefeld (e.g. Justin Biddle) who are exploring such topics. One of the great discoveries of HOPOS in recent years is that many of the original logical positivists, other members of the Unity of Science movement, and the founders of the journal Philosophy of Science were strongly concerned with issues of science, values, and politics.

  3. Evidence—Beyond talking about how evidence confirms hypotheses in a general way, there has been a lot of interesting work recently on the nature of evidence. John Worrall, Nancy Cartwright, and a group of students at LSE have been doing some fantastic work on evidence for use and so-called "evidence-based policy." Work on topics like experimental evidence and robustness is another interesting case. The work of Allan Franklin, Kent Staley, and Jacob Stegenga are also good examples.

  4. Simulation—Though I haven't figured out my own views on the matter, I've been following the recent work on computer simulations with great interest. Simulations are used across a broad variety of sciences, and they may well differ in interesting way from theories, mathematical models, and experimental measurements. The work of Margaret Morrison, Wendy Parker and Eran Tal comes to mind.
So, while many traditional topics like realism, confirmation, explanation, paradigms, &c. seem to be significantly less popular, many areas seem quite vibrant!

[Thanks Gabriele and everybody for inviting me to join the blog!]

Spinoza, mathematics,

A novelist, Kevin van Duuglas, has been doing lovely work on Spinoza's optics in his very attractively designed blog.
Along the way, he has been advertising and commenting on aspects of my (contrarian) views on Spinoza's relationship with both the mechanical science of his day and his attitude toward mathematics. Leaving aside the larger issue of Spinoza's attitude toward the mechanical philosophy, on my view Spinoza is very skeptical about the application of mathematical tools to nature (in measuring or describing nature). (Letter on the Infinite provides best evidence for this claim, but it shows up elsewhere.) This can never lead to stable/secure/highest form of knowledge, it remains in the domain of imaginary (first kind of knowledge). At best he thinks mathematics plays a useful calculating role in study of nature. (On my view Spinoza is also extremely skeptical about our very ability to have knowledge of nature; Della Rocca defends a similar position but on different grounds.)
This is not to deny that Spinoza values mathematics as a topic of investigation in its own right, and finds more geometrico a useful way to present his views (although it is by no means as straightforward as folks believe). Nor is it to deny that Spinoza's views on different kinds of infinite may have inspired later mathematicians (Cantor).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Call for Contributors

It looks like we may be able to add a few new contributors to this blog. New contributors will be expected to post and comment regularly on the blog and will normally be professional philosophers who work on philosophy of science or closely related areas.

If you are interested in becoming a contributor, please send an e-mail with the subject line 'IOAT Contributor Application' to gabriele_contessa 'at' carleton.ca and attach your CV or a link to your professional website. Please note that, due to limited resources, only successful candidates will be contacted.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

CFP: FEW 2010

Call for Papers: Seventh Annual Formal Epistemology Workshop

Konstanz, September 2-4, 2010

Organized by Franz Huber (Konstanz) and Branden Fitelson (UC Berkeley)

Kindly funded by the Zukunftskolleg of the University of Konstanz and the German Research Foundation.

September 2, 2010: FE Meets Traditional Epistemology
Invited Speakers: Elke Brendel (Mainz), Hartry Field (NYU)
September 3, 2010: FE Meets Philosophy of Science
Invited Speakers: David Atkinson (Groningen), Peter Milne (Stirling), Jeanne Peijnenburg (Groningen)
September 4, 2010: Ernest W. Adams Memorial - FE Meets Logic and Philosophy of Language
Invited Speakers: Dorothy Edgington (Birkbeck), Hannes Leitgeb (Bristol), Vann McGee (MIT)

There will be 5-8 slots for presenting participants and 15-18 slots for non-presenting participants.

Every participant will be reimbursed for travel expenses. Presenting participants will also be reimbursed for lodging expenses. Non-presenting participants are offered accomodation from September 1-5, 2010, for a total of EUR 80.-

Presenting participants are required to submit a paper by e-mail to formal.epistemology@uni-konstanz.de
Non-presenting participants are required to submit a letter of motivation (at most 1 page) plus CV by e-mail to formal.epistemology@uni-konstanz.de

Submission of papers: December 31, 2009
Notification of acceptance for presentation: February 28, 2010
Submission of letter of application plus CV: March 31, 2010
Notification of acceptance for participation: May 31, 2010

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Postdocs: Center for Philosophy of Science (University of Pittsburgh)

The Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, announces two postdoctoral fellowships for the academic year 2010-2011. Each fellowship includes a $40,000 stipend with benefits. Eligible candidates must be within 5 years of the awarding of their doctorates at the time of commencement in September 2010 and must have their doctorate awarded by April 15, 2010.

Visit the Center Web site for more details about the Postdoctoral Fellows Program.

CfP: Objectivity in Science (UBC, June 17-20, 2010)

Objectivity in Science

June 17-20, 2010

University of British Columbia

Over the past two decades questions have arisen regarding the objectivity of specific projects in or fields of science: for example, can we trust medical research when it is funded by pharmaceutical companies? Or, whose research in climate science meets the standards of scientific objectivity? Such questions have become important in framing public debate about science and science policy. At the same time, the objectivity of science has become an increasingly important topic among historians and philosophers of science as well as researchers in other fields in science and technology studies (STS) such as sociology of science, rhetoric of science, and cultural studies of science. This conference seeks to advance scholarly perspectives on the objectivity of science by bringing them into conversation with one another. The conference also asks whether and how such scholarly perspectives on objectivity might or should inform public debate. The conference will investigate, moreover, how the specific concerns of scientists, science policy experts, science journalists, and other groups might be made more salient in the research of the STS community.

The goal of this conference, thus, is to provide a forum for STS researchers of diverse disciplinary backgrounds, practicing scientists, and other researchers to discuss and debate issues concerning the nature of objectivity in science. A particular concern will be to discuss how, when, and why questions of objectivity arise within science, in science policy debates, and in public engagement with science. In addition to conference sessions held during the day, this conference will feature two evening panel discussions, open to the public and focused on particular areas of research wherein the issue of scientific objectivity is particularly salient. The public panel discussions will focus on questions of objectivity in collaborative aboriginal research and in research on harm reduction.

Confirmed keynote speakers include Professor Ian Hacking (University of Toronto and the Collège de France) and Professor Naomi Oreskes (University of California at San Diego).


We welcome individual paper and panel submissions related to the theme of scientific objectivity.

Proposals for papers should include author information (including email address), paper title, and an abstract of no more than 500 words. Speakers will have 30 minutes to present and discuss their work.

Proposals for panel sessions should include the name of the panel organizer (including email), a brief description of the panel, author information, paper titles, and abstracts for each paper. Panel sessions will be ninety minutes in duration, including discussion time.

Program Committee: Alan Richardson (UBC), Robert Brain (UBC), Candis Callison (UBC), Lesley Cormack (Simon Fraser University), Flavia Padovani (UBC), and Jonathan Tsou (Iowa State University).

The deadline for paper and panel submissions is December 1, 2009. Please email submissions to Dani Hallet at: objectivity2010@gmail.com

The Objectivity in Science Conference is sponsored by the Situating Science Cluster Grant:www.situsci.ca

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reflections on the financial crisis, Neo-Liberalism, and mathematical economics

The financial crisis has cast renewed critical attention on the discipline of economics. In particular, the crisis is taken as evidence of the bankruptcy of Neo-Liberalism, often associated with Milton Friedman and the so-called "Chicago school of Economics," and the over-reliance of formal mathematical techniques in evaluating risk models for financial products.

In opposition to Keynesian economics and policies, Milton Friedman succeeded in becoming the face of economics in the second half of the twentieth century while advocating deregulation and free-markets. Nevertheless, Friedman insisted that his policy advocacy was founded on value-neutral science. He often likened the technical policy expertise of the economist with the medical advice of a physician. This argument got intertwined with cold war politics in 1976 when Friedman’s Nobel price celebrations got caught up in protests over how economists trained at The University of Chicago turned out to be the economic policy masterminds behind General Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile. The so-called ‘Chicago Boys’ self-consciously and explicitly relied on Friedman’s arguments about economic experts being like medical experts to justify their involvement in the dictatorship. (Of course, some also appealed to national duty and/or anti-Communist sentiment/arguments.) One of Friedman’s foremost critics, Orlando Letelier (a former minister under the deposed President Allende), was assassinated by Chile ’s secret police in Washington, DC, a few weeks before the Nobel ceremony. By the 1980s Chile became the laboratory for neo-Liberal policies. (In practice, this involved a lot of trial and error, but the "Washington consensus" tended to ignore this.)

The story of neo-Liberalism is rich with ironies and not only because the advocate of small government finds himself on the side of despotic dictatorship. For example, it turns out that most of the Chilean ‘Chicago Boys’ had been protégés of Friedman’s then Chicago-colleague, Arnold Harberger, not Friedman. Harberger was an early and important advocate of mathematical economics, especially welfare economics (as developed by Friedman’s rival, Paul Samuelson). By contrast, Friedman, who (together with LJ Savage) helped develop some of the mathematical tools behind a field known as portfolio theory (which forms the basis of many of the models implicated in the financial crisis), was also one of the early leading critics of econometrics and the reliance on mathematical models (such as Harberger’s) in economics. In a further twist, portfolio theory only got off the ground only after a reinterpretation of Friedman’s mathematical result by Harry Markowitz (who also won a Nobel Prize for it). One of Friedman's contributions to statistics is the Friedman rank test which one uses when you don't believe in normality. One of the technical problems with standard risk models is of course the assumption of normality. It turns out Friedman got credit for lots of ideas he opposed.

But ironies aside, while populist commentators attack financial bonuses and business-spokespeople attack regulatory failures, we ought to encourage politicians to reform the system so that we end up with structure in which private financial incentives is reasonably aligned with long-term public welfare. Meanwhile, many economists are re-examining their assumptions: many place their faith in making economics more realistic psychologically (by drawing on neuroscience and behavioral psychology). In all of this, everybody is relying on experts who are trained into thinking that when evaluating evidence values can be kept at arm’s length.

But, of course, as long as experts do not model their own role and influence on the ways models are applied in the real world and can shield themselves from potential ill effects, we are all rats in the social scientific laboratory. So, we should encourage social institutions (within education, financial regulation, bureaucracy) in which we make sure that some of the risks (in reputation and financial costs) that come from using various mathematical techniques are also felt by the folks (professors, business schools, consultants, regulators, financial analysts, etc) that promote the use of these.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Job Listing--Research Chair (updated)

Each year Ghent University (Flanders) has an international search to fill seven research-focused Chairs across all disciplines. The initial appointment is for five years with renewal for another five years (if one meets certain performance criteria). During this period one teaches one or two courses per year and one is offered funding support to appoint a PhD student. After ten years one is moved to a (tenured) appointment with regular teaching duties.
For more information (now with English version):

The English language application form is here:

The idea is to appoint productive, ambitious people with a research vision and to provide them with seed money to implement it. Part of the application process is to write a research proposal, which gets submitted to international referees.
Ghent is a lovely town. The philosophy department is thriving and growing and has particular strengths in history and philosophy of science, non-standard logics, history of science, and applied ethics (especially medical ethics).
If you are interested in exploring this opportunity, please feel free to contact me: nescio2@yahoo.com

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Thanks to the Bloggers

On August 12th, Eric posted a new comment on downward sloping demand curves. I was reminded that the original discussion occurred in the context of an "economic parable" I posted, in which I casually touted this possibility.

The ensuing discussion was lively and very interesting. I would just like to mention that the economic parable is part of a paper entitled "Drift and 'Statistically Abstractive Explanation'" which will appear in the October 2009 issue of Philosophy of Science. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who read and commented. In the published version, I specifically thank Thomas Basbøll and Eric Schliesser.