Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CFP: 27th Boulder HPS Conference (Boulder, September 2011)

Call For Papers: The 27th Boulder Conference on the History and Philosophy of Science

University of Colorado at Boulder

September 23rd – 25th, 2011

The Boulder Conference on the History and Philosophy of Science is an annual event focusing on a key topic in history and philosophy of science. Special invitations are extended to scholars in the Colorado area, but national and international participants are equally welcome.

This year’s topic is: History and Philosophy of Physics

Keynote speakers:

Daniel Kennefick (Department of Physics, University of Arkansas)

Laura Ruetsche (Department of Philosophy, University of Michigan)

Papers on any aspect of the history or philosophy of science are encouraged. Since the conference focus this year will be on history and philosophy of physics, some preference will be given to papers that focus on topics related to either of those areas.

To be considered for the program, either submit a completed paper with short abstract, or an extended (up to 1000 words) abstract. (Graduate students are asked to submit a completed paper.)

Any questions may be directed to one of the two conference organizers: Allan Franklin (Department of Physics, allan.franklin@colorado.edu) or Bradley Monton (Department of Philosophy, monton@colorado.edu). Submissions are due by 15 July 2011 and should be sent as an email attachment ( in .doc or .pdf format) to both Professors Franklin and Monton. Acceptances will be announced by 1 August 2011.

Graduate students are encouraged to submit for the program; those whose papers are accepted will receive a modest stipend of $100 to help offset expenses.

The Committee on the History and Philosophy of Science at University of Colorado at Boulder is cosponsored by the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, the Center for the Humanities and the Arts, and by the following University of Colorado Departments: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Geological Sciences; History; Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology; Philosophy; Mathematics; and Physics.

Conference: Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science (Toronto, May 2011)

13-15 May 2011, University of Toronto

For a registration information and a tentative program, see:

The philosophy of science has an illustrious history of attraction and
antipathy towards metaphysics. The latter was famously exemplified in
the Logical Positivist contention that metaphysical questions are
meaningless, but in the wake of the demise of Positivism, metaphysics
has found its way back into the philosophy of science. Increasingly,
questions about the nature of natural laws, kinds, dispositions, and
so on have taken a metaphysical cast. The metaphysics of science
commands significant attention in contemporary philosophy.

While many philosophers embrace the increased contact between
metaphysics and the philosophy of science, others are wary. Should
science (and its philosophical study) lead us into doing metaphysics?
If so, which metaphysical issues are genuine and which are illusory,
and how might we tell? Such questions dovetail with similar soul-
searching in metaphysics proper (sometimes under the banner of "meta-
metaphysics", sometimes simply as methodology).

This conference will examine ground-level debates about metaphysics
within the philosophy of physics and the philosophy of biology, and
broader methodological questions about the role of metaphysics in the
philosophy of science. Participation is open and welcome from all
parties to these questions: from those who hold that metaphysics must
have a place within the philosophy of science, to those who hold it
should not.

Craig Callender (University of California, San Diego)
Anjan Chakravartty (University of Toronto)
Katherine Hawley (University of St. Andrews)
Jenann Ismael (University of Arizona)
James Ladyman (University of Bristol)
Kyle Stanford (University of California, Irvine)
Michael Strevens (New York University)
C. Kenneth Waters (University of Minnesota)
Robert Wilson (University of Alberta)

Chris Haufe (University of Chicago)
Matthew H. Slater (Bucknell University)
Zanja Yudell (California State University, Chico)

Please direct general conference inquiries to mpsc2011@gmail.com

Presented by the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science
and Technology, University of Toronto and the Fishbein Center for the
History of Science and Medicine, University of Chicago

Friday, March 25, 2011

Truth Be Told

Truth Be Told is the name of a conference on truth in Amsteram, which has just finished. The idea was to make philosophers and logicians interact about truth. Old Jaakko Hintikka, Hartry Field and Paul Horwich crossed swords. Hannes Leitgeb, Volker Halbach, Leon Horsten, Pascal Engel, Wolfgang Hinzen, Albert Visser, John Collins and Michael Sheard were the other invited speakers. Some interesting contributed papers topped it off. Wednesday-evening was the annual E.W. Beth Lecture, provided by Hartry Field.

So how did it go, this interaction? Mwah. Albert Visser noted that both philosophers of truth and logicians who work on truth in their respective discourse follow their own inner melodies. Nonetheless Visser made serious attempts to teach philosophers lessons based on a high-brow stuff concerning non-standard satisfaction and a fearful world without induction --- The Great Equaliser. One take home message was the distinction between syntactic and semantic conservativeness, two notions that do not coincide but are related. Conservative extensions can be very strong. So when Deflationists claim that the T-theory should be conservative in order to express precisely what the 'non-substantiveness' of the T-pred consists in, they bet on the wrong horse. Moreover, it is well-known that the T-pred is not conservative (work of Jeff Ketland comes to my mind). Volker Halbach commented that a more limited conservativeness result should be aimed for, proof-theoretical in nature. Horwich at one point said that Deflationism consists of only the T-schema and some restrictions to avoid liar-troubles. What kind of predicate the T-pred is, must follow from the T-schema. No additional principles ought to be added such as to which kinds of predicate the T-pred belongs.

Visser also had bad news for Davidsonians. Tarski's commutation conditions do not yield alpha-conversion in non-inductive contexts. Take that! Truth behaves like satisfaction in inductive contexts only. Sensitivity on syntax comes to the fore only in non-inductive contexts. Induction hides the essence ... How worried Davidsonians need to be was not entirely clear to me.

Suppose a philosopher of truth says: I am interested in truths about the world, in how the world makes propositions true. The world is not 'the standard model' of my theories, scientific and common-sense, it is the only model that matters. So who cares about non-standard models?
Here the Lewisian may say: other possible worlds are other 'models', you need them to. What if you reject possible worlds?

Volker Halbach discussed various proposals how to restrict the T-schema to avoid paradox. Typing? Grounding? T-positive sentences? The last-mentioned was Halbach's way. Not conservative! Halback bited to dust and gave up conservativity. Commentator Bruni recalled that classical logic plus expressibility of elementary facts about T-pred blows up! We can't have it all. Something's got to give ...

Leitgeb did set-theory all over again but now as a theory of propositional functions. Typefree semantics to avoid all paradoxes was the reward. Aboutness entered the stage. The commentator remarked there is little difference between Leitgeb's theory and ZFC + T-pred. There you go. We also have a firm intuition about collections and its iterative conception as codified (to some extent) in ZFC, whereas we have nothing corresponding in Leitgeb's theory. Aboutness is the converse of membership, Leitgeb responded.

Field's Beth Lecture on 'Property Theory and the Foundations of Mathematics' was slightly disappointing. A modest layer of property theory on set-theory was his aim. What for? Realms for non-classical logic opened up, then. Fine. So we can do constructive math in the new layer? Fields wanted a serious conditional, which is one that is reflexive and yields modus ponendo ponens. Ties with his theory of truth presumably were in the background, but remained there.

Hintikka asked Who is afraid of Alfred Tarski? His ghost was spotted outside ... Hintikka's familiar song of IF-logic was sung, with rasping voice I must add, because a 1st-order language behaves such that a definition of the T-pred is impossible, as Tarski has taught us. No set-theory for Hintikka. But what is the range of his function-quantifiers in his game-theoretical semantics of IF-logic, then? So asked commentator Sean Welsh. 'For some' means 'Find one', was Hintikka's constructivist-like answer, and further he could reduce a Sigma 1-1 fragment of 2nd-order logic to IF-logic, in order to have his cherished quantifiers. Ho do you like them apples! The semantics of the quantifiers of his IF-logic remains however an open if not unsolvable problem. Few like these apples, I'm afraid. On other occaisons Hintikka promulgated a new Hilbert Programme for the foundations of mathematics, based on IF-logic. Not this time.

Talk about trustworthy and untrustworthy informers by Micheal Sheard was VERY accessible and rather unsatisfactory. He defined a trustworthy sourse as someone who gives you sentences that are consistent with your own beliefs. But they need not be true? Against another the informer may become untustworthy. When starting from a false belief and hearing a true one, one can revise. Beautiful co-organiser Theodora Achourioti slapped Shear around a bit in this vein. Belief-revision strangely seemed beyond Sheard's horizon. Revise, please.

A contributed paper by a Gang of Four defined tolerant and strict truth. New possibilities opened up. Their system ST+ is a conservative extension of classical logic. Without abandoning classical logic, paradoxes could be avoided due to failure of transtitivity of the strong-tolerant satisfaction relation.

Field's talk about Naive Truth Theories was in my judgment much better than his Beth Lecture.
Acceptance Logic, Paraconsistent Dialethism, Paracompleness, the near miss of Lukasiewicz system L-aleph-0 and the search for something weaker, but stronger than Strong Kleene. Commentator Speck came up with Silence Logic. The equivalence of L-aleph-0\U (where U is one axiom) and BCK was reported (I have forgotten what 'BCK' stands for, sorry).
A paracomplete truth theory with a BCK condition seemed the latest thing for Field.
Acceptence Logic yielded also a novel argument against LEM (Law Excl. Middle).

Leon Horsten talked about truth-hierarchies in Field's theory and the Revision Theory of Truth.
They are close. The Revenge Liar remains a problem for both theories. Horsten judged Kripke-Fefermann simpler than Rev. Theory. Ineffable liars. Stable truth, nearly stable truth and ultimate truth. Give it to me, Leon ...

Wolfgang Hinzen presented a theory about grammar at the speed of sound. Aristotle had it right when he said in De Interpretatione that ''falsity and truth have to do with combination and separation''. Only context-dependence has to be added. The T-predicate is a grammatical predicate, Hinzen argued. Our inclination to adher to the T-schema is a consequence of the grammar of language (broadly construed, so as to include the T-predicate) and can be analysed; therefor it is an unalysable starting point, as Deflationists hold. Lexical differences are unimportant. Because the T-pred is grammatical, it is not substantive, as Deflationists claim.

An equivocation seems to occur: Deflationists maintain that the T-schema is the basis for all philosophical explanations of 'truth-phenomena'. This is not in contradiction to analysing the T-schema grammatically. I asked Hinzen what then the grammar of intuitionists, constructivists and all other humans is who
reject LEM --- for LEM is a consequence of the T-schema, plus Tr(not-p) implies Fa(p). Hinzen promised me he was going to think about this.

Pascal Engel argued against Alethic Pluralism, the thesis there are many kinds of truths, over and above kinds of propositions and accompanying kinds of truth-conditions; he focussed on the norm of belief, debating with absent Lycan. Truisms about truth (Swiss army knife: Engel is stationed in Geneva nowadays) are substantial, so truth must be substantial too, right?

The finale was Paul Horwich's undermining diagnosis of truth-relativism: we don't need it, we only need Deflationism. Horwich argued that truth-relativism originates in inflationary intuitions. Relativist theses are relational statements and they are true or false, in line with the T-schema. No independent relative-truth concept is needed. An otiose product of misunderstandings about truth. WHAM!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Textbook Question

[cross-posted at Choice & Inference]

Quick question: I’m excited to be teaching a course on “Reasoning and Rational Decision Making” this fall. The department’s brief course description is as follows:
Analyzing and evaluating arguments, basic logical framework, Aristotelian logic and beginning logic of sentences, fallacies, fundamentals of probability, decision theory, and game theory.
There are no prerequisites, and students taking this course are typically getting their first glimpse at logic. Clearly, expecting students to develop a thorough understanding of, and facility with, Aristotelian logic, propositional logic, probability theory, decision theory, and game theory in a course like this would be to expect too much. Thus, my larger goal for this course will be to give them a very basic understanding of the workings and objectives of basic formal logic, probability theory, and decision theory. I’ll try to spark their interests in these formal theories by showing how they can be applied to the study of human reasoning and by exploiting some fallacies, paradoxes, and the like that arise when we apply them in this way. If I have students who want to take upper-level courses in any of these formal areas as a result of my course, I’ll be very happy.

So that tells you a bit about the course and how I want to approach it. Now the question: What textbook(s) might be appropriate for a course like this? It would be ideal if there was a text that covered the basics of each of these formal theories (at a very introductory level) and does some philosophy of logic too — discussing the relation and application of the theories to human reasoning. I like Hacking’s intro to probability and inductive logic, but I would like something that spends more time on basic deductive logic … and I’d like more ideas anyway. What do you all think?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Theoryladenness Dusseldorf

Last week was a two-day conference on Theoryladenness of Experience (10-11 March 2011) at Dusseldorf, Germany, oganised by a.o. Ioannis Votsis (whose front teeth obtain information about the kind of dentists that populate the island of Cyprus). Philosophers of science, cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind and perception gathered. The phrase cognitive impenetrability is the thing nowadays, that much is certain and I have taken home. The very early stages of visual perception seem to be cognitive impenetrable, from which we may conclude that they are not theoryladen. Since in science we are only interested in observation reports, describing at best the propositional content of a perceptual mental state of a creature that has mastered a language at the end of the visual process, the mentioned finding seems to me irrelevant for philosophy of science.

Frequently the philosopher of science is presented with findings in cognitive science with the message that these findings surely are relevant for philosophy of science. But how? How precisely does which result affect which discussion or thesis in philosophy of science? Making that connexion is hard work. No one seems willing to perform it. Who should perform it?

The topic was raised that actual observation plays no major part in current science, which thrives on data gathering and data mining. Looking for the n-th time at the Meyer-Lyner illusion, duck-rabbits, bitch/witch (sorry, young lady/old woman) makes me feel sad. What has that got to do with science? Who cares about observation except zoologists?

Martin Kush gave an excellent talk about the microscope and its role in the strife about reality in the context of constructive empiricism. Bring in the realism debate and passions run high.

There were other informative talks, but see the opening paragraph of this post. Finally I mention Gerhard Schurz's learning an observational predicate, which in the end did not differed that much from my logical analysis of the concept of theory-ladenness. What this analysis results in? You had to be there ...

Charming Alan Franklin was there, who can see elementary particles with his bare eyes. His stories about visiting Karl Popper with Michael Redhead, marrying 4:15 hours in the morning because of his astrological wife, encounters with black bears, and his remark that he is more trusted as a referee than as an author were the crown of an enjoyable conference.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kuhn and the Ashtray Argument

In case anyone out there still doesn't know, the New York Times is publishing a five-part series by film-maker Errol Morris about his days as a grad student at Princeton supervised by Thomas Kuhn.
I must confess I'm having a hard time believing the ashtray anecdote related in Part One (if only because the ashtray-throwing Kuhn reminds me a bit too much of the poker-brandishing Wittgenstein) but at least it makes for an entertaining reading.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

CFP: PSX2—2nd International Workshop on the Philosophy of Scientific Experimentation (Konstanz, October 2011)

PSX2—2nd International Workshop on the Philosophy of Scientific Experimentation

University of Konstanz, 21 – 22 October 2011


Experiments play an essential part in science. Not only are they used to test theories but they are also key to exploring new phenomenological realms, discovering new effects and phenomena. Nevertheless, experiments are still an underrepresented topic in main stream philosophy of science. The PSX workshop series therefore wants to give a home to philosophical interests in and concerns about experiment. Among the questions we want to discuss are the following: How is experimental practice organized, around theories or around something else? How independent is experimentation from theories? Does it have a life of its own? Can experiments undermine the threat posed to the objectivity of science by the thesis of theory-ladenness, underdetermination, or the Duhem-Quine thesis? What are the important similarities and differences between experiments in different sciences? What are the experimental strategies scientists use for making sure that their experiments work correctly? How are phenomena discovered or created in the laboratory? Is experimental knowledge epistemically more secure than observational knowledge? Can experiments give us good reasons for belief in theoretical entities? What role do computer simulations play in the assessment of experimental background noise? How trustworthy are they? Do they warrant the same kind of inferences as experimental knowledge?

Keynote speakers:
Deborah Mayo, Virginia Tech
Wendy Parker, Ohio University

We invite submissions of extended abstracts (1000 words) of papers of approximately 30 minutes presentation time. Please include your name, the title of the paper, your academic affiliation and your e-mail address in the submission. The deadline for submissions is June 1, 2011. Please direct your submissions to http://www.easychair.org/conferences/?conf=psx2. The decisions will be announced by July 15, 2011.

Organizing Committee: Samuel Schindler (chair), Allan Franklin, Deborah Mayo, John D. Norton, Wendy Parker, Slobodan Perovic, Marcel Weber.

Questions can be directed to samuel.schindler@uni-konstanz.de.

UWO Speaker Series Live-Streamed

The Rotman Institute of Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario is now live-streaming (some of?) their Speaker Series talks. Videos of Philip Kitcher's talk from last October is on their website. The next speaker in the Series is Kyle Stanford (UC Irvine). His lecture, 'The Difference Between Ice Cream and Nazis', will be live-streamed here on March 4 at 3:30pm EST.
This sounds like a wonderful idea. It would be great if more departments and research centers were able to do the same.