Tuesday, October 22, 2013

SILFS 2014 – Triennial International Conference of the Italian Society for Logic and Philosophy of Sciences

Webpage: http://www.silfs.net/#442-2

On June 18-20 2014 SILFS, the Italian Society of Logic and Philosophy of Science (www.silfs.net) will hold its triennial conference at the University of Rome “Roma TRE”.

Invited speakers

Tarja Knuuttila (University of Helsinki)

Hannes Leitgeb (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

John Norton (University of Pittsburgh)


We invite submissions in all areas of logic and philosophy of science, with special attention to inter-disciplinary approaches to logical and epistemological issues and topics in the foundations of special sciences (both natural, social and human).

Every contributed speaker will have 30 minutes, including discussion. The official language of the conference is English.

Potential contributors will have to submit a title and an abstract (max 6000 characters) prepared for blind refereeing. The abstract should be submitted electronically using the EasyChair submission page at: https://www.easychair.org/conferences/?conf=silfs2014.

The deadline for submission is December 15, 2013.

Notification of acceptance: March 2014.

Scientific Committee

Roberto Arpaia (University of Bergamo)

Giovanni Boniolo (University of Milan and IFOM) Chair of the Program Committee

Giovanna Corsi (University of Bologna) Chair of the Program Committee

Massimiliano Carrara (University of Padua)

Mauro Ceruti (University of Bergamo)

Mauro Dorato (University of Rome 3) – SILFS President

Vincenzo Fano (University of Urbino)

Laura Felline (Université Catholique de Louvain)

Roberto Giuntini (University of Cagliari)

Federico Laudisa (University of Milan-Bicocca)

Sabina Leonelli ( University of Exeter)

Massimo Marraffa (University of Rome 3)

Pierluigi Minari (University of Florence)

Matteo Morganti (University of Rome 3)

Francesco Paoli (University of Cagliari)

Federica Russo (University of Ferrara)

For further information, please contact the SILFS secretary, Matteo Morganti: matteo.morganti[at]uniroma3.it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Revisiting Kuhn

I am teaching a course on scientific revolutions this term, and so I've been rereading Structure. I've also been blogging a bit about it. I previously wrote about my annoyance that the new edition has different page numbers and some reflections on recent writing about Kuhn. This post is about a thread that runs through Kuhn's discussion which, I think, gets something importantly right.

[cross-posted at Footnotes on Epicycles]

On Wednesday, we talked about Kuhn's claim that different paradigms are incommensurable, and today we talked about the considerations which might convince scientists to shift from the old paradigm to a new one. Kuhn characterizes the shift as a conversion experience, but not one that is totally unmotivated by reasons. Kuhn reviews a whole range of possible reasons, including puzzle-solving power, precision, novel prediction, and simplicity.

He insists that none of these reasons are necessarily decisive, however. He writes that
paradigm debates are not really about relative problem-solving ability.... Instead, the issue is which paradigm should in the future guide research on problems many of which neither competitor can yet claim to resolve completely. A decision between alternate ways of practicing science is called for, and in the circumstances that decision must be based less on past achievement than on future promise. (p. 156)
Because a paradigm serves to guide normal science, accepting a paradigm means committing to do normal science in that way. So the choice is forward-looking, while all of the reasons are backward-looking. So, one might say, the choice of paradigm is strategic rather than simply evidential.

While discussing this passage, I realized that the conclusion does not rely on incommensurability at all. Rather, it just relies on the problem of induction: Past performance of a paradigm provides no guarantee of future results. So proceeding with one paradigm rather than the other is a kind of gamble. Reasonable people with different hunches or different tolerance for risk might disagree about which way to go.

This allows for a philosophically conservative reading of Kuhn which accepts that revolution is different than normal science, because different paradigms would guide scientific practice in substantially different ways. The conservative reading also accepts that the choice between paradigms cannot be determined by the relevant reasons, especially during the period of crisis.

The conservative reading isn't adequate as a reading of Kuhn, because it accepts those things without any appeal to incommensurability. The change between paradigms might be like a conversion experience, as Kuhn would have it, because some strategic choices are; consider choosing a career, choosing to get married, or choosing whether or not to have children. But it might instead be a self-conscious choice, like choosing between mutual funds for your retirement account.

I think that this recommends the conservative reading as a philosophical position, even if it disqualifies it as a reading of Kuhn. The description of normal science and crisis is the really insightful part of Structure, while the stuff about incommensurability is the most problematic.

It occurs to me that what I've called here the conservative reading of Kuhn, in which underdetermination comes from the problem of induction rather than incommensurability, looks a lot like Lakatos' Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. We're doing Lakatos next week in class, so I'll see if that idea holds up.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Special Issue on Race in Biology and Anthropology

A special issue of eight articles from STUDIES IN HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGICAL AND BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES on race in biology and anthropology is now available for free downloading at the journal's website:


In the main journal, articles from the current (September 2013) issue connected with this theme include:

* A four-article special section edited by Quayshawn Spencer on whether there's a "space for race" in evolutionary biology after the mid-twentieth-century modern synthesis, with contributions from Lisa Gannett, Alan Templeton and Massimo Pigliucci
* A critical exchange between Adam Hochman and Neven Sesardic on what has and hasn't been established about race and genetics
* An essay review by Petter Hellström of a recent book on the use of genomics to reconstruct the history of world Jewry
* An essay review by Elise Juzda Smith of recent books on the theories and practices of racial science in the nineteenth century

Other articles in the issue include:

* Elliott Sober on why trait fitness is not a propensity (but fitness variation is)
* John van Wyhe on why it's OK after all to describe Darwin as the Beagle's naturalist
* Marshall Abrams versus Denis Walsh on whether natural selection is or is not a cause in its own right
* Lara Huber and Lara Keuck on how animal models in biomedicine work
* Essay reviews of recent books on everything from the decline of bloodletting to the ties that bind evolution and rationality
* Oren Harman on what to make of the growing presence of neuroscience in criminal court cases