Understanding Society

Tilburg University has been a reliable provider of high-quality education and research for more than eighty years. We specialize in the social sciences and humanities and we seek to make a structural contribution to society.

Research Seminar in Epistemology and Philosophy of Science (2016-2017)

Recent Seminars

Thursday, 15 September 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: Cultuurtuin - Esplanade Building

Speaker: Seamus Bradley (TiLPS)

Title: Fleshing out the "levels" argument for compatibilism about chance and determinism

Abstract: There is a prima facie tension between the claims that the world is deterministic and that the world contains non-trivial chances. One kind of response to this incompatibilist view is to argue that the world can be deterministic at one level and still be chancy at another level. Beyond giving examples of levels that instantiate this duality, proponents of this 'levels-compatibilism' don't say much about what levels are, or what the hierarchical structure of these levels is. This talk presents some initial attempts at trying to flesh out what levels-compatibilists might mean by their levels talk.

Thursday, 29 September 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: Cobbenhagen Building - CZ 118

Speaker: Michal Sikorski (TiLPS)

Thursday, 13 October 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: CZ 118

Speaker: Naftali Weinberger (TiLPS)

Title: Mechanisms Without Mechanistic Explanation

Abstract: Some recent accounts of constitutive relevance have identified mechanism components with entities that are causal intermediates between the input and output of a mechanism. I argue that on such accounts there is no distinctive form of mechanistic explanation. Nevertheless, the entities that these accounts call ‘components’ do play an explanatory role. Studying causal intermediates linking X and Y provides knowledge of the counterfactual conditions under which X will continue to bring about Y. This explanatory role does not depend on whether these variables count as components. The question of whether there are distinctively mechanistic explanations remains open.

Thursday, 20 October 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: DZ 10

Speaker: Sander Verhaegh (TiLPS)

Title: The Development and Reception of Quine’s Naturalism

Abstract: During the past few decades, a shift has occurred in how philosophers conceive of the relation between science and philosophy. A great number of analytic philosophers have adopted what is commonly called a naturalistic approach, arguing that their inquiries ought to be in some sense continuous with science. Where early analytic philosophers often relied on a sharp distinction between science and philosophy, many philosophers today follow W. V. Quine in his seminal rejection of this distinction as well as his reconstruction of their discipline in naturalistic terms.

Despite his influence on the contemporary metaphilosophical scene, however, the historical development and reception of Quine’s naturalism has never been systematically studied. In this paper, I reconstruct the development and reception of Quine’s ideas on the relation between science and philosophy. Scrutinizing both his published work as well as unpublished papers, correspondence, and notebooks, I examine Quine’s development in the first decades of his career (1930-1950) as well as the reception of his ideas in the 1950s and 1960s.

Thursday, 27 October 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: DZ 10

Speaker: Félipe Romero (TiLPS)

Title: Novelty versus Replicability: Virtues and Vices in the Reward System of Science

Abstract: The reward system of science is the priority rule: The first scientist making a novel discovery is rewarded with prestige while second runners get nothing (Merton 1957). Using rational choice models, Kitcher (1990) and Strevens (2003, 2011) defend the priority rule arguing that it incentivizes an efficient division of cognitive labor. I argue that their assessment overlooks the fact that the priority rule discourages replication, an important concern in practice, as shown by recent replicability controversies. My analysis reveals that the priority rule is more vicious than virtuous, and leads us to reject Kitcher and Strevens’ contention that a priority-based reward system is normatively desirable for science.

Thursday, 10 November 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: WZ 202

Speaker: Erik P. Nyberg  (Monash University)

Title: Can probabilistic causal maps improve CIA analysis?

Abstract: CIA analysts are prone to the same reasoning mistakes as everyone else: groupthink, confirmation bias, overconfidence, etc. But when they produce bad assessments it can have disastrous results, such as the invasion of Iraq. So, the US government have set up CREATE: a 4.5 year competition between four academic teams to produce software and procedures that will improve assessments.

Our team includes computer scientists at Monash and psychologists at UCL and Birkbeck who are experts in encoding people’s knowledge of the world in maps of probabilistic causal influence. From a good map, AI techniques can auto-generate the logical skeleton of a good report: including the probabilities of competing hypotheses, their supporting evidence, and key uncertainties.

A well-known difficulty will be eliciting sufficient analyst knowledge. We will ease this using approximation and validation techniques. Our team also includes psychologists from Strathclyde who are experts in the Delphi method, in which a facilitator methodically leads an anonymous group discussion towards a reasoned consensus.

I will discuss why our approach might be an amazing success — or a spectacular failure!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016, 16:45 - 18:00

Room: DZ 008

Speaker: Selene Arfini (University of Chieti and Pescara)

Title: An Epistemic Condition for Collaborative Interdisciplinarity

Abstract: When a scientific research is conducted by a disciplinarily heterogeneous group of agents, they have to organize their activities and increase the group knowledge in order to gain a common epistemic goal. More specifically, to conduct the research every scientist has to deal with three types of knowledge: the knowledge that she brings to the research, i.e. her epistemic background; the knowledge she hopes to gain in the research process, which constitutes her epistemic goal; and the knowledge that is not in her possession and she cannot imagine to gain during the interdisciplinary collaboration, that is her ignorance. In this paper I argue that is not always easy for scientists who undertake an interdisciplinary collaboration to recognize and distinguish these types of knowledge. Indeed, as the philosophical literature on interdisciplinarity testifies, the “messy” relationships between scientists result from “a varied range of interpretations, negotiations and decision-making strategies, as well as from frequent misunderstandings, miscommunications and disputes” [Maki and McLeod 2016]. In this paper I argue that the latter forms of interaction derive from confusion regarding the scientists’ own epistemic backgrounds, goals, and ignorance, which affects the generation and the management of the interdisciplinary research. At the same time, I discuss that the recognition and distinction of these forms of knowledge is an indispensable condition for a successful collaborative interdisciplinary research. In order to motivate this thesis, I will discuss how different actual practices and strategies employed by successful research teams depend on the successful management of knowledge and ignorance in the group dynamics.

Thursday, 24 November 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: DZ 10

Speaker: Thomas Boyer-Kassem (TiLPS)

Title: No need for a secret ballot? How to reduce reputational cascades in expert committees.

Abstract: People sometimes misrepresent their opinions because others have expressed opposite views and public disagreement comes with various costs. This falsification of preferences may also affect experts in committees, who may align with others' already expressed opinions. To assess the importance of reputational cascades, we propose a simple model of a sequential deliberation. The model enables to analyse the influence of various parameters, and suggests three ways to reduce the effects of preference falsification: (i) allow experts to express fine-grained opinions instead of binary ones; (ii) have experts speak in specific orders; (iii) hold a sufficient number of table rounds. Thus, effects of reputational concerns could be decreased, even in a sequential and non-secret voting procedure.

Friday, 9 December 2016, 12:00 - 13:00

Room: CZ 117

Double EPS seminar: Experimental Progress Reports

Authors: Jan Sprenger and Matteo Colombo (TiLPS)

We present results from a recently completed study on determinants of explanatory power that backs up attempts to ground a philosophical theory of explanation in causality, probability and lawlikeness. 

To this end, we conducted five different 2x2 experiments. In all of them, the credibility of candidate explanation was an independent variables. The other independent variables were, per experiment: 

  1. implicit causal framing, 
  2. explicit causal framing, 
  3. generalizability, 
  4. statistical relevance (numerically presented) and 
  5. statistical relevance (visually presented). 

Prior credibility had a large (main) effect on explanatory power in all experiments, and so did statistical relevance and generalizability. There were no significant main effects for causal framing, but an interesting interaction that points to a gatekeeping role for prior credibility.

Author: Noah van Dongen (TiLPS)

Title: Differences in how the game of statistics it played

The aim of this exploratory study is to research behavior and belief revision of statisticians. Specifically, it is the intention to provide participating frequentist and Bayesian statisticians with the same datasets and research question to investigate 

  • A) how they differ in the analyses they use and the subsequent results; 
  • B) how they answer specific question about their results and the datasets (e.g., what is your point estimate of the relevant parameter); and 
  • C) how they change their beliefs when confronted with discrepancies between their results and those of others.

Thursday, 19 January 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: DZ 10

Speaker: Silvia Ivani (TiLPS)

Title: Aims and Values

Abstract: According to Thomas Kuhn (1977), scientists take into account (at least) five values when assessing and comparing scientific theories, namely accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, and fruitfulness. Ernan McMullin (1983) analysed these values and claimed that scientists do consider them in theory choice. My paper aims to answer the following questions: Do scientists actually consider these values in theory choice? Should scientists use them? Does the importance of these values depend on the aims scientists ascribe to science? Are different values relevant for different fields of inquiry? Do values play different roles in the assessment of different kinds of theories?

Thursday, 9 February 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Thomas Boyer-Kassem (TiLPS)

Title: On discrimination in health insurance

Abstract:  In many countries, private health insurance companies can vary their premiums according to some health information on their clients (for instance, higher ones for those with a high cholesterol rate). The rationale for this practice is that people should pay the premium corresponding to their own known risk, so it is a rational demand to resort to this health profiling. However, one may consider this practice as a form of discrimination, in the sense of a wrongful differential treatment. It is wrongful, one may argue, because it makes people pay more on the basis on characteristics over which they may have no control, and because it amounts to a double punishment. In this paper, we assess these kinds of arguments more precisely, and consider the following problem: is health profiling, or discrimination based on health information, morally permissible in health insurance? Our thesis is that it is morally wrong to discriminate on any health information and that the same premium should be offered regardless of the medical status of the person. We first consider a defense of discrimination in health insurance, in the form of a statistical discrimination—a decision made on the basis of a well-established statistical correlation. We argue that rationality is not the only ingredient, and that this defense relies on people caring only about their individual goals. Second, adopting an egalitarian view that we endorse, the situation of the worse off should be improved. Comparing the prospects of people of varied health status in situations with and without health profiling, we argue that no health profiling should be preferred. Finally, we consider the objection that profiling should be authorized on factors on which people have a control and can be held responsible. We dismiss it with theoretical, pragmatic, and moral arguments.

Thursday, 23 February 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 313

Speaker: Colin Elliot (TiLPS)

Title: Correcting incoherent sets of credences

Abstract: Subjective Bayesianism is a normative theory: it argues that our credences should be probabilities. But suppose we hold incoherent credences; how are we to correct them? I explore answers to this question, starting from the simple case of a pair of credences. While it seems that the best corrective method must be decided on a case-by-case basis, some general normative points can be made. I show that preserving the ratio between the original incoherent credences alters as little as possible the amount of information that pair of credences contains. This puts pressure on accuracy-oriented accounts in formal epistemology.

Thursday, 2 March 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Noah van Dongen (TiLPS)

Title: Addicted to P-Values

Abstract: In 2015 the Center for Open Science’s Reproducibility Project provided convincing evidence of a replication crisis in the social sciences. In the last few years, progressive scientists have been hard at work to promote preregistration of research, reform in education and editorial management, and revision of the academic incentive structure. These seem adequate reactions and scientific reform appears within our grasp. However, academic literature on publication bias and questionable research practices goes back much further than the last decade and some publications on the problems of null hypothesis significance testing (NHST) are almost as old as the method itself. All previous attempts at scientific reform have failed. In short, history is not on the side of the brave academics trying to change the habits and practices of science and its scientists. 

The use of p-values and the adherence to NHST has striking similarities with an addiction. It gives us scientists something we crave; gratification is instant and damage is distant; usage is easy to rationalize; and it is nearly impossible to quit. Like current scientific practice, addictions are resilient to reform and top-down regulations have a slow and marginal effect. During this seminar, I would like to take the time to go through the similarities and differences between p-value use and addiction, and discuss possible ramifications for academic reform practices.

Thursday, 23 March 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 313

Speaker: Sander Verhaegh (TiLPS)

Title: Between the Linguistic and the Naturalistic Turn

Abstract: Early twentieth-century analytic philosophy was dominated by a ‘linguistic turn’. Both logical positivists and ordinary language philosophers espoused a strict science-philosophy distinction and classified philosophical problems as linguistic problems. In the past few decades, however, analytic philosophy has witnessed a second ‘naturalistic’ turn. Many contemporary philosophers accept that philosophy is continuous with science; a development that is often traced back to Quine’s rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction in 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism'.

In this paper, I argue that this last claim needs qualification. I argue that, historically, 'Two Dogmas' was not the philosophical breakthrough that it is generally conceived to be. I examine unpublished correspondence, notebooks, and lectures and argue that Quine’s early metaphilosophy was still surprisingly linguistic. Rather than rejecting the linguistic turn by criticizing logical positivism and ordinary language philosophy, Quine, I argue, defended a position that synthesized them.

Thursday, 6 April 2017, 12:15 - 13:30

Room: D 119

Speaker: Felipe Romero (TiLPS)

Title: On the Epistemic Benefits of Academic Envy

Abstract: Your colleague got that nice job both of you wanted. Nobody sees it, but your blood is turning green with academic envy. In this talk, I argue that, despite its unpleasantness, academic envy is epistemically functional. First, I present a simple model that captures the standard philosophical and psychological insights about envy in the literature. Using this model, I explain two classic arguments against envy (i.e., the argument from optimality and Rawls's argument from collective disadvantage). Second, I present an analysis of the nature of epistemic goods based on the economics of science literature. Using this analysis and the model, I show that the two classic arguments against envy do not apply to academic envy. Third, I show that the strategies available to the envious academic turn out to be collectively advantageous for the community in epistemic terms.

Thursday, 20 April 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Naftali Weinberger (TiLPS)

Title: Towards an Atemporal View of Causation

Abstract: In recent decades, there has been a move towards modeling causation in a way that does not explicitly reference the fact that causes precede their effects. I argue that this has been a positive development, which has brought us closer to understanding the nature of causation. By way of analogy, I compare the development of a theory of causation that need not be interpreted temporally to the development of modern geometry into a set of axioms that need not be interpreted spatially. In my talk, I describe some existing ways in which causality has been separated from time, and then present some open questions that need to be resolved before concluding that causality and time can truly be separated.

Thursday, 11 May 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Filip Buekens (TiLPS)

Title: Disputes about taste

Abstract: It has recently become popular to apply expressivism outside the moral domain, e.g. to epistemic justification and the domain of taste. In earlier work I defended speech act pluralism to reconcile the fact that such statements are assertions (speakers comply with the norm of assertion), and that they have an expressive dimension in that speakers seek alignment of attitudes. In this paper I explore this idea by considering dialogues about taste and about what to do as pre-play conversations that anticipate strategic choices in coordination games (like battle of the sexes) and Prisoner’s Dilemma’s. This approach solves a problem for expressivism: while disputes about taste are intuited as faultless, moral disputes are not. This is explained by the fact that the former anticipate a coordination problem, while the latter anticipate a situation in which one of the players will be considered as a defector if she does not accept a moral rule or guideline.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Michael Vlerick (TiLPS)

Title: Explaining religion: an institutional approach

Abstract: Religion is a property cluster kind. No set of necessary conditions picks out all token religions. Consequently, no single theoretical framework will fit all token religions equally well. Influential scholars have nevertheless purported to ‘explain religion’ within a single theoretical framework, taking particular religious tokens as paradigmatic cases. In response, I carve up the explanandum along two dimensions. Firstly, I spell out three basic questions in need of explanation: Why is religion quasi-universal? What shapes its features? What underlies its cultural success? Secondly, I distinguish institutional from non-institutional religions, given that explaining each (sub)type requires adopting a different explanatory model. In developing the explanatory framework applied to institutionalized religions, I account for some recurring features in token institutionalized religions which are left unaccounted for by current accounts. Finally, armed with the conceptual and explanatory framework developed in this paper, I address the three questions I set out to answer.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017, 16:45 - 18:00

Room: DZ 007

Speaker: Elena Popa (American University of Central Asia)

Title: Time as a Psychological Condition of Possibility for Causal Thinking

Abstract: This paper investigates psychological research into causal reasoning with the aim of providing a conceptual account of the usage and acquisition of causal concepts. My main claim is that the acquisition and use of causal concepts in reasoning tasks is enabled by lower-level temporal reasoning patterns. In investigating temporal cues, I distinguish between the sequence and proximity components. With respect to sequence, I analyse the developmental pattern of people’s causal judgements aligning to temporal order, and further investigate how temporal order is used alongside other types of evidence. Concerning proximity, I argue that despite the binding/compression effect, on the conditions of possibility view, temporal information is linked to causal concepts in a bottom-up manner. A further hypothesis of my investigation is that there may be common cognitive capacities working for both people’s causal, as well as agency judgements. My analysis broadly fits causal pluralism - among multiple causal concepts, uses of causal concepts in psychology rely on people’s reasoning with temporal cues. Finally, I consider a set of normative concerns, namely whether people’s use of causal concepts meets the demands of objectivity.

Thursday, 1 June 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: PZ 050

Speaker: Séamus Bradley (TiLPS)

Title: Sequential decision making is hard

Abstract: Adam Elga recently argued that "subjective probabilities should be sharp". His argument involved showing that any kind of imprecise probability view of rational belief had problems accommodating intuitive judgements of choiceworthiness in a simple sequential decision problem. I argue that making sequences of decisions is tricky for all kinds of agents, not just those with imprecise beliefs, and thus, that criticising imprecise models of belief on this ground is unfair.