Understanding Society

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Research Seminar in Epistemology and Philosophy of Science (2017-2018)

Recent Seminars

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Speaker: Jan Sprenger (TiLPS)

Title: Trivalent Semantics for Indicative Conditionals: A Resurrection Attempt

Abstract: The semantics of indicative conditionals are a notoriously difficult philosophical problem. Many philosophers take the view that they don't have classical truth conditions: the truth value of 'If A, then B', cannot be determined as a function of the truth values of A and B. Focus has therefore shifted to the acceptability and/or probability of indicative conditionals.

Unfortunately, this view severs the ties between the semantics and the epistemology of indicative conditionals. I propose a principled solution that goes back to De Finetti: to adopt a trivalent semantics, based on reading indicative conditionals as conditional predictions of the consequence. The advantages of this view are spelled out, and it is defended against the standard objections (e.g., invalidity of classical inference schemes).

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Speaker: Tom Sterkenburg (MCMP Munich)

Title: The Meta-Inductive Justification of Induction

Abstract: Gerhard Schurz has recently proposed a Reichenbachian justification of induction based on results from machine learning. These results concern the design of 'meta-inductive' prediction methods that never perform much worse than a given pool of competing methods. In my talk, I will explain Schurz's proposal and discuss challenges and extensions.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Speaker: Matteo Colombo (TiLPS)

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Speaker: Silvia Ivani (TiLPS)

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Speaker: Nathan Wildman (TiLPS)

Title: Virtual Digitalism versus Virtual Fictionalism

Abstract: Recently, Chalmers (forthcoming) has advanced several arguments in favour of virtual digitalism, according to which the various virtual objects that make up virtual reality environments are "genuinely real entities". However, much about virtual digitalism – including whether it provides an adequate ontology for virtual objects – remains unclear. With that in mind, this talk has three aims. The first is to make some progress towards clarifiying the content of Chalmers' virtual digitalism. I do so by distinguishing and contrasting two variants of the view: strong virtual digitalism, which identifies virtual objects with digital data structures, and weak virtual digitalism, which takes virtual objects to be dependent upon said structures. The second aim is to critique both variants of Chalmers' view by demonstrating that the arguments Chalmers offers in favour of virtual digitalism mistakenly entail that VR users are, if he adopts strong v-digitialism, identical to, or, if weak v-digitalism, dependent upon, digital data structures. The upshot is that, regardless of which variant Chalmers adopts, virtual digitalism is problematic. The final aim is to sketch an alternative position according to which virtual objects are merely fictional. To do so, I develop a broadly Waltonian view, virtual walt-fictionali​sm. After exploring how the view works, I conclude that, prima facie, it is far preferable to virtual digitalism.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Speaker: Filip Buekens (TiLPS)

Title: The value of truth is extrinsic to it

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Speaker: Noah van Dongen (TiLPS)

Title: Addicted to p-values: Part II

Abstract: Published scientific results turn out to have a low level of replicability and there is an ongoing debate on the merits of current statistical methods and potential replacements. I would like to contribute to this debate through a literature investigating of a ‘what if’ question, 'What if science’s use of the currently ubiquitous measure of evidence (i.e., the p-value) is like an addiction, instead of an (mindless) ritual?'

This presentation is a follow-up of my presentation of March 2nd 2017. I briefly portray the use of the p-value as a measure of research evidence from a scientist-centered perspective and provide an explanation of the misuse and fallacies concerning this measure by comparing it to addictive behavior. If my interpretation is correct, in part or in full, the current initiatives in reforming scientific practice might fail or be less successful than desired. I conclude with an outline for a potentially more reliable hypothesis testing method that does confirm to scientists' desires. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Speaker: Naftali Weinberger (TiLPS)

Title: Race is not a cause, but a normative baseline

Abstract: Would President Obama have been treated differently had he been white? This question seemingly concerns whether his race was a cause of how he was treated. But demographic variables such as race pose a problem for causal inference. Specifically, it is unclear how to understand causal counterfactuals regarding what it would mean for someone to have been a different race. In some scenarios, this challenge can be addressed through a suitable disambiguation. For instance, in many cases we care not about what if someone would have been a different race, but rather with what if she were perceived as being a different race. But if we adopt this strategy across the board, we abandon the possibility of modeling race as a general explanation for a range of ways in which some minorities are systematically disadvantaged. In my talk, I propose a way of incorporating the role of race into models for measuring discrimination without treating race itself as a cause. The concept of race is useful insofar as (A) the various manifestations of race that are loosely referred to as its ‘effects’ are the result of a systematic social discrimination and (B) in evaluating whether certain individuals were harmed by an action or policy, we consider ways in which they would have been better off in the absence of this discrimination. As clause (B) indicates, the usefulness of the concept is not merely an empirical matter, but depends on normative questions regarding whether harms resulting from racism should be treated differently from those resulting from other factors promoting inequality. 

Thursday, 12 December 2017

Speaker: Sanneke de Haan (Tilburg University)

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Speaker: Seamus Bradley (TiLPS)

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Speaker: Chris Ranalli (VU Amsterdam)

Title: Deep Disagreement and Hinge Propositions

Abstract: The Wittgensteinian theory of deep disagreement says that deep disagreements are disagreements over hinge propositions (Fogelin 2005, Hazlett 2014). Pessimism about deep disagreement is the thesis that such disagreements are rationally irresolvable (Feldman 2005). In this paper, I explore the extent to which the Wittgensteinian theory adequately supports pessimism about deep disagreement. This question turns, so I argue, on one’s theory of hinge propositions: what they are and what our attitudes to them might be. In particular, I argue that while on many theories of hinge propositions, pessimism follows, there is at least one theory of hinge propositions on which pessimism does not follow, thereby making room for optimism about deep disagreement.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Speaker: Colin Elliot (TiLPS)

Thursday, 21 March 2018

Speaker: Grant Ramsey (KU Leuven)

Abstract: In his “No general structure” article, Ken Waters offers “the no general structure thesis, which states that the world lacks a general, overall structure that spans scales” (2016, p. 0). Waters argues that philosophers of biology ask questions like “what is a gene?” or “what is fitness?” and assume that there is a single unified fundamental answer that can be given. They seek definitions of the form “a gene is…” that are counterexample free, applying universally independent of academic department, research question, or methodology. Waters argues that such quests are a fool’s errand, since any analysis of ‘gene’ will fall short of generality. Waters argues that we should instead have a practice-centered metaphysics: we should ask of particular practices what they imply about the meaning of ‘gene’ or ‘species’ or ‘fitness’ or ‘population’ or ‘function’. Different groups will have different concepts based on their interests and objectives, this is to be expected and is not a problem.

In this talk, I will engage with Water’s thesis. I will distinguish biological outcomes from biological causes. While Waters is correct about the nature of the former, he is not correct about the latter: I agree with Waters that we should not seek general concepts of evolutionary products like ‘gene’ or ‘species’, but I hold that we should seek general concepts of evolutionary causes, such as ‘fitness’, ‘drift’, and ‘selection’. I will argue that the core of evolutionary theory is a theory about causes and, as such, it is not subject to Water’s critique. I will offer a sketch of what such a theory would look like.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Speaker: Naftali Weinberger

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Speaker: Nathan Wildman (TiLPS)

Title: No Trouble with Poetic License

Abstract: Recently, Xhignesse (2016) has argued that the principle of poetic license, which roughly states that any class of propositions is true in some possible fiction, ought to be rejected. This is because, according to Xhignesse, a weaker principle that is entailed by PPL is subject to counter-example. Here, we defend PPL from Xhignesse’s objection by demonstrating that, properly understood, his purported counter-example case is either irrelevant or unproblematic. The upshot is that Xhignesse, at least, has given us no reason to reject PPL.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Speaker: Silvia Ivani (TiLPS)

In this seminar Silvia Ivani will discuss the second chapter of her dissertation. The topic of her dissertation is the role of values in science and this particular chapter focuses on fruitfulness.

Title: What We (Should) Talk About When We Talk About Fruitfulnes

Abstract: What are the relevant values to the appraisal of research programs? This question remains hotly debated, as philosophers have recently proposed many lists of values potentially relevant to scientific appraisal. Surprisingly, despite being mentioned in many lists, little attention has been paid to fruitfulness. It is unclear how fruitfulness should be explicated, and whether it has any substantial role in scientific appraisal. In this paper, I argue we should explicate fruitfulness as the capacity to develop of research programs. Moreover, I provide a novel strategy to assess and compare the fruitfulness of programs focused on their research questions and heuristics. To illustrate how this strategy would work, I will discuss a case study, namely the adaptationist program in evolutionary psychology.