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::: center home >> events >> annual lecture series >> lectures 2007-08

48th annual lecture series, 2007-08

Reference, Truth, and Biological Kinds
Marcel Weber, University of Basel
Science Studies Program & Department of Philosophy
Friday, 5 October 2007, 3:30 p.m.
817R Cathedral of Learning
::: photos

Abstract: I analyze the reference of biological kind terms and the truth of the associated theoretical claims, using the case of the gene as my main example. It is widely thought that the term "gene" as it was used in classical genetics referred differently from today (if it referred at all). However, this has not really been established in a non-question begging way. The problem is that we have two interdependent unknowns: The reference of "gene" and the reference relation itself. In the first part of this lecture, I argue against reference fixism (the view that reference remained stable over longer historical periods). My argument is based on a sophisticated causal theory of reference as well as some metaphysical considerations on biological kinds, which do not even remotely resemble Lockean real essences. In the second part, I examine theories of partial reference. Such theories have been developed in order to defend weak realist semantics for historical terms in physics and chemistry, for example, Newton's term "mass" or Priestley's term "dephlogisticated air." I show that partial reference theories do not do justice to some strong realist intuitions about classical genetics, which makes them defeat their own purpose. Finally, in the third part, I show that neither reference fixism nor partial reference theory is needed to hold on to a realist semantics of biological kind terms.

Core Knowledge of Number and Geometry
Elizabeth Spelke, Harvard University, Department of Psychology
Friday, 9 November 2007, 3:30 p.m.
817R Cathedral of Learning
::: photos

Pluralism About the Sciences of Behavior
Helen Longino, Stanford University, Department of Philosophy
Friday, 7 December 2007, 3:30 p.m.
817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract: A number of different scientific disciplines purport to account for human behavior.  While they are often represented as offering competing explanations, they do not stand in the appropriate logical relations to be treated as competitors in the intended sense.  A review of methods and evidence in behavior genetics, neurophysiology and anatomy, and developmental psychology, among others, reveals incommensurabilities that undermine the presuppositions of the nature/ nurture debate.  Pluralism is the appropriate philosophical stance to take.

Deciphering Duhem
Gerald J. Massey, Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy Emeritus,
University of Pittsburgh , Department of Philosophy
Friday, 18 January 2008, 3:30 p.m.
817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract: Pierre Duhem argued, in logical and historical detail, that no theoretical hypothesis can be empirically falsified. After W.V.O. Quine had (allegedly) extended Duhem’s reasoning to all statements without exception, the resulting form of Duhem’s claim became known as the Quine-Duhem thesis. I am going to take a close look at Duhem’s original thesis and the reasoning behind it, and then at Quine’s alleged generalization of it. I will appeal to Adolf Grünbaum’s penetrating examination of the Quine-Duhem thesis from the 1960s and 1970s, and to Anthony Zana’s unpublished 2006 treatment. In the process of doing these things, I will (1) defend my longstanding claim that the familiar version of the Quine-Duhem thesis entails “the existence of a deductive explanation for any event [observation] whatever”; (2) prove that, given any observation O* recalcitrant to a hypothesis H with auxiliary hypotheses A 1,..., A n, one can specify an alternative auxiliary hypothesis A* that, in conjunction with H, deductively ‘explains’ O* along with all the positive observations that were hitherto explained by H in conjunction with A 1,..., A n; (3) show how Quine’s views about analyticity and semantics turn on his version of the Quine-Duhem thesis; and (4) inquire whether the generalized thesis can bear this heavy philosophical load.

How Null Hypothesis Testing Obstructs Progress in Psychology
Edouard Machery, University of Pittsburgh
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Friday, 1 February 2008, 3:30 p.m.
817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract: In spite of a 50-year long controversy, the Null Hypothesis Significance Testing Procedure (NHSTP) remains the dominant procedure to test hypotheses in several scientific disciplines, including psychology. Previous criticisms of the NHSTP in psychology have focused on psychologists’ poor understanding of the outcome of this procedure, on the limited amount of information conveyed by reports of significance tests (p-values), on the discrepancy between the nature of scientific inference and the NHSTP, and on various arbitrary features of the NHSTP (e.g., α-level and N). Little has been said, however, about the effects of the NHSTP on the nature of psychology as a scientific discipline. In this presentation, I will examine how the NHSTP reinforces a characteristic and, arguably, regrettable feature of modern psychology: Modern psychology is first and foremost a descriptive science that is dedicated to identify psychological phenomena, but that is rarely in a position to explain them.

Mutation, Chance, and Heredity: Some Historical Roots
Theodore Porter, University of California-Los Angeles, Department of History
Friday, 29 February 2008, 3:30 p.m.
817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract: The theory of heredity at the beginning of the twentieth century was bound up with much larger issues of science, economy, and scientific politics, including evolution, agricultural breeding, and eugenics. The controversy between statistical and genetic approaches has often been interpreted in terms of deep philosophical differences, but the contending parties shared a basic reliance on chance and on particulate inheritance. These similarities were obliterated in the histories written by the victors, notably Fisher and Dobzhansky. Philosophical and conceptual differences had some role in these debates, but they can be understood only in relation to incompatibilities of research programs, including the technologies and social aims with which they were linked.

Remarks on the Reality of Time in Physics and Cosmology
Lee Smolin, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and
University of Waterloo , Department of Physics
Friday, 11 April 2008, 3:30 p.m.
817R Cathedral of Learning

The Annual Lecture Series is hosted by the Center for Philosophy of Science.

Generous financial support for this lecture series has been provided by
the Harvey & Leslie Wagner Endowment.      

Revised 9/28/10 - Copyright 2006