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::: center home >> events >> annual lecture series >> lectures 2011-12

52nd annual lecture series, 2011-12

Some Varieties of Mental Causation
John Campbell
University of California at Berkeley, Department of Philosophy
Friday, 28 October 2011, 3:30 pm

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Abstract: Work on causation in general, and work on mental causation, have traditionally been pursued independently on one another.  Particularly since the publication of Jim Woodward's Making Things Happen, though, it has seemed that interventionist models of causation might provide a way of understanding causation in the mind.  Problems that arise here include:
(a) understanding what kinds of 'intervention' might be central to mental causation, for example, 'agentive' interventions could be contrasted with the kind of intervention one's surroundings make on one's beliefs in ordinary perception,
(b) knowing what 'level' of variable to use in characterizing, for example, psychiatric conditions,
(c) the role of rationality in psychological causation, and
(d) the place of a distinction between difference-making and process conceptions of singular causation in an account of mental causation.

Towards a General Science of the Past: Abductive Inference and Inductive Consilience In Paleontology, Archeology, and History
Justin E. H. Smith
Concordia University, Department of Philosophy
Friday, 18 November 2011, 3:30 pm

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Abstract: What are the special epistemological problems that arise in the sciences that aim to know the past? And is there a problem with calling these sorts of inquiry 'sciences' at all, to the extent that they are concerned with non-present and non-repeatable states of affairs? In this paper, I would like, first of all, to describe the early development of a methodology for the 'science of singular things' in the work of Leibniz and his contemporaries, particularly in their effort to reconstruct the earth's biotic past based on fossil evidence. Next, I will move on to consider more recent reflections, from the evolutionary biologist George Gaylord Simpson and others, on some of the inherent epistemological difficulties in the classification of extinct species, and how this sets the project of paleontological taxonomy apart from the taxonomy of living species. Then I will turn to a consideration of the theoretical engagement with the epistemological obstacles confronted in the project of knowing the past as this has developed in archeological theory over the course of the 20th century, focusing particularly on the processualist school, which attempts to apply Hempelian ideas about history as science within a concrete domain of empirical inquiry. In all of the areas of inquiry we consider --evolutionary theory, paleontology, archeology, and civil history--, I hope to show, first of all, that the same basic difficulties are confronted: a fact that strongly favors an approach to any one of these fields as a branch, along with all the others, of a general science of the past. Second, I aim to show that the unifying thread in all of these was most clearly discerned in the 17th-century notion of 'natural history', and in particular in the insight of the natural historians that the distortive effect of the passage of time in the vestiges history studies --as when the onion-like layers of a mammoth tusk begin to erode-- might be approached not as an impediment to real knowledge of the past, but rather as the very key to its reconstruction.

Entropy, Entanglement and Utility
Jos Uffink
University of Minnesota, Department of Philosophy
Friday, 9 December 2011, 3:30 pm

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Abstract: This talk explores a formal analogy between the study of entanglement in quantum theory, entropy in classical thermodynamics, and utility in decision theory. Roughly speaking, I will argue that in all three cases, the mathematical problem arises of finding and characterizing those functions that respect a given pre-ordering relation, subject to certain auxiliary conditions. Moreover, theorems have been obtained in these three separate areas that might be applied to them in common. It is my main purpose to draw attention to these analogies, and argue how they might be useful in thermodynamics and quantum theory.

Cooperation and Human Cognition
Michael Tomasello
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Friday, 27 January 2012, 3:30 pm
G24 Cathedral of Learning

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Abstract: Great apes cognitively represent and make inferences about their experience of the world. Humans, in addition, represent their experience propositionally and conceptually (perspectivally), and they make inferences about it recursively and reflectively. The Shared Intentionality Hypothesis posits that these uniquely human forms of cognitive representation and reasoning emerged evolutionarily as cognitive adaptations for dealing with a distinctive form of social life, specifically, a form in which individuals had to coordinate their intentional states with others in cooperative, and ultimately cultural, activities. Within these cooperative activities, early humans created shared realities (joint attention, common ground), which then enabled them to direct the attention and imagination of one another in relevant ways in acts of cooperative, and ultimately conventional, communication. Learning to cooperate and communicate within a cultural group during ontogeny creates uniquely human propositional-conceptual-reflective cognition.

Biology as Process
John Dupré
University of Exeter, Department of Philosophy
Friday, 24 February 2012, 3:30 pm

Abstract: Biological phenomena consist of a hierarchy of processes.  At the longest time scales, living things are parts of evolutionary processes embedded in lineages of descent.  Within those lineages are sequences of developmental cycles, an insight that has transformed our understanding of evolution through the programmes of evolutionary developmental biology (“evo-devo”) and developmental systems theory.  And finally, within organisms are a range of metabolic processes, typically at a scale of milliseconds, which maintain biological functions and drive the sequences of changes that constitute development. 

None of this is controversial; yet within the mainstream of philosophy of biology there has been very little attention to the concept of a process.  Indeed, it has generally been considered adequate to analyse biological phenomena in terms of hierarchies of individual things, identifiable in terms of static properties.  As one striking example, the influential insight that species could be treated as segments of evolutionary lineages (Hull, Ghiselin) was stated in terms of species as individual things; but in fact it is quite evident that an evolutionary lineage is a highly active process.  Similarly, individual organisms are generally thought of as (typically mature, adult) things, whereas as is particularly clear from DST, what is fundamental is the life-cycle, an extended process. 

In this talk I shall reflect on some of the implications of taking more seriously the processual nature of biological phenomena.  After some brief reflection on the distinction between thing and processes, I shall consider in this light some key biological categories, including organisms, genomes, and lineages.  Finally, I shall make some suggestions about the relations of a more process-centred biology to the various ontological pluralisms that have been prominent in recent philosophy of biology.

The Target of Testing: Models, Adequacy and The Aims Of Science
Wendy Parker
Ohio University, Department of Philosophy
Friday, 23 March 2012, 3:30 pm

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Abstract: Models of real-world systems are widely used in science. It is often suggested that these models are tested or confirmed when results obtained from them are compared with observational data. I argue that this way of thinking is misguided; what we can sensibly aim to test or confirm via such comparisons are not scientific models themselves, but their adequacy for particular purposes. I explain why testing a model's adequacy-for-purpose can be quite difficult, involving challenges beyond those faced when testing whether a model embodies a true or empirically adequate hypothesis about the workings of a target system, and I illustrate with some examples. Finally, I offer some exploratory remarks on how the notion of adequacy-for-purpose might figure in our understanding of the aims of science more generally.


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 4/16/12 - Copyright 2010