March 2013 Lunchtime Abstracts & Details
::: Probability Logic and Human Reasoning
Niki Pfeifer, Visiting research scholar
Center for Formal Epistemology (CMU)
Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (LMU)
Tuesday, March 5, 12:05 pm, 817R CL
Abstract: The traditional psychology of deductive reasoning was characterized by the use of fragments of first-order logic as a rationality framework to study human inference. Recently, various probabilistic approaches have become popular in the psychology of deductive reasoning. In my talk I will advocate "coherence based probability logic'' as a promising rationality framework for investigating reasoning under uncertain and incomplete knowledge. Specifically, I will critically discuss recent formal and empirical work on the interpretation of indicative conditionals, Aristotle's thesis, and selected paradoxes of the material conditional. Moreover, I will present a formal measure of argument strength and show how it provides a new solution to an epistemic version of the Ellsberg paradox.
::: Better Best System Analyses of Laws and the Trouble with Special Science Properties
Universities of Cologne and Düsseldorf
Tuesday, March 19, 12:05 pm, 817R CL
Abstract: In Lewis' original best system account, the mosaic of point-sized, intrinsic, quiddistic, perfectly natural, fundamental properties is the raw material on which everything else, laws of nature in particular, supervenes.
While novel better best system accounts ("BBSAs"; as introduced, for example, by Cohen & Callender (2009&10) and myself (2007&8)) for different, separate special science property sets aim to apply the same mechanism Lewis used to get the laws from the distributions of properties (balancing simplicity, strength and fit) it is not so clear:
(i) which features properties of the special science have: they are clearly not fundamental, maybe not natural but also not-quiddistic, etc.;
(ii) in which kind of entities they are instantiated: clearly not singular space-time points;
(iii) how BBSAs deal with vague and extensionless properties;
(iv) and what the boundaries are for the different sets of properties which BBSAs take as their material for allegedly separate competitions.
This paper will show that (i) - (iv) are not easy to answer for (us) better best system advocates.
HPS ALUMNI TALK
::: Arches and Scaffoldings: Continuity and Discontinuity in Building Relativity and Quantum Theory
Michel Janssen, ‘95
U. of Minnesota
Thursday, March 21, 5:00 pm, 817R CL
Abstract: In principle, new theoretical structures in physics, unlike arches and other architectural structures, could be erected without any scaffolding. After all, that is essentially how the four-dimensional formalism of special relativity, the curved space-times of general relativity, and the Hilbert space formalism of quantum mechanics are introduced in modern textbooks. Historically, however, such structures, like arches, were first erected on top of elaborate scaffolding provided by the structures they ultimately replaced. After briefly discussing prospects and limitations of this metaphor, I examine five examples of arches and scaffoldings in the history of relativity and quantum theory, drawing heavily on my earlier work (some of it done together with Tony Duncan, Anne Kox, John Norton, and Jürgen Renn).
::: Abstraction and its Limits: finding space for novel explanation
Tuesday, March 26, 12:05 pm, 817R CL
Abstract: Several modern accounts of explanation acknowledge the importance of abstraction and idealization for our explanatory practice. However, once we allow a role for abstraction, questions remain. I ask whether the relation between explanations at different theoretical levels should be thought of wholly in terms of abstraction, and argue that changes of variable between theories can lead to novel explanations that are not merely abstractions of some more detailed picture. I use the example of phase transitions as described by statistical mechanics and thermodynamics to illustrate this, and to demonstrate some details of the relationship between abstraction, idealization, and novel explanation.
::: Against Explanatory Fundamentalism
U. of Rochester
Friday, March 29, 12:05 pm, 817R CL
Abstract: According to explanatory fundamentalism, non-fundamental scientific explanations are never superior to corresponding fundamental physical explanations. In this paper I evaluate the prospects for developing a principled rejection of fundamentalism. First, I argue that our theories of explanation should be non-fundamentalist. Second, I argue for an account of explanatory depth that I claim best explains why non-fundamentalism is true. Finally, I consider a difficult problem for the account, concerning explanations involving disjunctive properties that are intuitively unsatisfactory. I criticize solutions to the problem formulated by Lewis, Woodward, and Strevens and Sober, and then defend a solution inspired by an account of non-fundamental laws recently defended by Schrenk, Callender and Cohen.