November 2013 Lunchtime Abstracts & Details
:::Physics and the Human Face of Causation
U. Maryland, Dept. of Philosophy
Friday, November 1, 2013
12:05 pm, 817R CL
Abstract: Many contemporary philosophers of physics (and philosophers of science more generally) follow Bertrand Russell in arguing that there is no room for causal notions in physics. Causation, as James Woodward has put it, has a ‘human face’, which makes causal notions sit ill with fundamental theories of physics. In this talk I examine several anti-causal arguments and show that the human face of causation is the face of scientific representations much more generally.
University of Athens, Dept. of Philosophy and History of Science
Friday, November 8, 2013
12:05 pm, 817R CL
Abstract: A philosophical theory of explanation should provide solutions to a series of problems, both descriptive and normative. The aim of the lecture is to establish the claim that this can be best done if one theorizes in terms of explanatory games rather than focusing on the explication of the concept of explanation. The development of the precise meaning of the concept of scientific explanation occupies centre-stage in all contemporary approaches. The discussion of three examples from the social sciences - neoclassical economic theory, the theory of civil wars and econometrics – will show that the unitary models of explanation have at best limited application. The lesson that is drawn is that each of the three main models currently on offer, the unificationist, the mechanistic, and the manipulationist, can accommodate only some of the existing scientific practices in different social scientific domains.
The alternative position that seems obvious and which is adopted is that of an explanatory pluralism. At every moment of time there is a stock of explanations available in a society proposed by ordinary people “in the wild” or by specialists organized formally or semi-formally within specific organizational structures such as churches, universities, etc. This explanatory reservoir is distributed among diverse individuals and groups in the society under conditions of a cognitive division of labour. The terms of provision, control, and dissemination of explanations in this collective explanatory enterprise are regulated by the different rules that the participants have come to adopt over time. These rules incorporate the normative standards that guide the processes of discovery and justification of explanations as well as the modes of their communication, dissemination, and adoption. They constitute the rules of the explanatory game that the participants are playing. The philosophical project consists in describing and normatively appraising the rules that constitute these games. This project is fundamentally liberal, in the sense that participants and non-participants to the game alike engage in the critical discussion and revision of the rules or to put it in other terms, the project is fundamentally naturalistic - philosophers and scientists equally take part in it.
:::The Epistemology of Causal Selection: Insights from Systems Biology
Field Museum, Chicago (Postdoc)
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
12:05 pm, 817R CL
Abstract: Among the many causes of an event, how do we distinguish the important ones? Are there ways to distinguish among causes on principled grounds that integrate both practical aims and objective knowledge? Psychologist Tania Lombrozo has suggested that causal explanations “identify factors that are ‘exportable’ in the sense that they are likely to subserve future prediction and intervention” (Lombrozo 2010, 327). Hence portable causes are more important precisely because they provide objective information to prediction and intervention as practical aims. However, I argue that this is only part of the epistemology of causal selection. Recent work on portable causes has implicitly assumed them to be portable within the same causal system at a later time. As a result, it has appeared that the objective content of causal selection includes only facts about the causal structure of that single system. In contrast, I present a case study from systems biology in which scientists are searching for causal factors that are portable across rather than within causal systems. By paying careful attention to how these biologists find portable causes, I show that the objective content of causal selection can extend beyond the immediate systems of interest. In particular, knowledge of the evolutionary history of gene networks is necessary for correctly identifying causal patterns in these networks that explain cellular behavior in a portable way.