PSGI Workshop on Current Debates in Philosophy of Science: Realism, Biology and Social Sciences

December 14, 2015 - December 18, 2015
Centre for Science, Technology and Society, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

Opposite the Deonar Bus Depot, V N Purav Marg
Mumbai 400088


  • Indian Council of Philosophical Research
  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences

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Key ResourcePersons:

  • Richard Boyd, Cornell University
  • Sahotra Sarkar, University of Texas at Austin
  • Harold Kincaid, University of Cape Town
  • Federica Russo, University of Amsterdam
  • Uskali Mäki, University of Helsinki

Purpose of Workshop

The philosophy of science, while a relatively new topic of study in the long span of philosophical inquiry, has come to occupy a central place in the discipline. Besides addressing traditional epistemological, metaphysical and ethical questions as applied to the practice of science, contemporary philosophers of science engage fruitfully with foundational questions that arise within particular scientific theories, blurring the artificial boundaries between philosophy and science. As a consequence, the field offers great potential for interdisciplinary interaction between philosophers and scientists, leading to clearer analyses of difficult scientific concepts and the application of new scientific discoveries to traditional philosophical questions.

Despite the importance and dynamism of the field internationally, philosophy of science remains a nascent discipline in India. The community of researchers is small, and students often feel unprepared to tackle a subject that requires knowledge not only of philosophy but also of science. The philosophy of science group was formed with the intention of overcoming these obstacles – to encourage young scholars to conduct high-quality research in the philosophy of science, and to provide a space for the existing philosophy of science community to collaborate and exchange ideas.


Structure of Workshop

Each day will consist of three sessions, all tied together by one of the four unifying themes mentioned below: 

·         The first session will be 3 hours long, and will provide a broad introduction by one of the key resource persons.

·         The second session will be 90 minutes that will take the theme from the first session and illustrate some aspect of it in greater depth with reference to specific scientific examples. The aim is to ensure that the participants come to appreciate the philosophy of science both as abstract inquiry  into road concepts (e.g. causation, explanation, probability), and as concrete application of that inquiry to problems in science (e.g. drawing causal conclusions in social science, functional and evolutionary explanation in biology, the role of probability in quantum mechanics).

·         The third will be a tutorial session, again 90 minutes long, allowing the workshop participants to discuss in depth the issues raised in the previous two sessions, and ask questions to the resource persons. These tutorials (and the preceding sessions) will also be run with an eye towards  providing some insight into how the actual process of philosophical research works – how to locate an interesting problem, what resources and tools can be brought to bear to tackle the problem, how to ensure that one’s arguments are presented with rigor and clarity, and so on.

Workshop Themes:

  1. Scientific Realism and its Challenges: Scientific realism has evolved over the past century and has faced up to many challenges from anti-realism of various hues. How has it evolved? How well has it faced up to the challenges? Professor Richard Boyd will guide us through the history and current status of scientific realism and in face of the challenges from pessimistic meta-induction and from social constructivism.
  2. Philosophy of Biology: Philosophy of biology is at the centre stage of philosophy of science today and what goes on in philosophy of biology has important consequences for philosophy of social sciences as well. Evolutionary theory has gone through significant revisions from Darwin to Haldane to contemporary evolutionary biologists. The emergence of genetics is also central to debates in philosophy of biology.  Is positivist reductionism still a viable option in philosophy of biology? What is the future of philosophy of biology? Professor Sahotra Sarkar will take us through much of this journey and enlighten us about the current debates in philosophy of biology.
  3. Philosophy of Social Science: Methodological issues: Philosophy of social science today is much more relevant to the actual practice of social science research than it was in the past. What is the nature of explanation in the social sciences? To what extent is the methodological individualism–methodological holism debate significant in the social sciences? Must social scientists provide mechanisms? Can natural selection like processes explain social change? Professor Harold Kincaid will guide us on how to approach these questions with numerous examples of ongoing controversies in social research.
  4. Philosophy of Social Science: Causality, chance and probability: The notion of causality has undergone tremendous transformation in the physical sciences, in the life sciences and most of all in the social sciences. Are there probabilistic laws in the social sciences? Is the traditional notion of laws to be replaced by statistical modelling in the social sciences? What is causal modelling? Dr. Federica Russo will guide us through these difficult but central questions in the philosophy of science today.
  5. Philosophy of Economics: Scientific Realism, Modelling, and Interdisciplinarity: Economics and its modeling strategy are subject to praise and blame. Economic models typically deal with rather mundane matters often with counterintuitive conclusions; are often based on highly unrealistic assumptions; and are increasingly transported across disciplinary boundaries to bear on non-economic domains. These features give rise to some very interesting issues. Is scientific realism capable of accommodating economics and of critically illuminating its strategies of inquiry? What values of inquiry guide economic research? What epistemic goals – such as prediction, explanation, understanding -- is economics able to successfully pursue? What to make of economics imperialism – the expansion of economics into the domains of other disciplines – and the reverse attempts to make economics responsive to ideas imported from disciplines such as psychology and neuroscience? Professor Uskali Mäki will navigate us through the seas of answers to these complex questions.


Who will be the Participants?

  • As mentioned in the purpose of the workshop the participants will be research scholars and university teachers in their early career.
  • The participants should either be involved in research in some area of philosophy of science or philosophy of social science or have very keen and sincere interest in these disciplines.
  • Deadline for Application is September 15, 2015. Successful participants will be informed by September 23, 2015.
  • Please send a one or two page write-up on why you are interested in this workshop to [email protected]. In your write-up please mention what you have studied or read already as background for philosophy of science and philosophy of social sciences. In your letter of interest, clearly state what research project you are working on and keeping the workshop themes in mind carefully provide details of how some of the aspects of these themes will help you wiith your research project. There is no necessary prerequisite for particular preparation for this workshop but this will help us plan our workshop accordingly in terms of its accessibility. Please attach your CV.
  • Funding for railway travel and room and board for participants from within India will be available. And lodging and boarding for all participants will be provided free. Details will be provided later.
  • Immediately following the workshop there will be a conference. This has already been posted and there is a call for papers, with a deadline of August 15, 2015, for it.
  • The potential participants may plan to attend the conference as well as this will be an important follow up to the workshop.
  • Potential participants may come from the disciplines of philosophy, psychology, history, economics, sociology, social work, anthropology, geography, physics, chemistry, biology, medical science, geology, ecology, and other social, physical and natural sciences.


Organizing committee

T. Jayaraman­– Co-chair (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India)

Bijoy Mukherjee – Co-chair (Visva-Bharati, Shantiniketan, India)

Prasanta Bandyopadhyay (Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana, USA)

Prajit Basu (University of Hyderabad, India)

Manjari Chakraborti (Visva-Bharati, Shantiniketan, India)

Amita Chatterjee (Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India)

Sreekuamar Jayadevan (Indian Institute of Technology, Jodhpur, India)

Stephen Jayard (Jnana-DeepaVidyapeeth, Pune, India)

Priyedarshi Jetli (Mumbai, India)

Philose Koshy (Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India)

Tarun Menon (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India)

Smita Sirker (Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India)

Further Inquiries:

[email protected]

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