Bergen Philosophy of Science Workshop 2016

June 14, 2016 - June 15, 2016
Department of Philosophy, University of Bergen

Seminar Room 1
12-13 Sydnesplass
Bergen 5007


James Conant
University of Chicago
Carl Hoefer
ICREA / University of Barcelona
Stephanie Ruphy
Université Pierre Mendes-France (Grenoble II)
Samuel Schindler
University of Aarhus
Jamie Tappenden
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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14 June, Department of Philosophy, University of Bergen, Norway

12-13 Sydnesplass, Seminar Room 1


Carl Hoefer (ICREA Barcelona) -- Current Great Theory Realism

Sam Schindler (Aarhus) -- Prediction and testability

Jamie Tappenden (Michigan, Ann Arbor) -- Frege, Carl Snell and Romanticism; Fruitful Concepts and the 'Organic/Mechanical' Distinction

Stephanie Ruphy (Grenoble) -- Pluralist challenges to a science-based metaphysics

James Conant (Chicago) -- Thomas Kuhn on Problems and Puzzles

*** Program TBA. No registration fee; if interested to attend please let me know at [email protected]


Sorin Bangu

Professor, Department of Philosophy

University of Bergen


Carl Hoefer (ICREA/Univ. of Barcelona): Current Great Theory Realism

Scientific realists hold that we have reason to believe that theories in the "mature" sciences are approximately true, and that the theoretical and non-observable entities posited by those theories really exist. And given all the amazing technological advances of 20th-21st century science, and (apparent) discoveries about the microscopic features of the world, it is prima facie a compelling claim. In discussions of SR, physical theories get more attention than those of all the other sciences combined.  I believe this is a mistake. In my talk I will argue that in fact our current fundamental - or possibly-fundamental - physics theories are by no means things which we can regard as true or approximately true, nor are their posited entities clearly things that we should confidently believe to exist. But I will also argue that, in this respect, fundamental physics theories - despite their enormous empirical successes - are quite unlike the majority of the rest of what we take to be our best current theories in the mature sciences (e.g., many branches of biology, of chemistry, geology, and applied physics).  These other theories and sciences are epistemically secure in a way that fundamental physics cannot be, now or in the foreseeable future.  Realism about these other parts of current science is defensible and, I will argue, not troubled by pessimistic inductions from the history of science.

Sam Schindler (Aarhus Univ.): Prediction and testability

Karl Popper famously singled out testability as a necessary condition for the scientificity of hypotheses. He arguably also laid store by a theory's predictive capacities, i.e., its testable claims about not-yet discovered phenomena or evidence. Whereas testability today is part and parcel of any account of a good scientific theory, predictive success is much more controversial. In this talk I shall review Popper's views on the matter and various accounts of predictive success. I shall argue that testability is an extremely weak condition for scientificity and that some of Popper's central motivations for the condition of testability (i) are in fact better described as concerns with the issue of ad hocness, and (ii) therefore better addressed by an account of what it means for a hypothesis to be ad hoc, which must be richer than the condition of testability. A similar lesson I will draw from my discussion of predictive success.

Jamie Tappenden (Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor): Frege, Carl Snell and Romanticism; Fruitful Concepts and the 'Organic/Mechanical' Distinction

A surprisingly neglected figure in Frege scholarship is the man Frege describes (with praise that is very rare for Frege) as his "revered teacher", the Jena physics and mathematics professor Carl Snell.  It turns out that there is more of interest to say about Snell than can fit into one paper, so I'll restrict attention here to just this aspect of his thought: the role of the concept of "organic", and a contrast with "mechanical". Snell turns out to have been a philosophical Romantic, influenced by Schelling and Goethe, and Kant's *Critique of Judgement. *The paper also goes beyond Snell to explore other figures at Jena, particularly in the salon Snell sponsored and that Frege attended. Here too the the "organic/mechanical" contrast, understood in a distinctively Romantic fashion, had reached the status of "accepted, recognized cliché". More generally, Frege's environment was more saturated with what we now call ``Continental philosophy" than we might expect. (Recently this "Continental" dimension of Frege's environment has been explored by Gottfried Gabriel and others, with an emphasis on neo-Kantianism and Herbart. This paper develops a different dimension: the speculative idealism informing German Romantic biology.)

The payoff of this context-setting for our reading of Frege's texts is this: many expressions and turns of phrase in Frege that have been regarded as vague, throwaway metaphors turn out to be literal references to theories that had been worked out in extensive detail by the people Frege spent time with day-to-day in his immediate Jena environment. This recognition allows us to see that many Fregean remarks were not disconnected, scattered asides, but reflect a connected picture of the nature of mathematical thought.

In particular, this is true of Frege's account of "extending knowledge" via "fruitful concepts" and his rejection of the idea that logic and mathematics can be done "mechanically" (as with Jevons' logic machines, or Fischer's "aggregative mechanical thought"). Frege appeals to "organic connection" and speaks of fruitful concepts as containing conclusions "like a plant in its seeds". Frege would have expected his apparent metaphors to have been understood in a very specific way, as alluding to a recognized contrast between "organic" and "mechanical" connection, [*mechanische/organische Verbindung* and cognates] that was applied by Snell and those close to him not only to distinctions between biological and physical reasoning but also to distinctions of types of reasoning in arithmetic and geometry. Snell's account of conceptual development as well as his account of the development of species were structured around the idea of "development from a seed". In addition, Snell drew explicitly a connection that is only tacit in Frege, between the "organic" structure of fruitful concepts, and their fruitfulness - i.e. their potential for supporting novel insights. Snell's vision of the connection between organic structure and creativity draws on Kant's *Critique of Judgement*, which turns out to have been an unexpectedly salient touchstone in Frege's world.

Stephanie Ruphy (Univ. Pierre Mendes France, Grenoble): Pluralist challenges to a science-based metaphysics

A widespread motivation for a science-based metaphysics is the idea that since metaphysics aims at getting objective truths and since science is precisely in the business of providing objective knowledge about the world, metaphysics should be very close to science, in one way or another. But is science really in the business of providing the kind of objective knowledge that metaphysicians value and aim for, that is, knowledge about ‘the ultimate structure of reality’ or about ‘how the world really is’?

A naturalized approach (dear to proponents of a science-based metaphysics) to this question recommends looking at the actual state of science, and a commonly acknowledged feature of this state today is its disunity. Indeed, while the philosophy of science has for a significant part of its professionalized existence waved the (motley) banner of the unity of science, few would deny today that the philosophical tide has clearly turned in favour of the plurality of science.

My aim in this talk is to investigate which parts of the multifaceted project of a science-based metaphysics should be revised or even dropped in light of scientific pluralism. I will investigate in particular what is left of ontological objectivity in a pluralist, model-based view of science, when scientific knowledge is taken as inherently perspectival (e.g. Giere 2006) and when science can only provide us with a collection of idealized ontologies (e.g. Teller 2004). I will suggest at the end that a valuable aim of a science-based metaphysics is not so much to get at ‘objective truths about the world’ (a lost cause given the perspectival nature of scientific knowledge) than to grasp, in a Neo-Kantian (or Friedmanian) vein, the structures and external constraints of our modes of production of scientific knowledge and objectivity.

James Conant (Univ. of Chicago): Thomas Kuhn on Problems and Puzzles

The paper will explore the following three topics that might well puzzle a reader of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions:

(1) Kuhn’s conception of how problems of normal science differ from those that become prominent in a period of scientific crisis and the relation of both of these to philosophical problems (and hence to what Kuhn calls “philosophical activity”). 

(2) What Kuhn means when he speaks of  “the dominant epistemological paradigm of our time” and the importance of this concept to the argument of the book as a whole. 

(3) What Kuhn is up to at those moments in the book when he makes remarks of the following sort: 

“[W]ith a change of paradigm, the scientist afterwards works in a different world.”; 

“[W]hen paradigms change, the world itself changes with them.” 

The central claim of the paper will be that clarity about (1) and (2) can allow us to make progress with (3). 

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June 10, 2016, 5:00am CET

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