Individuals Across Sciences: A Revisionary Metaphysics?

May 18, 2012 - May 19, 2012
IHPST-Paris, Paris-Sorbonne University


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  • Institut Universitaire de France


Alexandre Guay
University of Burgundy
Thomas Pradeu
Paris 4 Sorbonne

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This conference will gather metaphysicians, philosophers of biology and philosophers of physics to offer a reflection on criteria of individuality in different sciences and to try to develop a unified account on the notion of what an individual is.

The question of knowing what individuals are and how they can be identified has been recurring throughout the history of philosophy. It was, for example, pointedly studied by Aristotle and Leibniz. Most contemporary philosophers consider the problem from a general, metaphysical, point of view, as is the case for Peter Strawson in his landmark book Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (Strawson 1959). On the other hand, in philosophy of science, the preferred approach aims to define the ontological status of this or that individual, or this or that class of individuals, typically in the fields of physics (French & Krause 2006, Ladyman & Ross 2007, Morganti 2009) and biology (Hull 1978, Hull 1992, Dupré & O'Malley 2009, Godfrey-Smith 2009). Today, many consider that the approach used in philosophy of science has obviously been more precise and globally more fruitful than the purely metaphysical approach, often thought as excessively general (for example, see Ladyman & Ross 2007). The project of this conference stemmed from two observations. First, the recent developments on the notion of individual in physics or in biology are most certainly fascinating, but are still “regional”, by which we mean that practically no transversal reflection, comparing different scientific criteria of individuation and conceptions of individuality, has been done. Thus, we believe that a dialogue between philosophers of physics and philosophers of biology on this question is of crucial importance. Second, since it isolates a relatively small field of study, regionalism undoubtedly has the advantage of precision. However, it too often lacks ambition compared to the metaphysical approach, which tries to find the general conditions to individuate an object. We are convinced that philosophers of science must interact with metaphysicians, in order to determine in which way the focused ontological questioning of the former can contribute to the latter legitimate project of renewing general metaphysics. In bringing together specialists on metaphysics and on physical and biological ontologies, we hope to further define the difficulties that hold back the construction of a general conception of the individual that would be adequate for both physics and biology, and perhaps even beyond.

  The language of the conference is English.


Friday May 18, 2012

Location: Maison de la Recherche, Paris-Sorbonne University, 28 rue Serpente 75006 Paris
9:00-9:30 Welcome

9:30-10:30 Lowe, E. Jonathan (Durham University, UK): Non-Individuals

10:30-11:00 Selected paper #1: Krause, Decio & Arenhart, Jonas (CPMOH, Brazil): Characterizing individuals: the role of the formal

11:00-11:30 Coffee break

11:30-12:30 French, Steven (University of Leeds, UK): Eliminating objects across the sciences

12:30-14:00 Lunch break

14:00-14:30 Selected paper #2: Haber, Matt (University of Utah, USA): Re-articulating the individuality thesis

14:30-15:00 Selected paper #3: Ereshefsky, Marc & Pedroso, Markmiller (University of Calgary, Canada): Towards an account of individuality: the case of microbial consortia

15:00-16:00 Guay, Alexandre (University of Burgundy, France) & Pradeu, Thomas (Paris-Sorbonne University, France): Criteria of individuation in physics and in biology

16:00-16:30 Coffee break

16:30-17:30 Ladyman, James (University of Bristol, UK): Are there individuals in physics and if so what are they?

17:30-18:30 Godfrey-Smith, Peter (City University of New York, USA): Individuality across space and time


Saturday May 19, 2012

Location: Maison de la Recherche, Paris-Sorbonne University, 28 rue Serpente 75006 Paris

9:00-10:00 Morganti, Matteo (University of Roma 3, Italy): The metaphysics of individuality and the sciences

10:00-11:00 Saunders, Simon (University of Oxford, UK): The dynamical emergence of individuals in physics

11:00-11:30 Coffee break

11:30-12:00 Selected paper #4: Glick, David (University of Arizona, USA): Anti-Haecceitism and Structuralism in Quantum Mechanics

12:00-12:30 Selected paper #5: Pylkkanen, Paavo (University of Helsinki, Finland), Pattiniemi, Ilkka (University of Helsinki, Finland), Hiley, Basil (University of London, UK): Bohm's approach and individuality

12:30-14:00 Lunch break

14:00-14:30 Selected paper #6: Folse, Henry (University of California, USA): A continuum of individuality in modular organisms

14:30-15:30 Clarke, Ellen (University of Oxford, UK): Individuals and adaptations

15:30-16:30 Okasha, Samir (University of Bristol, UK): Individuality, self-interest and agency in evolutionary biology

16:30-17:00 Coffee break

17:00-18:30 Roundtable: Is there a unified definition of the “individual”, and is one needed?


Sunday May 20, 2012

Location: IHPST, Pantheon-Sorbonne University, 13 rue du Four, 75006 Paris

9:00-9:30 Selected paper #7: Chen, Ruey-Lin (National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan): Ontological realization of individuality in experimental sciences

9:30-10:00 Selected paper #8: Paternotte, Cédric (University of Bristol, UK): Parallels between joint action and biological individuality

10:00-10:30 Selected paper #9: Crawford, David (Duke University, USA): Beyond the Darwinian individual: an evo-devo perspective on the regulation of individuality

10:30-11:00 Break

11:00-11:30 Selected paper #10: Fagan, Melinda (Rice University, USA): Cell and body: individuals in stem cell biology

11:30-12:00 Selected paper #11: Conroy, Christina (Morehead State University, USA): "Survival" in Everettian quantum mechanics

12:00-12:30  Selected paper #12: Ventura, Rafael (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Germany): Bacteria as social individuals

12:30 End of the conference


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