Concept Formation in the Natural and the Social Sciences

October 18, 2018 - October 20, 2018
Philosophy, University of Zürich

Zürichbergstrasse 43
Zürich 8044

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Main speakers:

University of Berne
Cambridge University
Universität Hannover
University of Zürich
Florida State University
Uppsala University
Uniwersytet Szczeciński
University of Helsinki
Emory University
University of Edinburgh


University of Zürich
Uppsala University

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That empirical results play an important role in the formation of scientific concepts has been central to analyses in the history and philosophy of science. Duhem stressed the role of empirical results in conventions, Carnap stressed their role in explication, and recent historical and philosophical investigations stressed their role in the standardization of measurement. These investigations, however, have focused mainly on the natural sciences, and the relation between the role of empirical results in the natural sciences and their role in the social sciences is still a topic of much dispute. It is often argued, for instance, that measurement in a strict sense is impossible in most or all of the social sciences, and that accordingly no standardization of quantities is possible. More generally, it is often claimed that the social sciences are not as directly related to empirical results as the natural sciences for a variety of reasons, and that therefore concepts are formed in very different ways, with very different results.

This workshop will bring together historians and philosophers of the natural and the social sciences to investigate the nature of concept formation and the relation between concept formation in the natural and the social sciences. Some of the investigations are abstract, analyzing the conditions of concept formation in general, other investigations focus on specific historical or philosophical issues in a natural or a social science. In this way, the workshop will provide an in-depth, interdisciplinary analysis of concept formation and the relation between the sciences. We will discuss questions such as:

  • How were central concepts of the natural or social sciences developed?
  • What role do empirical results play in concept formation?
  • What role do conventions play in concept formation?
  • What is the relation between concept formation in the natural and the social sciences?
  • What role does concept formation play in measurement?
  • What are the general features of concept formation?
  • When is concept formation possible?

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