Thick Concepts in the Philosophy of Science

December 3, 2021 - December 4, 2021
Department of Philosophy, Leibniz University Hannover


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  • Detsche Forschungsgemeinschaft


Cambridge University
University of Zürich
Universität Hannover


Bielefeld University
Bielefeld University

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The notion of thick ethical concepts, as originally introduced by Bernard Williams in 1985, has received growing attention in the philosophical literature, particularly in the fields of meta-ethics and the philosophy of language. According to Williams's classic definition, thick ethical concepts combine descriptive and evaluative components such that they are simultaneously world-guided and action-guiding, without a clear way of separating or disentangling these components. While philosophical analyses of thick concepts have usually focussed on virtue and vice terms, such as brave, cruel, tactful, there has also been a recognition that these concepts seem to undermine the traditional fact/value-dichotomy and thus, to provide a further challenge to the value-free ideal of science. Accordingly, attention has been drawn to many scientific concepts, which seem to fit this pattern: well-being (Alexandrova 2017), risk and safety (Möller 2009, 2012), addiction (Djordjevic and Herfeld forthcoming), GDP and Unemployment (Reiss 2017), to name just a few.

While these concepts may not easily fit into the traditional category of thick ethical concepts, they raise interesting questions to the philosophy of science, for example:

• Do thick concepts threaten the ideal of value-free science?

• What are the epistemological consequences of using thick concepts in science?

• How can scientific claims containing thick concepts be objective?

• What methodological requirements can be discerned to the study of thick concepts?

• How should concepts that are thick in everyday language be operationalized in science?

• How can scientist give good scientific advice on issues involving thick concepts?

The 1.5-day-workshop aims at providing a forum for intense discussion on the role and value of thick concepts in the philosophy of science. It will consist of presentations by participants, and a workshop section that synthesizes the findings and discusses future avenues of development.

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October 31, 2021, 9:00am CET

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