Philosophy of science

Annual Bergen Philosophy of Science Workshop 2021

Thursday 4 Nov and Friday 5 Nov The Department of Philosophy will host - online, on zoom - the 9th edition of the annual Bergen Philosophy of Science Workshop.

Old astronomical instruments on vintage paper background.
Old astronomical instruments on vintage paper background.

Main content

Video recordings of the talks.

Thursday 4 Nov. (CET, Bergen time)

16.00 - 17.10 Samir Okasha (Bristol)

Is there a Bayesian justification of hypothetico-deductive inference?

Many philosophers have claimed that Bayesianism can provide a simple justification for hypothetico-deductive (H-D) inference, long regarded as a cornerstone of the scientific method. Following up a remark of van Fraassen (1985), we analyze a problem for the putative Bayesian justification of H-D inference in the case where what we learn from observation is logically stronger than what our theory implies. Firstly, we demonstrate that in such cases the simple Bayesian justification does not necessarily apply. Secondly, we identify a set of sufficient conditions for the mismatch in logical strength to be justifiably ignored as a "harmless idealization". Thirdly, we argue, based upon scientific examples, that the pattern of H-D inference of which there is a ready Bayesian justification is only rarely the pattern that one actually finds at work in science. Whatever the other virtues of Bayesianism, the idea that it yields a simple justification of a pervasive pattern of scientific inference appears to have been oversold.

Talk based on joint work with Karim Thebault (Bristol)


17.20 - 18.30 Jessica Wilson (Toronto)

In Defense of Countabilism

Inspired by Cantor's Theorem (CT), orthodoxy takes infinities to come in different sizes. The orthodox view has had enormous influence in mathematics, philosophy, and science. We will defend the contrary view---Countablism---according to which, necessarily, every infinite collection (set or plurality) is countable. We first argue that the potentialist or modal strategy for treating Russell's Paradox, first proposed by Parsons 2000 and developed by Linnebo 2010, 2013 and Linnebo and Shapiro 2019, should also be applied to CT, in a way that vindicates Countabilism. Our discussion dovetails with recent independently developed treatments of CT in Meadows 2015, Scambler 2021, and Pruss 2020, aimed at establishing the mathematical viability, and therefore epistemic possibility, of Countabilism. Unlike these authors, our goal isn't to vindicate the mathematical underpinnings of Countabilism. Rather, we aim to argue that, given that Countabilism is mathematically viable, Countabilism should moreover be regarded as true. After clarifying the modal content of Countabilism, we canvas certain of Countabilism's many positive implications, including that Countabilism provides the best account of the pervasive independence phenomena in set theory, and that Countabilism has the power to defuse several persistent puzzles and paradoxes found in physics and metaphysics. We conclude that the theoretical advantages of Countabilism far outweigh its potential downsides.

Talk based on joint work with David Builes (Princeton)


Friday 5 Nov. (CET, Bergen time)

16.00 - 17.10 Alastair Wilson (Birmingham) 

Theoretical Relicts: Progress, Reduction, and Autonomy

When once-successful physical theories are abandoned, common wisdom has it that key theoretical entities are abandoned with them: examples include phlogiston, light rays, newtonian forces, euclidean space. In this paper we argue that the theoretical terms of superseded theories can typically be correlated with real and explanatorily relevant higher-level entities - 'theoretical relicts' - which enable successful description of non-fundamental phenomena. We describe a 'verticalization' procedure which transforms horizontal reductions (in which a reducing theory recaptures the reduced theory within a certain domain of application) into vertical reductions (in which a lower-level phenomenon constitutes or grounds a higher-level phenomenon). Theoretical relicts, as higher-level abstractions, correspond to distinct subject-matters from their lower-level realizers; this distinctness enables the relicts to retain distinctive explanatory power even in the presence of reduction. We suggest that theoretical entities from abandoned fundamental theories should be retained in a scientific realist worldview just when, reinterpreted as higher-level abstractions, they continue to perform distinctive explanatory work in providing the aptest, or most proportionate, explanation for non-fundamental phenomena of interest. In slogan form: a good relict is an emergent relict.

Talk based on joint work with Katie Robertson (Birmingham)


17.20 - 18.30 Chris Pincock (Ohio State Univ.)

Defending Selective Scientific Realism

A selective scientific realist maintains that we have some knowledge of the existence and character of unobservable entities. This paper considers how best to defend selective scientific realism. At the heart of any such defense would be the articulation and justification of some form of selective inference to the best explanation (IBE). One attempt to justify IBE is Psillos’ classic argument that a selective version of IBE is reliable (1999). More recently, Psillos has supplemented this argument by offering additional historical evidence about how IBE has been used over time (2021). I first argue that Psillos’ reliabilist strategy seems to rely on an implausible externalist account of justification. A purely reliabilist approach is not able to provide a successful defense of realism against the so-called pessimistic induction from the history of scientific failures. I then consider whether a dogmatist defense of IBE modeled on the dogmatist defense of ordinary perceptual knowledge would improve on Psillos’ approach. Finally, I consider a more radical proposal that uses the history of scientific failures to defend a form of IBE that incorporates changes in scientific practice over time.

Everyone is welcome for one talk or more.