SOPhiA 2013

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programm - Vortrag

Pluralism in Science
(Plenarvortrag, Englisch, Ort: HS 101)

This talk is a critical discussion of recent work on pluralism in science, especially: Stephen Kellert, Helen Longino, C. Kenneth Waters, eds. Scientific Pluralism, 2006; Sandra Mitchell, Unsimple Truths, 2009; Hasok Chang, Is Water H2O? 2012; and Helen Longino, Studying Human Behavior, 2013.

Taking these (and some other) recent texts as my starting point, I begin by separating different forms and strengths of pluralism and monism. In drawing lines between these different forms and strengths, I shall use categories familiar from discussions on relativism. In the process I shall seek to clarify the relations between (different forms of) pluralism and monism on the one hand, and (different forms of) realism and antirealism, or (different forms of) relativism and absolutism, on the other hand. I shall also distinguish between different argumentative strategies for defending pluralist or monist positions.

In the main part of my paper, I shall focus on Chang's manifesto for -- what he calls -- ''active normative epistemic pluralism''. Chang's pluralism stands out for its philosophical and political boldness: it comes with revisionist philosophical accounts of knowledge, truth, success, and realism; it attacks and rejects a host of positions in epistemology and the philosophy of science (e.g. the view that knowledge is true belief plus X; the causal theory of reference, scientific realism, inference to the best explanation, the significance of underdetermination); it uses pluralist ideas to reassess central developments in the history of science (both as res gestae and as historia rerum gestarum); it suggest a new role for the field of History and Philosophy of Science (i.e. to function as ''complementary science''); and it puts forward pluralist proposals on how science should be conducted, financed, directed, distributed and taught (e.g. defending the idea that creationism should be part of the biology school curriculum).

Much as I welcome and admire the boldness and originality of several aspects of Chang's work, I am not convinced by several of his claims and his evidence for them. Here is an (incomplete and initial) list of my discontents:

(1) Chang seems to me to exaggerate the extent to which the sciences themselves and the philosophy of science are dominated by so-called ''monism''. The problem is aggravated by Chang's tendency to equate monism with reductionism, foundationalism, scientific realism and inevitabilist renderings of the history of science. Positions previously presented in the literature as moderate forms of monism are either ignored or subsumed under pluralism.

(2) Social Studies of Science are almost completely absent from Chang's book. This is problematic since considering scientific work as tied to social contexts would make it much less plausible to reason counterfactually-abstractly about where, say, the Phlogiston theory might have got to, had it been kept alive for longer. Considering science as a social phenomenon might also invite reflections on whether certain forms of monism or unification might not be functionally necessary to the pursuit of science.

(3) Chang does not sufficiently consider the costs (of various kinds) of practicing science in a pluralist mode. He tends to assume that it is almost always better for science and society if several (incommensurable) research practices work in parallel, and if the foundations of all paradigms are challenged by radical alternatives. This does not strike me as obviously true. Given constraints of science budgets - whether public or private - we simply do not always have the means to finance many competing research programmes. Or we might sometimes reasonably think that less rather than more fundamental challenges are what scientific effort requires in order to succeed.

(4) Chang's redefinitions of ''truth'' and ''knowledge'' strike me as too radical and as unnecessary given his goals. There are many accounts of truth and knowledge in the literature that would serve the purposes of the pluralist.

(5) Finally, I am sceptical about the idea of HPS as a complimentary science that brings back to life research programmes decades or centuries after they have disappeared. In part my scepticism is rooted in problems already adduced above. But it is also anchored in doubts about Chang's own prime example of a successful instance of complimentary science, that is, the case of superheating of water.

Chair: Christian J. Feldbacher
Zeit: 16:30-18:00, 14. September 2013 (Samstag)
Ort: HS 101

Martin Kusch
(University of Vienna, Österreich)

Martin Kusch is Professor in Applied Theory of Science and Epistemology, Department of Philosophy, University of Vienna. His research interests and area of specialization is in the General Philosophy of Science and Technology, Philosophy (and History) of Psychology and the Social Sciences, Social Epistemology, Philosophy of Language (Davidson, Kripke and Wittgenstein), Historiography and Sociology of Scientific Knowledge. He is a member of several academic committees, received a number of research grants -- amongst others of the British Academy (2000) and currently from the Austrian Science Foundation (2012-2014), was Assistant, Lecturer, Reader and Professor at the University of Toronto (1991-92), the University of Edinburgh (1993-97) and the University of Cambridge (1997-2009). Recent publications: "A Sceptical Guide to Meaning and Rules: Defending Kripke's Wittgenstein", Montreal, 2006 and "Reflexivity, Relativism, Microhistory: Three Desiderata for Historical Epistemologies", Erkenntnis, 2011 and "Annalisa Coliva on Wittgenstein and Epistemic Relativism", Philosophia, 2013. For more information about Martin Kusch see website1  &   website2!

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