Sunday, September 28, 2008

CFP: Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice

Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP)
Second Biennial Conference
June 18-20, 2009
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA

Please send an abstract of 500 words, and full contact information, to
For registration and further information:
Deadline for submission: February 1st, 2009.

The Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP) aims to create an interdisciplinary community of scholars who approach the philosophy of science with a focus on scientific practice and the practical uses of scientific knowledge.

The SPSP biennial conferences provide a broad forum for scholars committed to making detailed and systematic studies of scientific practices — neither dismissing concerns about truth and rationality, nor ignoring contextual and pragmatic factors. The conferences aim at cutting through traditional disciplinary barriers and developing novel approaches. We welcome contributions from not only philosophers of science, but also philosophers working in epistemology and ethics, as well as the philosophy of engineering, medicine, agriculture, and other practical fields. Additionally, we welcome contributions from historians and sociologists of science, pure and applied scientists, and any others with an interest in philosophical questions regarding scientific practice.

The SPSP Conference in 2009 will be held concurrently with a large workshop for teachers on integrating historical, philosophical and sociological perspectives into science teaching ( Joint sessions are planned.

In addition to keynote lectures by invited speakers, the conference will feature parallel sessions with contributed papers. For the 2009 conference, we particularly welcome contributions on the topics listed below; however, other topics are by no means excluded. Please indicate clearly in your abstract which of the following topics (if any) your paper addresses — this will help us construct coherent themed sessions.
In addition to individual papers, proposals for whole, thematic sessions with coordinated papers are strongly encouraged, particularly those which include multiple disciplinary perspectives and/or input from scientific practitioners. Session proposals must include a 500-word abstract for each paper (or an equivalent amount of depth and detail, if the format of the proposed session is a less traditional one). Multiple submissions of any form by the same person will not be allowed.

1. Philosophy of Science and Science Education: How does philosophy of science inform science teaching? What ideas about scientific practice, including those based on historical and sociological perspectives, are important to teach? How can they be effectively taught in a science classroom? How is such understanding assessed? What insights and challenges might such contexts offer to philosophers?

2. Epistemology of Scientific Practice: There has been a degree of disconnection between epistemology and the philosophy of science, despite the clear relevance of the two fields to each other. We welcome contributions that flesh out epistemologists’ concerns in terms of scientific practice, or broaden traditional epistemological categories in order to make them more suitable for the understanding of knowledge practices.

3. Experimental Practices: More than 20 years ago the ‘new experimentalists’ in philosophy of science called for a more serious engagement with experimental practice. The work continues, and significant questions remain. How are scientific phenomena produced and observed — in the laboratory, in the observatory, in the field, and even in the armchair? What exactly does the knowledge of phenomena consist in? What are the characteristics of the technologies and sites that enable scientists to identify the objects of their study and to theorize about them?

4. Practices of Modeling, Simulations and Computer Experiments: Anyone familiar with today’s cutting-edge scientific research will feel how out of touch our common philosophical images of scientific activity are. Most scientific theorizing today seems to happen in the form of modeling and simulation. Has there now been enough philosophical work on modeling, after the flurry of activity in recent decades? Have we, for instance, paid enough attention to the more applied and complex subjects that tend to be neglected in traditional philosophy of science, including climatology, synthetic chemistry, ecology and seismology?

5. ‘Knowing Well’, Values, and Evidence-for-Use: How do philosophical approaches to knowledge change when the context shifts from ‘pure’ science to applied science and public policy, in areas such as engineering, agriculture and medicine? How do we go beyond mere knowing to ‘knowing well’? How does the blurring of the traditional distinction between ‘fact’ and ‘value’ affect our conceptions of evidence and epistemic justification? And how do individual and social values and sense of responsibility shape the scope, focus and methods of scientific practice?

6. Rationality, Pluralism and ‘Styles of Reasoning’: Philosophers tend to accept very few kinds of reasoning as rational: deductive, inductive/statistical, and perhaps abductive. From historical and empirical studies it appears that scientific practices employ many other styles of reasoning. Often, these other ‘styles’ are seen as ‘merely heuristic’ and unable to play a role in the justification of knowledge. Is it possible to present more interesting accounts of these other styles of reasoning and of rationality?

7. Philosophical Pragmatism and Science in Practice: Are there existing philosophical frameworks that are particularly well-suited for the understanding of ‘science in practice’? In recent years many people have paid renewed attention to the American pragmatists in this connection: Dewey, Peirce, James, and also C. I. Lewis. Can pragmatism really provide useful guidance for the philosophy of science in practice? If so, which ideas are most useful for which purposes?

8. Social Epistemology: Within both the philosophy and sociology of science, there is a shared interest in the production, assessment, and validation of knowledge. We welcome contributions which synthesize sociological and philosophical points of view — empirically based research into the origination and transmission of scientific knowledge, as well as considerations about the social issues which arise when such knowledge is applied in a variety of types of practice.

Monday, September 22, 2008


This weekend there was a profile in the NYT of an unlikely philosophy department to have a large # of majors and the philosopher who built it. [No, I'm not linking it; I'm dissing it. If you want to find it, check the Leiter Reports.]

Here on this blog, we might use it as a case study in the pedagogical beliefs and techniques that exclude women and other vulnerable students from our discipline. I recommend Talking about Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences (by Elaine Seymour and Nancy Hewitt, 1997) as a detailed case study in the attitudes that communicate to students the ideals of male academic privilege. This study and others have been essential in guiding the interventions that have helped the sciences correct their skewed gender ratio. For instance, weed-out classes are designed to weed out the least "talented" students but have the effect of weeding out the least tenacious as well. Those students that are less tenacious may be so because they lack self-confidence, or it may be because they have many talents and don't benefit from a masochistic viewpoint, or because they misread the moral message that strict (usually masculine) teachers convey.

Here's a student, quoted in the philosopher's profile:
“I was expecting a survey course, and in walks this big scary guy, using words I’d never heard before, talking about Hume as background for Kant, telling us how hard the class was going to be."
This student (male) ended up admiring the professor but admitted that many others drop his classes.

The philosopher
says that philosophy requires a certain rare and innate ability — the ability to step outside yourself and observe your own mind in the act of thinking. In this respect, he recognizes that his detractors have a point when they criticize his approach to teaching. “It’s aristocratic in the sense that any selection based on talent is aristocratic,” he told me. “I know it offends everyone’s sense of democracy, this idea that everyone’s equal, but we all know that’s just not true.”
And here he assumes that if he fails to communicate with a student, it is due to the student's innate low intelligence.

This is not the pedagogical model that philosophers should be known for. And these are not scholarly goals that we are required to adopt in order to love our discipline. Philosophy can be practical; analysis can be useful; and our students can be successes without pursuing PhD's.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Back to School

It's a holiday for most of us in the U.S., but for me it's the first day of fall term classes. It's been a wonderful and fairly productive summer, but I'm excited about the ethics class I have planned.

I'm trying a course blog this year:
I've come to a point where I can't imagine that students would be satisfied with only paper copies of syllabi and assignments. And the online course support that RIT uses (MyCourses), besides being private, has a clunky and ugly interface that requires multiple page loads just to give out links. I hope that blogging will provide a better forum for student discussions (via comments) and for generating excitement.
(Thanks to Brandon Watson for encouragement!)


I'm not teaching Plato this year, but I agree with Schwitzsplinters, who notes that the Dialogues are not much in the way of give-and-take. They model a mode of learning but not progressive inquiry and discovery; dialogue is still an underexploited genre.