Activités / Activities


1 décembre / December 1st, 3:30 – 5:30 pm
Anouk Barberousse, Université Paris Sorbonne
“Formalism, mathematical interpretation, and physical theories”
Philosophy seminar room #927, 9th floor, Leacock building, McGill University (PLAN/MAP)

Conférence co-organisée avec / Talk co-organized with McGill’s Philosophy Department

In this talk I shall argue in favor of considering formal settings (pieces of mathematical theories that are commonly used in physics or other empirical disciplines) as important units of analysis for understanding scientific achievements, along with theories, models, computer simulations, concepts, etc. I’ll present different examples of formal settings, from calculus to cellular automata. My main examples will be the representation of time in Discrete Mechanics.


13 octobre / October 13th, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
Kerry McKenzie, University of San Diego
Delusions of a final theory: structuralist metaphysics and the problem of theory change
Room 422, 2910 boul. Édouard-Montpetit, Département de philosophie, Université de Montréal (PLAN/MAP)
Conférence co-organisée avec / Talk co-organized with the Montreal Inter-university Workshop on History and Philosophy of Mathematics
Structuralist philosophy of science in its contemporary guise is committed to three core theses: first, that science makes progress; second, that it is structure that is ontologically fundamental; and third, that our metaphysics must be informed by science if it is to have any value. But these three theses give rise to an obvious tension, given that we as yet lack a fundamental physics theory that can inform the claims that lie at the heart of its metaphysics.  To resolve the tension, one might hope that we can regard metaphysics based on merely pro tem fundamental physics to at least be making progress toward the description of the truly fundamental level.  But I will argue that any such notion of progress cannot be analogous to that which  science enjoys.  At the root of this is the fact that structuralist metaphysics, for all its naturalistic credentials, is in fact a form of ‘analytic’ metaphysics, and the categories of the latter have an all-or-nothing character that makes them intrinsically unreceptive to any meaningful notion of approximation. However, with this now in plain sight, we are better positioned to imagine what a structuralist metaphysics have should looked like all along – a metaphysics, that is, that is tolerant enough to undergo progress as well as merely suffer change.

29 septembre / September 29th, 3:00 – 5:00 pm
Margaret Morrison, University of Toronto
“Building Theories: Strategies not Blueprints”
Local W-5215, 5eme étage, Pavillon Thérèse-Casgrain (W), 455, Boulevard René-Lévesque Est, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) (PLAN/MAP)
Conférence co-organisée avec / Co-organized talk with the Département de philosophie de l’UQAM
Views of theory structure in philosophy of science (semantic and syntactic) have little to say about how theories are actually constructed; instead, the task of the philosopher is typically understood as reconstruction in order to highlight the theory’s essential features. However, if one takes seriously these views about theory structure then it might seem that we should also characterize the practice of building theories in accordance with the guidelines they set out. If we look at examples of some of our most successful theories we see nothing like the practices that conform to our present accounts of theory structure. Instead we have a variety of different approaches, approaches that partly depend on the phenomena we want to account for and the kind of theory we desire. A number of strategies can be identified in high energy physics, two of which are (1) top down using symmetry principles and (2) a bottom up strategy beginning with different types of models and gradually embedding these in a broad theoretical framework. Finally, in cases where methods and techniques cross disciplines, as in the case of population biology and statistical physics, we can see that theory construction was largely based on analogical considerations such as using mathematical methods for treating systems of molecules in order to incorporate populations of genes into the theory of natural selection. Using these various examples I argue that building theories doesn’t involve a blueprint for what a theory should look like, rather the architecture is developed in a piecemeal way using different strategies that fit the context and phenomena in question. 

8 septembre / September 8th, 3:30 – 5:30 pm
Sorin Bangu, University of Bergen (Norway)
“Reductionism, Constructionism and Explanation. The Case of Superconductivity”
Philosophy seminar room #927, 9th floor, Leacock building, McGill University (PLAN/MAP). Light refreshments will be served at 3:00 pm at Leacock 908.
It is perhaps old news that understanding-generating explanations of phenomena in biology, geology, economics, etc. are not, and cannot be, formulated in terms of (or in some sense reduced to) the basic constituents of reality, i.e., electrons, quarks, and other fundamental particles. These explanations are thus ‘higher-level’. While some argue that chemistry should also be on this list, it is surely controversial whether physics itself is (or could be) part of this group. This talk explores this possibility, namely that the explanation of superconductive properties of certain materials is an illustration of this kind of explanation.

12 mai / May 12th, 3:00 – 5:00 pm
Daniel Andler, Université Paris 4 Sorbonne
“How interesting is critical naturalism?”
Local W-5215, 5eme étage, Pavillon Thérèse-Casgrain (W), 455, Boulevard René-Lévesque Est, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) (PLAN/MAP)
Critical naturalism is a position vis-à-vis scientific naturalism which I defend in my recent book, La Silhouette de l’humain, and which supports the ongoing naturalization programs of cognitive science, neuroscience, and evolutionary social science, while denying to them final authority in the understanding of human affairs. As a midway position, it doesn’t sound very exciting, and may seem easy enough to defend. I will first fill it out, and then attempt to show that it is less than obvious but nevertheless correct.

24 mars / March 24th, 1:00 – 3:00 pm
Gillian Barker, The University of Western Ontario
“Functions, Agents, and the Global Environmental Crisis”
Local W-5215, 5eme étage, Pavillon Thérèse-Casgrain (W), 455, Boulevard René-Lévesque Est, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) (PLAN/MAP)
Conférence co-organisée avec / Co-organized talk with Fillosophie

17 mars / March 17th, 9:30 – 11:00 am
Peter Galison, Harvard University
“The Objectivity of Science”
Philosophy seminar room #927, 9th floor, Leacock building, McGill University (PLAN/MAP)
Conférence co-organisée avec / Co-organized talk with the Philosophy Department at McGill

2 février / February 2nd, 3:30 – 5:30pm
Martin Carrier, University of Bielefeld
“Agnotological Challenges: How to Capture the Production of Ignorance”
Philosophy seminar room #927, 9th floor, Leacock building, McGill University (PLAN/MAP)
Agnotology concerns the creation and preservation of confusion and ignorance. Certain positions are advocated in order to promote economic, political, or metaphysical interests with the result of creating mock controversies or maintaining unjustified agreement. I propose to identify agnotological ploys by the discrepancy between the conclusions suggested by the design of the study at hand and the conclusions actually drawn or intimated. Agnotological ploys are characterized by the unrecognized difference between those issues for which a study is sensitive and those issues that feature in its interpretation. This mechanism of “false advertising” serves to implement agnotological endeavors without having to invoke the motivations of the relevant agents. I discuss three agnotological cases, i.e., studies on bisphenol A, Bt-maize/Roundup, and Oslo’s airport Gardermoen. Agnotological challenges are best met by transparency and plurality. The former requires recognizing the partial character of a study and the latter encourages conducting a different study so as to achieve a more balanced picture. The identification of agnotological moves serves to curb the manifold of contrasting assumptions that characteristically goes along with pluralism. Identifying agnotological endeavors is a means for weeding out approaches that look fitting at first glance, but are blatantly inappropriate, in fact. Pinpointing agnotological endeavors helps transform a pluralist manifold into a manageable range of alternatives.