'Why Immaterial Standards Matter'
- In a well-known passage in the Investigations, Wittgenstein makes the following claim: “There is one thing of which one can state neither that it is 1 metre long, nor that it is not 1 metre long, and that is the standard metre in Paris.” (2009, p. 29e) [original emphasis]. The standard meter, Wittgenstein reasons, is an ‘instrument’ of our language. Qua an instrument, it provides a means through which length can be represented, though it is not itself representable. It is thus illegitimate, he claims, to ask whether the standard meter is a meter long. I begin this talk by showing how Wittgenstein’s concerns become immaterial in the face of modern measurement theory. That’s because standards nowadays are set by definitions, not samples. I then proceed to explore several advantages of the definitional approach, focusing, among other things, on the stability it offers over the old sample-centric approach. (To be presented at the The Making of Measurement conference, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge, July 24
'Can Theory-Laden Effects be Removed?'
- This talk proposes the design of a type of experiment whose aim is to determine whether
differences in the content of expert vs. layperson observational reports, where these do indeed exist,
can be removed under controlled conditions. Clearly, if such differences could be removed at least
sometimes, theory-ladenness of this sort would pose less of a threat to inter-subjective agreement
on, and ultimately to the objectivity of, observational reports. We conjecture that such differences
are indeed within our ability to expunge. What is more, we argue that the content of the resulting
observational reports does not lose any of its evidential relevance. Our hope is that through
discussing these issues with fellow philosophers and psychologists we will be able to refine the
design of our experiment prior to actually carrying it out. (To be presented at the 23rd Annual Meeting of the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology, University of Tartu, July 14-17
'How to Make a Long Theory Short'
- Scientists tend to opt for simpler and more unified theories. In this talk, I put forth a novel conception of unification as well as an associated formal measure. I begin the discussion with a brief survey of some failed attempts to conceptualise unification. I then proceed to offer an analysis of the notions of confirmational connectedness and disconnectedness. These are essential to the proposed conception of unification. Roughly speaking, the notions attempt to capture the way support flows or fails to flow between the content parts of a theory. The more the content of a theory is confirmationally connected, the more that content is unified. Theories that make more strides toward unification, and, hence, are more economical in the way they capture the same phenomena, are thus to be preferred to those that make less strides for purely confirmational reasons. (To be presented at the British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference, University of Manchester, July 03
'What Makes a Hypothesis Ad Hoc?'
- Natural and social scientists alike, no matter whether they are experimenters or theoreticians, can hardly carry out research without having to think about ad hoc-ness. Given the concept’s ubiquity, one would imagine that it is rather well understood. Not quite. Though there is certainly agreement on what count as clear-cut cases of ad hoc hypotheses, e.g. the much-maligned Ptolemaic systems of astronomy, confusion abounds regarding what exactly makes a hypothesis or manoeuvre ad hoc. In this talk I attempt to wade through this confusion and offer some lucidity. I begin with a brief examination of some notable conceptions of ad hocness. I then point out that there is a general problem afflicting these conceptions, namely intuitive judgments that are supposed to motivate them are not always consistent. Instead of getting bogged down in an attempt to give a full-fledged analysis of the concept, which may not even be possible given the aforementioned tensions, I shift the focus to one undesirable feature, which I label ‘monstrousness’, often present in alleged cases of ad hoc-ness. A formal account of this feature is put forth by specifying what it is about the internal constitution of a hypothesis that makes it monstrous. The talk concludes with a discussion of some examples. (Invited talk presented at the University of Montreal, November 13
'Empiricism Unchained: Debunking the Instrument Conspiracy'
- Observations made through instruments that cannot also be made with our unaided sensory organs lack epistemic credibility, claim the constructive empiricists. One well-known challenge to this view draws attention to the fact that distinct types of instruments have been known to yield the same or at least highly similar observational outputs. The implication, of course, is that the convergence of output is evidence of the ability of those instruments to detect real features of the world. To meet this challenge, the constructive empiricist attempts to argue that the convergence is an artefact of the practice of calibration. In this talk, I argue that this is desperate, conspiratorial, attempt to rule out the veridicality of the output of instruments. My inquiry is framed around a broader discussion of what makes unaided sensory organs epistemically credible. Surprisingly, constructive empiricists say nothing on this matter. Against this background, I put forth a proposal for what lends unaided sensory organs epistemic credibility and, unsurprisingly, argue that the same credibility is extended to several types of instruments. (Invited talk presented at the University of Western Ontario, November 10
'Methods and Universality'
- Over the years several attempts have been made to put forth scientific methods with universal applicability. These attempts have been met with incredulity. Any such attempt, it is argued, is likely to fail given the substantial ontological differences between scientific disciplines as well as within a given scientific discipline across history. As a consequence, widespread pessimism has ensued over the existence of such methods. In this talk I endeavour to stem the pessimistic tide by arguing that we are already in possession of some universal methods and, moreover, that we are converging towards others, giving various examples along the way. (Presented at the Symposium on ‘The Scientific Method – Revisited’, Philosophy of Science Association 2014 Biennial meeting, Chicago, November 07
'Veridical Perception and Observation'
- Philosophical debates have numerous departure points. I am interested in a rather rich departure point that takes not only the world of mental states for granted but also the existence of a mind-independent world populated with distinct things, some of which are embodied humans with brains and sensory organs. This departure point still leaves open the question whether our mental states about the mind-independent world are truthful. Let us call ‘veridicalism’ the view that perceptual beliefs and observational reports are largely truthful. In this talk, I argue for veridicalism by, among other things, examining in detail and ultimately deflating in import what many consider to be the view’s greatest threat, the so-called ‘theory-ladenness’ of perception and/or observation. More specifically, I argue that to the extent that theoretical factors influence the formation of perceptual beliefs and observational reports, as theory-ladenness demands, that influence is typically not detrimental to their veridicality or at least not irreversibly so. (Keynote lecture at the Experience and Reality conference, Catholic University in Ružomberok, Slovakia, June 06
'Intelligence as Portability in Problem-Solving'
- What is intelligence? Is it something that we measure when we conduct so-called IQ tests? Is it
something that, no matter how it gets measured, is uniquely human? Does some form of the Turing
test, an alleged indicator of the presence of machine intelligence, provide some help in answering
the original question? Is there such a thing called ‘emotional intelligence’? If so, how is it related to
traditional, i.e. non-emotional, intelligence? Much disagreement surrounds these and other related
questions. In this talk, I address the first and most central of these questions by focusing on two
traits that, as I argue, are ubiquitous in behaviour that we intuitively deem as intelligent, namely
success in problem-solving and portability. I argue for a specific articulation of these traits and
conclude that a conception of intelligence with this articulation at its foundations makes some
headway in understanding the phenomenon under study better. (Presented at the International Association for Computing and Philosophy 2014, Thessaloniki, July 03
'The Metaphysical Status of Logical Principles'
- This talk mounts a defence of the view that logic can, and in actual fact does, univocally and definitively answer questions about the validity of at least some inferences. This is tantamount to saying that some rules (and potentially axioms) are the right ones. More controversially, I argue that their rightness is determined by the physical world itself. Indeed, I argue that the right logic, but obviously not our conception of it, is itself a structural feature of the world. (Invited talk presented at the Aspects and Prospects of Realism in the Philosophy of Science and Mathematics Seminar, University of Athens, March 10
'Science with Artificially Intelligent Agents: The Case of
Gerrymandered Hypotheses' - Barring some civilisation-ending
man-made catastrophe, future scientists will likely incorporate fully
fledged artificially intelligent agents in their ranks. Their tasks
will include the conjecturing, extending and testing of hypotheses. If
we are to hand over at least some of the aforementioned tasks to
artificially intelligent agents, we need to find ways to make explicit
and ultimately formal, not to mention computable, the more obscure of
the methods that scientists currently employ with some measure of
success in their inquiries. This talk puts forward a fully articulated
formal solution to the problem of how to conjecture new hypotheses or
extend existing ones such that they do not save phenomena in
gerrymandered or ad hoc ways. (Presented at the 2nd Conference on
the Philosophy and Theory of Artificial Intelligence (PT-AI 2013),
University of Oxford, September 21-22 2013).
Duesseldorf Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science
(DCLPS), Heinrich-Heine Universitaet Duesseldorf, Universitaetsstrasse
1, Geb. 23.21,
40225 Duesseldorf, Germany. Tel.: +49 (0) 211
Fax: +49(0) 211 81-11750. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org