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CPNSS Research Seminar - Abstracts

What the Ravens Really Teach Us: The Intrinsic Contextuality of Evidence

  • Monday, 24th April 5:00-7:00 pm
  • Hasok Chang and Grant Fisher
  • UCL

We propose a new solution to Hempel's paradox of confirmation, which will also shed some new light on the concept of evidence in general. Our view regarding the paradox is that a non-black non-raven does confirm "All ravens are black", but only in certain contexts. Thus we start by re-formulating the paradox as a puzzle about how the same entity can have variable evidential values for a given proposition. Then we offer a three-stage solution to the re-formulated paradox. (1) The situation makes sense if we reach a deeper propositional understanding of evidence, recognizing that each entity can be represented in multiple observational propositions. (2) We can avoid confusion by recognizing two different senses of the word "evidence", one applying to objects and the other applying to propositions; only the latter is useful for inference. (3)A fuller understanding comes from analyzing the constitution and use of evidence in terms of epistemic action, rather than trying to reduce evidence down to objects and their properties only.

Asset-Based Welfare: Evidence From Focus Groups

  • Monday, 22 May 5:00-7:00 pm
  • Rajiv Prabhakar

In 2003 Chancellor Gordon Brown announced the introduction of the Child Trust Fund. This promises to pay all babies born in Britain from September 2002 an endowment of either £250 or £500 from government. This endowment is locked into a special account until the child's eighteenth birthday. During the lifetime of the account, the child, family and friends can contribute up to £1,200 into the account. Once the child turns eighteen, they can spend their Child Trust Fund how they please. The Child Trust Fund is an example of a wider programme of 'asset based welfare'. This orients social policy to look at the stock of assets that people own as well as the flows of income that they receive. The Child Trust Fund is the first policy of its type anywhere in the world. It attracts the interest of politicians and policy-makers from across the world, in places such as the United States, New Zealand and Australia. The sustainability of the Child Trust Fund and broader asset- based welfare depends importantly on the support it receives from the public. As yet, there is little evidence on what the public feel about this policy. This paper presents original evidence from focus groups held with parents who have been provided with the Child Trust Fund. Data will be provided on important controversies related to the Child Trust Fund. For example, the paper presents evidence on what parents think of the 'progressive universalist' feature of paying children who come from low income households the higher £500 grant; whether owning the Child Trust Fund will make it more likely that parents will save for their children; and whet her parents would prefer higher income payments through an increased Child Benefit rather than the Child Trust Fund.

Diachronic and Synchronic Emergence

  • Monday, 5 June 2:00-4:00pm
  • Paul Humphreys
  • University of Virginia

This paper develops an approach to diachronic emergence in computational models that builds on Mark Bedau's account of weak emergence as computational incompressibility. I explore ways in which this kind of diachronic emergence is very different from the kinds of synchronic emergence that have dominated the literature in the philosophy of mind and argue that synchronic accounts are insufficient to capture commonly accepted cases of emergence in complexity theory. Some improvements to Bedau's account are suggested and the paper will conclude with some remarks about the role of novel concepts in representations of diachronic emergence.

Inferential Practices in the History of Science: Copernicus, Darwin and Freud

  • Monday, 12 June 5:00-7:00pm
  • Friedel Weinert
  • Bradford University

Physicist Steven Weinberg once said that he could not think of a single instance of falsificationism at work 'in the past one hundred years.' This paper proposes a distinction between falsificationism and testability. Testability will be understood as a particular type of inferential practice. I will go on to examine this inferential practice - sometimes called 'induction by elimination' or 'contrastive explanation' - in the work of Copernicus, Darwin and Freud. My conclusion will be that this practice is widespread in science and that falsifiability is only a limiting case of testability.

Information, Inheritance and Evolution

  • Monday, 13 March 5:00-7:00pm
  • Tom Dickins

It was commonly agreed that evolution through natural and sexual selection resulted from organisms struggling to survive and reproduce in the face of environmental challenges. Those traits that met challenges would show variation and only those organisms that expressed sufficient 'amounts' of the trait would meet the challenge. What is more, some variants of a trait would be more 'efficient' at solving the environmental problem and those organisms expressing those variants would thrive, relative to others. If these traits were heritable they would be passed on to the ensuing generations and gradually come to dominate within the species. Evolutionary theory thus provides a theory of design. When Darwin (1859) first proposed this idea he was aware that he lacked a theory of inheritance. This gap was filled by the development of genetics. Since the 1960s neo-Darwinian evolutionists have focused on gene-level analyses, where adaptations are understood to be traits that increase the relative frequency of their underlying genes in the gene pool (Dawkins, 1976).

In recent years a number of theorists within the behavioural and biological sciences have supported other notions of evolution that are not thought to replace the neo-Darwinian process of selection but are thought to represent other sources of design in the organic world. These theses note change at epigenetic, ontogenetic, behavioural and cultural levels (e.g. Jablonka and Lamb, 2005). At root these proposals challenge the privilege that genes have enjoyed in orthodox neo-Darwinian accounts. These arguments seek to undermine genes as the sole source of information in organic design, and in so doing attempt to establish new notions of inheritance to explain phenomena that are thought to be problematic to the orthodoxy. In this paper I shall outline these new views, discuss the notion of information at work and demonstrate that for these processes to work at all they must be critically dependent upon genes.

Lakatos' Legacy: the Emerging Field of the Study of Mathematical Practice

  • Tuesday, 14 February 2:00 - 4:00pm
  • Jean Paul Van Bendegem
  • Vrije University Brussels

In this lecture a (tentative and incomplete) model will be presented on mathematical practice as it actually done by mathematicians. The picture that emerges shows an activity of an overwhelming complexity, whereof the search for proofs is "merely" one of the ingredients. Finding new concepts, proposing new research programs, rewriting existing proofs, finding heuristical considerations to guide proof search, "experiments" (including computer generated searches), philosophical considerations,..., all enter into a full description of mathematical practice. Inevitably - and this is the philosophical relevance of this model - a number of "ancient" philosophical questions about mathematics need to be reconsidered.

On Some Aspects of the Psychology of Normativity

  • Monday, 27 February 5:00-7:00pm
  • Nicola Knight
  • University of Michigan and CPNSS

Although the study of morality has a long and distinguished history in philosophy, a truly psychologically and evolutionarily plausible theory of ethics has not yet been offered. Recently, some philosophers and cognitive scientists have taken it as their task to naturalise ethics. The convergence of philosophical and psychological interest in the moral
domain has so far proved fruitful. In this paper, I aim to build upon these initial efforts to provide a general framework for the study of the normative domain. I will argue for an emotion-laden, domain-specific account of psychological normativity, though my account will differ significantly from the well-known one of Turiel (1983). I will also argue that the process of explanation and justification of one's normative judgement, rather than simply being an accessory, post-hoc rationalisation, is instrumental in establishment and maintenance of the normative domain. Finally, I will propose that these two aspects of normative psychology can account for both the apparent human predisposition to acquire norms and for the normative variability found across cultures.

Cooperation and the We-Perspective

  • Monday, 23 January 5:00-7:00pm
  • Raimo Tuomela
  • University of Helsinki and CPNSS

The distinction between the I-mode and the we-mode is a central tool in the theory of social action marking the difference between having an attitude or acting as a private person or as a member of a collective. We-mode reasoning leads more easily to cooperation simply because we-mode collective action constitutively is cooperative, and such cooperation tends to be more persistent than I-mode cooperation. Both modes of reasoning seem to be operating in human societies and both are needed.

This paper investigates the circumstances in which rational cooperation requires we-mode thinking and acting. An especially interesting comparison is that between agents acting fully as group members (thus in the we-mode) and agents only privately committed to group goals (thus in the pro-group I-mode). It is shown that we-mode acting in many cases is de facto individually more rational and more reasonable than is I-mode acting (including pro-group I-mode action).