- Theoretical virtues
- Novel success, predictivism, ad hocness
- Scientific realism
- Scientific discovery
- Scientific explanation
- The demarcation problem
- History and philosophy of science — the method
- Intuitions in science and philosophy
Theoretical Virtues (back to top)
A theoretical virtue is a desirable theory-property. Theoretical virtues are important in the topic of theory-choice (on the basis of what criteria adopt / should adopt scientists their theories?) and in the realism debate (on the basis of which criteria do we have good reasons for believing that the theory in question captures the reality behind the phenomena). I have carried out one historical case study in detail (of the discovery of weak neutral currents and a precursor of the standard model in fundamental particle physics), in which I argue that the virtues of the theory in question were crucial for its acceptance, particularly in the face of conflicting evidence (see also theory-ladenness). See here. I have also written a book on the topic of theoretical virtues.
The realism debate (back to top)
In a seminal paper, it has been claimed that the realism debate is an irrational debate, since we cannot know the base rate of true theories. I have argued in a recent paper, that, with a sufficiently large number of scientists embracing a very virtuous theory, we need not know the base rates. So long as the true positive rate is bigger than the false positive rate, the realist argument goes through. So long we focus on principled arguments about the error rates, the debate is rational after all.
Novel success, predictivism, ad hocness, and M-fertility (back to top)
Many philosophers have the intuition that a theory’s successful prediction of a phenomenon should count more in its favour than a successful explanation of a phenomenon we already know about. This view is also known as temporal predictivism. Despite the pull of this intuition, philosophers have been hard pressed to provide any compelling rationale for why predictivism is supposed to be true. Consequently, weaker versions of predictivism have been formulated, most notably by John Worrall. I have criticized his account here. My book also contains a chapter on the topic. Interestingly, many accounts of predictivism motivate the alleged superiority of novel success by claiming that it secures against the possibility of the theory in question accommodating the phenomena in an ad hoc fashion. I have suggested in a paper that we turn our attention to articulating the notion of ad hocness itself in order to reach a better understanding why we take ad hoc accommodations to be epistemically deficient. In that paper, I develop a coherentist conception of ad hocness (this is also part of my book). McMullin has, in a number of works, argued that there is another kind of fertility, which gives us good reasons to be realists. Essentially, this fertility springs from the de-idealisation of models associated with certain theories, which allows us to accommodate anomalies for the theory in a non-ad hoc way. This idea, which I call M-fertility, also underlies Lakatos’s famous positive heuristics of research programmes. In a paper and my book I re-analyse the central example of both McMullin and Lakatos, namely the Bohr model of the atom. I conclude that the example does not support the idea of M-fertility, as the changes made to the model throughout its history cannot be construed as de-idealisations.
Theory-ladenness (back to top)
Theory-ladenness of observations is usually conceived of as an epistemically problematic influence of observations by the theories we hold or the partial determination of the meaning of (apparent) observational terms through theory. I have surveyed the various forms of the thesis in an encyclopedia entry. In two of my papers, I have argued against Bogen and Woodward’s claim that theory-ladenness is not possible in the construction of the phenomena from the data (which they claim proceeds entirely from “bottom-up”). One paper focuses on a case study (a crucial discovery leading to plate tectonics) and the other is slightly more general. Most recently, I have developed the thesis of theory-ladenness in the experimental context, where theories can partially determine judgements about whether or not the data are reliable. See here.
Scientific discovery (back to top)
Scientific discovery is a curiously under-investigated topic in the philosophy of science. Although there is much research on the famous context distinction (context of discovery vs. context of justification), there is little on how scientific discoveries of natural kinds and unobservables are to be construed. The first to have tackled the topic is Thomas S. Kuhn in a paper that appeared in Science (a truncated version of which made it into his seminal book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). Essentially, Kuhn argues that there are two kinds of discoveries: one where our conceptual resources prepare us for the discovered object and one where they don’t. In one of my papers, I have amended Kuhn’s account and have defended it against criticisms.
Explanation (back to top)
I have argued that an important formulation of the highly popular mechanistic account of explanation (Craver 2008), which depends on Woodward’s counterfactual account of causation, is ambiguous between providing epistemological criteria of identifying mechanisms and providing identity conditions of mechanisms. In the first case, the explanatory relation between the mechanism and the explanandum violates the desideratum of explanatory asymmetry. In the second case, pragmatic considerations (of explanatory contrast classes) seem to be sufficient for identifying mechanisms. See here. I have also argued that Bokulich’s account of explanatory fictions contains a tension between her claim that explanatory fictions are justified by true theories and her claim that model fictions are genuinely explanatory (rather than just calculatory devices). There are also other problems with her account springing from her partial use of Woodward’s counterfactual account of causation – also related to asymmetry – which I detail here. But my interest and work in the field of explanation is not only critical. In a paper I argue that truth is indeed extraneous to good scientific explanations and that good scientific models represent empirical regularities as physical necessities.
The Demarcation Problem (back to top)
On the basis of which criteria can one tell science apart from non-science and pseudoscience? This traditional problem, which was one of the driving forces for Popper’s famous philosophy of science, has received little attention in recent decades. I argue that as philosophers of science we ought to have to say something about science, and not just about physics, biology, chemistry, etc. Contrary to what some have suggested, the problem thus ought not to be deflated. The diversity of science, which is often cited as a major obstacle to articulating demarcation criteria, is not a real obstacle, I argue. I argue furthermore that the concept of family resemblance, which prima facie seems well suited to represent the diversity of science and which has therefore enjoyed great popularity among philosophers, however, is only a pseudo-solution. All this can be found in this paper and in my book.
History and Philosophy of Science – the method (back to top)
I’m interest in understanding how we (as philosophers) can use the history of science to inform our (normative) views about science. Here I have argued that Kuhn’s work (especially on the concept of ‘normal science’) offers valuable insights. I have called Kuhn’s approach to the history of science The Kuhnian mode of HPS. Essentially, one discovers philosophical norms about science through the study of history, although the historical facts are not the justifiers of philosophical norms. This bridges the notorious norm-fact divide. I have also argued recently here (with R. Scholl) that philosophical inferences involving historical case studies can be viewed as analogous to inferences involving model organisms in biology.
Intuitions in Science and Philosophy (back to top)
The role of intuitive judgments in philosophical thought experiments has been hotly debated for about a decade now. The debate has a lot of complexity. I’ve been interested in linking this debate to discussion of thought experiments in science. Despite the formal similarity of thought experiments in these two realms and the judgements elucidated by them, there has been little interchange between the two literatures. In my project, I seek to change this with my team (consisting of two postdocs and a PhD student). In a paper (with P. Saint-Germier), we use this formal similarity to support what is known as the “expertise defense” against challenges based on experiments with the folk.