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Office of Neuroscience Research > Neuroscience Calendar > Philosophy Colloquium: Adrian Currie (University of Cambridge)

Philosophy Colloquium: Adrian Currie (University of Cambridge)

"Chasing Biproducts" 

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When: Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Where: Busch Hall 100 (Danforth Campus)

Abstract:  It is sometimes thought that what really matters about a scientific investigation isn’t the intended output, but instead the biproducts. I’m developing an account of what philosophers of science have called ‘pursuit’: in addition to generating hypotheses, and supporting hypotheses, scientists need to make decisions about which hypotheses to investigate. I’m following the hunch that in many contexts the right choices about pursuit are made not on the basis of the payoff from confirming or disconfirming the hypotheses under consideration, but instead on indirect payoffs, the things we learn along the way, biproducts. To do this, it would help to know the difference between an investigation’s biproducts and direct outputs: that’s my aim in this paper. I start by distinguishing between primary and secondary epistemic value. The crucial difference between these turns on the success of an investigation or practice. Primary epistemic value requires that an investigation meets its aims; while for secondary epistemic value simply carrying out the investigation increases the chance of some epistemic good being generated. But how should we understand the aims or success conditions of a scientific practice? It would be unfortunate if this turned on intentions alone – there had better be something about the practice itself which determines the relevant aims. I’ll suggest that Hasok Chang’s notion of ‘operational coherence’ potentially provides just such an account. Roughly, scientific practices are directed towards certain kinds of aims, and they are structured towards those aims being achieved. As such, certain kinds of commitments are required to make sense of why scientists structure investigations in the ways they do (for instance, Hacking suggested that we need to be committed to the existence of electrons to make sense of how physicists use them in the design and implementation of experiments). I’ll consider whether some aims are like this: that is, whether some scientific practices only make sense in light of their being directed towards a set of aims. If so, I then have something on which to hang my notion of ‘success’, and thus the distinction between primary and secondary epistemic values as well.


This is a Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology (PNP) Program related seminar.  

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