Our presentations from the PSA: Philosophy in Science (PinS) symposium

Philosophy in Science:
Can Philosophers of Science Contribute to Science?


Below are the presentations from our remote session on “Philosophy in Science”on November 13, 2021 at the Philosophy of Science Association meeting. We are having an extended discussion on Monday November, 22 at 3pm Eastern Standard Time. If you wish to take part, write to me of your interest by email (error) with the subject “PinS” or use comments below. (Include name, affiliation and email).

Session Abstract: Although the question of what philosophy can bring to science is an old topic, the vast majority of current philosophy of science is a meta-discourse on science, taking science as its object of study, rather than an attempt to intervene on science itself. In this symposium, we discuss a particular interventionist approach, which we call “philosophy in science (PinS)”, i.e., an attempt at using philosophical tools to make a significant scientific contribution. This approach remains rare, but has been very successful in a number of cases, especially in philosophy of biology, medicine, physics, statistics, and the social sciences. Our goal is to provide a description of PinS through both a bibliometric approach and the examination of specific case studies. We also aim to explain how PinS differs from mainstream philosophy of science and partly similar approaches such as “philosophy of science in practice”.

Here are the members and the titles of their talks. (Link to session/abstracts):

  • Thomas Pradeu (CNRS & University Of Bordeaux) & Maël Lemoine (University Of Bordeaux): Philosophy in Science: Definition and Boundaries
  • Deborah Mayo (Virginia Tech): My Philosophical Interventions in Statistics
  • Elliott Sober (University Of Wisconsin – Madison): Philosophical Interventions in Science – a Strategy and a Case Study (Parsimony)
  • Randolph Nesse (Arizona State University) & Paul Griffiths (University of Sydney): How Evolutionary Science and Philosophy Can Collaborate to Redefine Disease


T. Pradeu & M. Lemoine slides: “Philosophy in Science: Definition and Boundaries”:


D. Mayo slides: “Philosophical Interventions in the Statistics Wars”:


E. Sober: “Philosophical Interventions in Science – A Strategy and a Case Study (Parsimony)”


R. Nesse & P. Griffiths: How Evolutionary Science and Philosophy Can Collaborate to Redefine Disease”:

Categories: PSA 2021 | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Our presentations from the PSA: Philosophy in Science (PinS) symposium

  1. Hello,
    I would love to take part in the extended discussion.

    Ze-No Centre for Logic and Metaphysics, Indonesia

  2. Stuart Bevan

    I think you (plural) have a really good idea in this approach/idea. There is absolutely no question in my mind that:
    a. the critical thinking skills of Philosophy/Philosophers have a valuable role to play in the Sciences;
    b. based on my own experience in business (infra) those competences lead to real-world results.

    I return to Philosophy after a 37-year career in business; I can say from personal experience that the analytic methods I learnt in Philosophy enabled me to solve I would guess most if not all, the most difficult problems I came across in the World of Commerce.
    Those methods certainly enabled me to write twelve (12) patents. Eight (8) of those issued, three (3) of the remainder were filed nationally this past June. The first Patent had no prior art; analytic with writing skills are two key abilities for authoring Patents.
    More Philosophers and more Philosophy are needed in Science and Technology.
    My 2 cents worth.

    • Stuart:
      Thanks for your comment. You’re saying that analytical/philosophical skills were importantly relevant for your patents? Wow. I’d be very curious to know what any of them are.

      • Stuart Bevan

        Deborah, I think background information is needed in addition to the list. Working on a synopsis which will hopefully help the overall discussion.
        Happy Thanksgiving to all in America!

  3. Interesting, sorry I missed it all but thankfully some of it was put here.

    My interests maybe somewhat different – highlighting the role of abstract representations in the scientific process and how that needs to be central in statistics where the abstract representations are probability models. So a general outlook rather than a specific resolution of a problem.

    These probability models and data give rise to likelihood and in turn p_values, severity, probation and posterior probabilities. But if abstract representations reflected in the probability models represent the world too incorrectly in important ways, these all can be vacuous. In Nesse and Griffiths talk, the manifest and scientific image being too different.

    In the first example in Sober’s talk, given what I understood, the phylogenetic trees are an abstract representation of the world and so ideally the likelihood should be based on a probability model that represent the world the same way.

    As for likelihood, ideally should be thought of as as assessment of compatibility with the data and assumptions – over all parameter values – maximum likelihood is just the one point in the parameter space making it most compatible.

    Keith O’Rourke

    • Keith:It would have been good if the group discussed more of the content of our interventions, as with some of the points you mention.
      The thing about viewing likelihood as assessing compatibility is that this puts it at odds measures like p-values. It’s true that p-values can be used as mere “fit” measures, but this is to lose their error probabilistic aspects.

I welcome constructive comments that are of relevance to the post and the discussion, and discourage detours into irrelevant topics, however interesting, or unconstructive declarations that "you (or they) are just all wrong". If you want to correct or remove a comment, send me an e-mail. If readers have already replied to the comment, you may be asked to replace it to retain comprehension.

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