The Philosophy of Science in a European Perspective—An ESF Research Networking Programme

Final Report of the workshop of Team B "Philosophy of the Life Sciences", Konstanz, 2-4 October 2009

1. Summary

The 2009 workshop of team B took place in Konstanz, Germany, 2-4 October 2009. It consisted of 8 main paper presentations, each followed by a commentary and discussion (90 minutes total per paper). The title of the workshop was "Explanation, Confirmation, and Prediction in Biology and Medicine". Specific topics included causal explanations in medicine, reductive explanations in biology as compared to physics, evolutionary explanations, mechanistic explanation, conceptual issues in behavioral and psychiatric genetics, the demarcation of creationism and science with the help of Bayesian confirmation theory, and confirming the efficacy of treatments in medicine.
The speakers included 10 senior and 6 junior philosophers (two graduate students). With the exception of one paper by a graduate student and three commentaries by senior colleagues, the main papers were given by senior philosophers, whereas the commentaries were given by junior philosophers. In addition, the workshop was attended by some students, staff and visiting scholars of the University of Konstanz.


2. Scientific Content and Results

Raffealla Campaner's contribution examined explanation and multilevel causation in the health sciences. She found that the notions of causal pathway and causal process are more germane to the health sciences, specifically epidemiology, than the currently widely discussed notions of causal mechanism and causal regularity.
Andreas Hüttemann presented a case study from biophysical chemistry, namely explanations of protein folding. He argued that the standard account of microreductive explanation needs to be expanded to account for such explanations because protein folding is not determined by the intrinsic properties of proteins (this paper was co-authored with Alan Love, University of Minnesota).
Peter McLaughlin challenged a standard conceptual analysis of the theory of natural selection according to which selection works like a sieve. This picture is misguided, he argued, because selection is not merely an eliminative process.
Daniel Sirtes presented a critique of extant accounts of mechanistic explanation. He concluded that mechanisms are not simply out there, only in relation to certain explanatory goals and pragmatic interests do certain entities belong to a specific mechanism.
Kenneth Schaffner examined some recent results from psychiatric genetics to shed new light on the old question of the extent to which the human mind is a "blank slate" at birth or if there are genetic psychological dispositions. He argued that different senses of the term "genetic" must be carefully distinguished. There are senses according to which there are such dispositions, but the genotype-phenotype correlations are extremely varied and complex.
Gerhard Schurz defended a demarcation criterion for scientific beliefs on the basis of Bayesian confirmation theory and used it to show that a rational epistemic agent ought to reject creationism and embrace evolutionary theory.
John Worrall examined the epistemology of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in medicine. He criticized Nancy Cartwright's well-known account of probabilistic causation, which entails that causal claims can only be ascertained on the basis of RTCs and argued that causal claims may also be established by other means (a view also held by Austin Bradford Hill, the pioneer of RCTs).
Finally, Gerd Graßhoff defended an elaborate regularity theory of causation. He argued that this account is superior to the currently popular interventionist accounts and used a historical case study from biochemistry (the discovery of the urea cycle) that it conforms well with causal reasoning in experimental practice.


3. Program


14:30-16:00     Raffaella Campaner (Bologna)
On Causal Explanation in the Health Sciences
Commentator: Samuel Schindler (Konstanz)

16:00-16:30 Coffee

16:30-18:00     Andreas Hüttemann (Münster)
Reductive Explanation in Physics and Biology
Commentator: Marcel Weber (Konstanz)



9:30-11:00  Peter McLaughlin (Heidelberg)
The Arrival of the Fittest: What Natural Selection Explains
Commentator: Thomas Reydon (Hannover)

11:00-11:30 Coffee    

11:30-13:00 Daniel Sirtes (Basel / Konstanz)
A Pragmatic-Ontic Account of Mechanistic Explanation
Commentator: Andreas Reutlinger (Münster)

13:00-14:30 Lunch

14:30-16:00     Kenneth Schaffner (Pittsburgh)
Behavioral and Psychiatric Genetics: How Blank is the "Blank Slate"?
Commentator: Maria Kronfeldner (Bielefeld)

16:00-16:30 Coffee

16:30-18:00     Gerhard Schurz (Düsseldorf)
Creationism, Bayesian Confirmation, and the Problem of Demarcating Science from Pseudo-science
Commentator: Franz Huber (Konstanz)



9:30-11:00       John Worrall (London)
Causality in Medicine: Getting Back to the Hill Top
Commentator: Michael Joffe (London)

11:00-11:30 Coffee

11:30-13:00     Gerd Graßhoff (Bern)
Inferences of Causal Relevance From Experiments
Commentator: Wolfgang Spohn (Konstanz)

13:00-14:30 Lunch

End of conference ca. 14:30



Hanne Andersen* (co-team leader)
Deaprtment for Studies of Science and Science Education
Bygning 1110
C.F. Møllers Alle 8
8000 Århus C

Raffaella Campaner
Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Alma Mater Studiorum - University of Bologna
Via Zamboni 38
40126 Bologna

Gerd Graßhoff
Department of Philosophy
University of Bern
Länggassstr. 49a
3012 Bern

Franz Huber
Department of Philosophy
University of Konstanz
78457 Konstanz

Andreas Hüttemann
Department of Philosophy
Westphalian Wilhelms University of Münster
Domplatz 23
48143 Münster

Michael Joffe
Emeritus Reader
Division of Epidemiology, Public Health and Primary Care
Imperal College of Science, Technology, and Medicine
London SW7 2AZ

Maria Kronfeldner
Department of Philosophy
University of Bielefeld
33501 Bielefeld

Peter McLaughlin
Department of Philosophy
Ruprecht-Karls University Heidelberg
Schulgasse 6
69117 Heidelberg

Alexander Reutlinger
Department of Philosophy
Westphalian Wilhelms University of Münster
Domplatz 23
48143 Münster

Marcel Weber (team leader)
Department of Philosophy
University of Konstanz
78457 Konstanz

John Worrall
London School of Economics
Department of Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method
Houghton Street,
London WC2A 2AE

Thomas Reydon
Center for Philosophy and Ethics of Science
Leibniz University Hannover
Im Moore 21
30167 Hannover

Kenneth Schaffner
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh
1017 Cathedral of Learning
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Samuel Schindler
Department of Philosophy
University of Konstanz
78457 Konstanz

Gerhard Schurz
Department of Philosophy
Heinrich Heine-University of Düsseldorf
40225 Düsseldorf

Wolfgang Spohn
Department of Philosophy
University of Konstanz
78457 Konstanz

Daniel Sirtes
Science Studies Program
University of Basel
Missionsstrasse 21
4003 Basel


*did not give a talk and paid for the trip and accommodation through her own travel funds