Research Networking Programme
The Philosophy of Science in a European Perspective (pse)

Final Report
Research Networking Programme THE PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE IN A EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE (PSE) Opening Conference “The Present Situation in the Philosophy of Science” University of Vienna, December 18-20, 2008
www.pse-esf.org and www.univie.ac.at/ivc/pse1.html


In 2008, December 18 to 20 the Opening Conference of the ESF-Research Networking Programme “The Philosophy of Science in a European perspective” (PSE) took place at the University Campus in Vienna. It was organized by the University of Vienna and the Institut Wiener Kreis/Institute Vienna Circle under the direction of Friedrich Stadler (Director of IVC and member of PSE’s Steering Committee (SC)). The latter introduced the conference with an opening address focusing on the pre-history and research background of the programme and forwarding a message from Jacques Dubucs (Paris), a member of the Standing Committee for the Humanities (SCH) of ESF.

The general topic of this large conference with 32 speakers was “The Present Situation in the Philosophy of Science” on which members of the 5 teams contributed from their specific perspective, as follows in the order of the schedule (cf. also the attached list of speakers):
Team E: Foundational and Methodological Debates
Team A: Formal Methods and their Applications to the Philosophy of Science
Team B: Approaches to the Foundations of Science: the Place of the Life Sciences
Team C: The Present Situation of the Philosophy of the Cultural and Social Sciences: The “Naturalist Turn”, the “Social Turn”, and the Discussion on Scientific Realism
Team D: Philosophical Foundations of the Physical Sciences
Each session was chaired by a member of the Steering Committee (Team A: Theo Kuipers, Team B: Gereon Wolters, Team C: Adrian Miroiu, Team D: Miklós Redei, Team E: Maria Carla Galavotti). (The whole program is still available in: www.univie.ac.at/ivc/pse1.html)

The format of the conference was such that in each Team Session 3 papers were delivered and followed by a commentary. All Team Leaders (Dennis Dieks, Wenceslao Gonzalez, Stephan Hartmann, Thomas Uebel, Marcel Weber) introduced the sessions with programmatic lectures as guiding and framing contributions. (The paper by Marcel Weber, who became ill shortly before the conference, was read by the chair of session III Gereon Wolters (Konstanz)). Each of the 15 papers (with a length of 30 minutes) were followed by 15 prepared commentaries from one invited commentator and a general discussion of 15 minutes, in which, by the way, also external experts from the Vienna community took part in. Maria Carla Galavotti, Chair of the programme, closed the conference resuming with practical and scholarly remarks the future perspectives of the PSE RNP.

This specific conference design without parallel sessions guaranteed the presence of all teams and wide discussion within and between the teams in order to identify the status quo of philosophy of science in Europe according to the general conference topic “The Present Situation in the Philosophy of Science”.


The Opening Conference of the ESF Research Network Programme “The Philosophy of Science in a European perspective” (PSE) took place at the University Campus in Vienna in 2008, from 18th to 20th December. It was organized by the University of Vienna and the Institut Wiener Kreis/Institute Vienna Circle under the direction of Friedrich Stadler, who opened the conference also on behalf of the Steering Committee (SC). The title of the conference: “The present situation in the philosophy of science” reflects the proposal contained in the programmatic document that was approved by the ESF.
The conference hosted 5 sessions organised by the research teams of the RNP, which are devoted to “Formal Methods in the philosophy of science” (Team A), “Philosophy of the Natural and Life Sciences” (Team B), “Philosophy of the Cultural and Social Sciences” (Team C), “Philosophy of the Physical Sciences” (Team D), and “History of the Philosophy of Science” (Team E). The sessions organised by the teams addressed the topics that specified in the approved project, where the proponents indicated “annual” issues to be dealt with by the activities organised by the RNP.
Description of the conference:

Session I: Foundational and Methodological Debates (Team E)
Thomas Uebel (“Aspects of Current History of Analytical Philosophy of Science”) argued that the history of (analytical) philosophy of science is itself philosophy when dealing with perspectivism and/or relativism inherent in history implicitly. Therefore, history of philosophy of science is itself philosophically useful as exemplified with the “left wing” of the Vienna Circle as an approach to a “by-parted meta-perspective on science” with logic of science (Carnap) and pragmatics of science (Neurath).
In his commentary, Thomas Mormann challenged the difference between analytic and general philosophy of science and consequently the dualism of the by-parted meta-perspective.
Cristina Chimisso (“Aspects of Current History of Philosophy of Science in the French Tradition”) spoke on French philosophy of Science with reference to its most important proponents (Condorcet, Comte, Duhem, Poincaré, Bachelard, Foucault, Canguilhem) and its most typical traits like historical epistemology or epistemological history (Levy Bruhl to Abel Rey). Her claim was the intertwining of history and philosophy and the conception of history of science as philosophy again. In the French tradition the historical approach is essential, contrary to the British analytic tradition.
In his commentary, Anastasios Brenner underlined the convergence of French philosophy and Logical Empiricism, although he admitted that some post-positivists characterized French philosophy f science as mainly historical oriented. In any case, historical research is a fruitful strategy to elucidate current historiography. In the general discussion the specific feature of French philosophy (of science) was debated controversially.
Michael Heidelberger (“Aspects of Current History of 19th Century of Philosophy of Science”) focused on the relevance of the philosophy of science for contemporary research. The 19th  Century philosophy of science was mainly rooted in the context of Weltanschauung and sometimes accompanied with emotional motifs. Nevertheless, Heidelberger recognized a sort of recurrence of these ideas as is obvious from the realism debate, Neo-Kantianism, and the origins of Logical Empiricism. In addition there is a difference between European and American developments, which followed late the European paradigms. His conclusion was that the 19th century is essential for the cognitive identity of European philosophy of science.
In his commentary, Massimo Ferrari stressed the importance of comparative studies in order to overcome national and nationalistic narratives and historiographies. He also made a plea for the inclusion f pragmatism in the research on European philosophy of science. The discussion raised question of how we could identify philosophy of science in different countries, besides institutions as one instance for such a future research program.

Session II: Formal Methods and their Applications to the Philosophy of Science (Team A)
Team A presented 6 papers of the same length.
Team Leader Stephan Hartmann (“Formal Methods in General Philosophy of Science: The State of the Art”) addressed problems of confirmation with regard to Bayesianism and indicated that different measures reflect different aspects of the confirmation relation. Another open problem was raised by the lecturer with the meaning of coherence, simplicity and plausibility and their relation to truth which ended up with a plea for a formal social epistemology.
The lecturer Vincent Hendricks introduced the notion of “agency” into the discussion postulating an epistemic logic with the task of axiomatizing knowledge, belief, and certainty.
In his talk on “Formal methods in the Philosophy of Natural and Formal Sciences” Hannes Leitgeb focused on the central notion of “proof” before the background of Goedel’s incompleteness theorems. Recent developments are in favour of probability theory instead of truth conceptions and theories.
In his paper, Thomas Müller added the link between probability and modality and elaborated the latter notion in detail as a problem solving procedure.
The third unit in this session was contributed by Franz Dietrich (together with Christian List) on “Formal Methods in the Philosophy of Social Sciences”. Their aim was providing a theory of the aggregation of propositional attitudes covering the individual and collective dimension. Such a general theory of propositional attitude aggregation would enable the application to a broad spectrum of different attitudes.
The relationship between models and problems was raised by Gabriella Pigozzi in her presentation questioning the method of how to aggregate individual opinions on propositions that are logically connected in order to define a group judgment on the same propositions.

Session III: Approaches to the Foundations of Science: The Place of the Life Sciences (Team B)
The paper of Team Leader Marcel Weber was read by the Chair Gereon Wolters: Life in a Physical World”. Its author dealt with the concept of function in biology with regard to reductionism, and the application of a metaphysical concept of law to biology. He argued against a “Darwinian reductionism” (Rosenberg) because proximate biology and evolutionary biology are independent and natural selection can not be conceived of as a physical law – rather it is a family of models lacking a general principle. Moreover, biological traits are identified functionally (“causal law function”) and theory-laden. This perspective (according to Aristoteles) allows for the employment of the notion of natural kinds.
Commenting on this presentation, Claude Debru emphasized that biology uses rather models, but no laws. Biology as an empirical science is per definitionem pluralistic and “polyfunctionalistic”. In the end he stressed the importance of philosophy (as epistemology) for the spectrum of biological variants.
Thomas Reydon (“How special are the Life Sciences? A View from the Natural Kinds Debate”) debated the relation of biology and physics taking into account the role of natural kinds. After criticizing the “essence view” and the “law view” Reydon privileged “functional kinds” in biology and proposed “heuristic tools” for finding natural kinds. Finally, the definition of biology by invoking natural kinds seems to be inconclusive.
Commentator Miles MacLeod proposed to speak of natural kinds in an epistemic sense while linking them to scientific success and practice. With this conception natural kinds are useful epistemological tools structuring science, even if not as elements for identifying research fields.
The problem of reductionism was again on the agenda with the paper of Mehmet Elgin (“Reducing Function to Structure: An Example from Biochemistry”) who argued in favour of a reductionist view on biochemistry illustrated by an example with proteins. This case study shows how biochemistry can be seen as a research program (according to Lakatos) explaining higher-level phenomena in terms of lower-level properties successfully.
This general claim was doubted by Commentator Raffaella Campaner providing a pluralistic approach instead. Given the fact, that in some fields like cancer research a reductionist program is not always working is an indicator that not all knowledge is explanatory like reductionism in biology. There is also descriptive, predictive, unifying or classificatory knowledge besides reductionist approaches,
The general discussion raised the question of the definition of “reductionism” and what is meant by a specific “biological” approach.

Session IV: The Present Situation of the Philosophy of the Cultural and Social Sciences: the “Naturalist Turn”, the “Social Turn”, and the Discussion on Scientific Realism (Team C)
Team Leader Wenceslao Gonzales opened this session with an overview on “Trends and Problems in the Philosophy of Social and Cultural Sciences: A European Perspective”. As an outline for the subsequent years he discerned 3 levels of analysis and questions: the general status of the cultural and social sciences, their comparison with the natural science, and the specific issue of the scientific status of each discipline. Then he addressed the “European perspective” and identity from an historical and thematic point of view. One specific feature is the importance of foundational and methodological questions between naturalism (semantically, epistemologically, methodologically), social turn (Kuhn and social constructivism) and the realism debate (from structural realism to scientific critical realism).
Arto Siitonen commented on this paper with two concrete questions: whether the social sciences are explanatory or predictive and which role mathematics plays in this regard, as well the problem of defining an European identity in this research field.
Following one of the above mentioned key problems, Matti Sintonen in his “Realism in Social Science. Ontological, Causal, Structural or What?” proposed at a “formalized mechanism” as a meta-theory for the social sciences. He inserted results of psychology and linguistics (Chomsky) into the realism debate as supporting his claim of determining physical-mechanical structures und processes and perceptions. Another instance was offered with action theory and the debates between causalists and intentionalists (von Wright) ending up with a compatibility of both positions.
Just this convergence of realism and mechanism was not accepted by Bengt Hansson in his critical commentary challenging some aspects of mechanism which is not specified with reference to the necessary preceding set-ups. And additionally, a theory of mechanism has to meet the requirements of describing the underlying functions.
The general discussion continued with the possibility of probabilistic mechanisms or of causality without mechanism in the social sciences.
The last paper of session IV by Daniel Andler raised the question “Is Naturalism the Unsurpassable Philosophy for the Sciences of Man in the 21st Century?”. He recognized a split between naturalists in the human sciences and the philosophers of science as non-naturalist philosophers. Naturalism as oriented towards the natural sciences, but there remain different forms of naturalism and different kinds of questions with regard to naturalism as a monistic world view employing natural and non-natural entities. The speaker adhered to a sort of “minimal naturalism” , but not as “unsurpassable”. As to the usage in the social sciences naturalism is rather a difficult enterprise because of the validity of causal explanations.
In his commentary, Antonio Zilhao objected to the fusion of naturalism and anti-naturalism as a coherent theoretical position. Also the equation of naturalism and reductionism and the linkage of explanatory power with naturalism and reductionism is flawed.
In the discussion the need for a clear and exact notion of “naturalism” was expressed, while the applicability of naturalism in the field of rationality was doubted.

Session V: Philosophical Foundations of the Physical Sciences (Team D)
Team Leader Dennis Dieks spoke on “The Philosophy of the Physical Sciences” focusing on the interplay between physics and philosophy and exemplified with the two main figures Hume and Kant as cornerstones for the subsequent philosophies of science from Mach to Logical Empiricism. He stressed the topicality of Kant also in the 20th Century philosophy of science and vindicated Reichenbach’s road from the relativized a priori to conventionalism against Schlick’s criticism. This was illustrated by Reichenbach’s analysis of simultaneity. Such a case study shows according to Dieks that philosophy of physics is historically situated.
Mauro Dorato, in his commentary, demanded a précis definition of “conventionalism”, because it can be conceived of as contrary to “factual”, constitutive, changeable, or as non-definable in terms of a physical (causal) relation. He continued to challenge Neo-Kantian philosophy because of equating constitutive in science and in experience.
In the discussion the pragmatic aspects of Reichenbach’s philosophy was mentioned in order to regard scientific success as a guiding principle in philosophy of science.
Roman Frigg dealt with “Chance in Deterministic Systems” in his commentary. The problem of understanding probability in deterministic theories (statistical mechanics, Bohm’s quantum mechanics, chaos theory) aiming at a theory of objective chance compatible with determinism. “Humean Best Systems” as developed by Lewis’ “Principal principle”: adjust credence on empirical chance. Frigg’s main theses was the compatibility of chance and determinism and chance cannot be regarded as a lack of knowledge, while probability supervenes in the “Humean Mosaic” the class of all events that actually happen, on the totality of facts.
The highly technical comment of László E. Szabó pointed at some alleged inconsistencies, esp. with the “Principal principle” and the definition of chance and the notion of “credence”.
In the discussion the role of probability in quantum mechanics was addressed, especially the work of Kries was mentioned as relevant for Frigg’s arguments.
Holger Lyre’s paper (“Structural Realism and the Metaphysics of Physics”) introduced structural realism (SR) as an European phenomenon in philosophy of science with epistemic, ontic, eliminative and non-eliminative versions. Some metaphysical problems like “quidditism” (suchness) are to be resolved to avoid structural empiricism. An overcoming these problems can be achieved by an “intermediate structural realism” with intrinsic properties, but not collapsing into entity-realism. Two open problems are mentioned with SR and its relation to underdetermination and with a sufficient definition of SR.
In his Commentary Fred Muller argued that structural underdetermination is a problem only for dogmatic empiricists and that SR would work in physics, but not in biology.
In the discussion the status of General Relativity and its possible underdetermination is brought up and the concept of relational intrinsic properties seen as self-contradictory.

In her “Closing Remarks”, Maria Carla Galavotti, the Chair of the Programme resumed up with 3 important insights of the conference: (1) the importance of the historical research, (2) the roots of empiricism in Europe, and 3) the significance of pragmatism for the future investigations of PSE. Some specific research perspectives were mentioned with the Polish School and the Scandinavian tradition (including the Finnish contribution to Logical Empiricism and philosophy of science in general). The status quo of philosophy of science after the “historical turn” is characterized by plurality and specialization all over the world. The remaining European traits in philosophy of science are the inclusion of the historical roots of current debates and the focus on problems that are transversal to the various sub-disciplines.


The RNP “The Philosophy of Science in a European perspective” was launched officially in May 2008 and will run for 5 years up to 2013. The opening conference on “The Present Situation in the Philosophy of Science” was the beginning of a promising interdisciplinary networking and cooperation in the philosophy of science all over Europe with 17 participating countries organized in 5 teams with more than 60 scholars coming from 22 European countries – renowned scientists as well as younger researchers. In addition, some existing Research Centers (like Bielefeld, Bologna, London, Tilburg, Vienna etc.) are and will be integrated more or less as institutional partners and platforms for the future activities.

During the first 3 days conference, the current debate in the field of Philosophy of Science was addressed with reference to the main topics and recent results as a sort of description and critical account of the state of the art. The conference “The Present Situation in the Philosophy of Science” focused on foundational and methodological issues from an interdisciplinary point of view.

Following the directions that were specified in the programmatic document of PSE that was approved by the ESF, the starting conference provided the theoretical basis and frame for the upcoming smaller workshops to be organised in years to come. These will be devoted to the following “annual” topics: “Explanation, prediction and confirmation” (2009), “Probability and statistics” (2010), “The sciences that philosophy has neglected” (2011). A large closing conference will be held in Bologna on “New directions in the philosophy of science” in 2012.

The presence of the Team Leaders (TL) and the members of the SC at the Vienna conference assured a strong interaction between the components of the RNP PSE.

In a closing common meeting of the SC and the TLs together with the representative of ESF (Madelise Blumenroeder) the future procedure of PSE was discussed according to the formal and financial requirements of the ESF programmes. E.g., it was decided to publish a series of at least 5 books as proceedings of PSE conferences and workshops in the next years 2009ff. with Springer (Dordrecht).

A most important result of the conference held in Vienna was a further clarification of the future directions to be followed by the 5 Teams of PSE in their research. The conference identified the main currents and problems within philosophy of science from a philosophical perspective, as well as from an historical point of view. As a by-product, some genuine European features of the debate within philosophy of science were identified, and embedded in the long and famous European tradition of philosophy of science since the 19th century. Therefore, the opening conference was very successful in paving the way for research to be carried out in the next years. Along these lines, 3 workshops were scheduled in 2009, and it was decided that a book series will be published with Springer, containing the proceedings of each year’s activities. The first volume will appear at the end of 2009 edited by Friedrich Stadler together with the 5 Team Leaders.

Vienna, February 26, 2009

Friedrich Stadler
(University of Vienna and Institute Vienna Circle) with the assistance of Donata Romizi and Miles MacLeod (University of Vienna), and Karoly Kokai (Institute Vienna Circle)


Thursday, December 18.
Opening addresses Friedrich Stadler (University of Vienna)

  1. Session: Team E, Foundational and Methodological Debates Chair: Maria Carla Galavotti

Thomas Uebel (University of Manchester) Aspects of Current History of Analytical Philosophy of Science
Thomas Mormann (San Sebastian University) Commentary
Cristina Chimisso (Open University UK) Aspects of Current History of Philosophy of Science in the French Tradition
Anastasios Brenner (University Paul Valéry - Montpellier III) Commentary
Michael Heidelberger (University of Tübingen) Aspects of Current History of 19th Century Philosophy of Science
Massimo Ferrari (University of Turin) Commentary


II. Session: Team A, Formal Methods and their Applications to the Philosophy of Science Chair: Theo Kuipers

Stephan Hartmann (University of Tilburg) Formal Methods in General Philosophy of Science: The State of the Art
Vincent Hendricks (Roskilde University) Commentary
Hannes Leitgeb (University of Bristol) Formal Methods in the Philosophy of Natural and Formal Sciences
Thomas Müller (Utrecht University) Commentary
Franz Dietrich (University of Maastricht) Formal Methods in the Philosophy of Social Sciences
Gabriella Pigozzi (University of Luxembourg) Commentary


Friday, December 19.
III. Session: Team B, Approaches to the Foundations of Science: The Place of the Life Sciences Chair: Gereon Wolters

Claude Debru (École Normale Supérieure - Paris) Commentary
Thomas Reydon (University of Hannover) How Special are the Life Sciences? A View from the Natural Kinds Debate
Miles MacLeod (University of Vienna) Commentary
Mehmet Elgin (Mugla University) Reducing Function to Structure: An Example from Biochemistry
Raffaella Campaner (University of Bologna) Commentary


IV. Session: Team C, The Present Situation of the Philosophy of the Cultural and Social Sciences: The "Naturalist Turn", the "Social Turn", and the Discussion on Scientific Realism Chair: Adrian Miroiu
Wenceslao Gonzalez (University of A Coruña) Trends and Problems in the Philosophy of Social and Cultural Sciences: A European Perspective
Arto Siitonen (University of Helsinki) Commentary
Matti Sintonen (University of Helsinki) Realism in Social Science: Ontological, Causal, Structural, or What?
Bengt Hansson (University of Lund) Commentary
Daniel Andler (Université Paris-Sorbonne, IUF, IHPST-DEC-ENS) Is Naturalism the Unsurpassable Philosophy for the Sciences of Man in the 21st Century?
Antonio Zilhao (University of Lisbon) Commentary


Saturday, December 20.
V. Session: Team D, Philosophical Foundations of the Physical Sciences Chair: Miklós Rédei

Dennis Dieks (Utrecht University) The Philosophy of Physics in Perspective
Mauro Dorato (University of Roma 3) Commentary
Roman Frigg (London School of Economics) Chance in Deterministic Systems
László E. Szabó (Eötvös University, Budapest) Commentary
Holger Lyre (University of Augsburg) Structural Realism and the Metaphysics of Physics
Fred Muller (Erasmus University, Rotterdam) Commentary

Maria Carla Galavotti (University of Bologna) Closing remarks


Saturday, December 20. Meeting of the Steering Committee and Team Leaders
Claude Debru
Jan Faye
Maria Carla Galavotti
Olav Gjelsvik
Gerd Grasshoff
Theo Kuipers
Ladislav Kvasz
Adrian Miroiu
Ilkka Niiniluoto
Demetris Portides
Wlodek Rabinowicz
Miklos Redei
Friedrich Stadler
Greg Wheeler
Gereon Wolters
Stephan Hartmann
Wenceslao Gonzalez
Dennis Dieks
Thomas Uebel
Madelise Blumenroeder
Cristina Paoletti