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Conference Program with Abstracts

Thursday, October 25, 2012, V 1001 (Senatssaal)

5 to 5:30 pm

Opening Remarks by Wolfgang Spohn

5:30 pm to 7pm

Keynote Address: Peter Gärdenfors: On the Evolution of ‘If’

 

Abstract: I will focus on the evolutionary roots on conditional thinking and its roles in human cognition. First I shall discuss different forms of planning and compare human planning with that of other animals. A central idea is that humans have gained more control over imaginary worlds. This idea can also be connected to some neuroscientific evidence. Then I will discuss the role of conditional thinking in playing - again with comparisons to animals - and connect it to the roots of human culture and science. Finally, I will show how all these considerations connect to the role of "if" in language.

 

Friday, October 26, 2012, V 1001 (Senatssaal)

09:00 to 09:30 am

Coffee

 

Session 1: The Epistemology of Thought Experiments and Counterfactual Thinking 

09:30 to 10:30 am

Edouard Machery: Thought Experiments and Philosophical Knowledge

 

Abstract: While thought experiments play an important role in contemporary analytic philosophy, much remains unclear about them. In particular, it is still unclear whether the judgments elicited by thought experiments can provide evidence for the premises of philosophical arguments. In this talk, I will argue that, if an influential and promising view about the nature of the judgments elicited by thought experiments is correct, then many thought experiments in philosophy fail to provide any evidence for the premises of philosophical arguments.

 

10:30 to 11:30 am

Daniel Cohnitz: The Function and Epistemology of Thought Experiments in Philosophy and the (Ir)relevance of Intuitions

 

Abstract: It is common practice in contemporary metaphilosophy to talk of "the method of cases" as if there was a single identifiable method in analytic philosophy that could usefully be identified by that name and that would share a specific epistemology (which then might or might not involve a crucial role for "intuitions"). I will argue that this common practice is mistaken. In particular, I will defend the following claims:

1) The consideration of hypothetical cases, sometimes called 'thought experimentation', serves several different functions in philosophy, most of which do not involve interesting epistemological problems.

2) The type of thought experimentation that has the potential to lead to interesting epistemological problems, leads in fact to different problems in different areas of philosophy.

 

11:30 to 12:00 pm

Coffee Break

12:00 to 1:00 pm

Kirk Ludwig: Thought Experiments and the A Priori

Abstract: I have in mind to defend an account of a priori knowledge that grounds it in conceptual competence and to discuss the role of thought experiments in drawing on that competence in both discursive and reductive analysis.  I will address in the defense Timothy Williamson's criticism of epistemic approaches to grounding the a priori, critiques of the method of thought experiments grounded in the survey literature of experimental philosophy, and the view that thought experiments and conceptual analysis are a philosophical ignis fatuus in focusing on concepts rather than what concepts are of.

 

1:00 to 2:30 pm

Lunch

 

Session 2: The Role of Thought Experiments and Counterfactuals in Various Disciplines

2:30 to 3:30 pm

Julian Reiss:  Counterfactuals in the Social Sciences: Evidence and Inference

 

Abstract: Counterfactual claims are ubiquitous in the social sciences. They come in at least five different guises: as stand-ins for singular causal claims, to define the so-called 'individual causal effect', as foil against which to measure the outcomes of social policies, as alternate histories, and as tools for concept formation. This paper focuses on the relation between claims about causation and counterfactual dependence, argues that claims about counterfactual dependence can provide evidence for causal claims in the social sciences and sets out conditions under which causal claims may reliably be inferred from claims about counterfactuals.

 

3:30 to 4:30 pm

Elliott Sober: Thought Experiments are no problemo when the Propositions in Question are a priori -- Some Examples from Evolutionary Biology

 

Abstract: In my article "A Priori Causal Models of Natural Selection"  (Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2011, 89: 571-589), I argued that a priori causal models abound in evolutionary biology.  This makes it easy to understand why thought experiments also abound, and have epistemic authority. 

 

4:30 to 5:00 pm

Coffee Break

5:00 to 6:00 pm

Roland Wenzlhuemer: Alternative Explanations: Conspiracy Theories in History and Historical Research 

 

Abstract: Theories in general are tools designed to better understand and explain a given problem. Conspiracy theories are no exception here. The explanations that they offer to their believers might differ widely from more commonplace interpretations of the world, but in terms of their explanatory power and their potential of simplification conspiracy theories can hardly be overrated. With the help of a number of selected examples, this talk will look at the question of how historical actors in various cases subscribed to conspiracy theories in order to explain the seemingly inexplicable. And it will also dare to ask whether the line between strictly scientific procedure and conspiracy thinking can always be so clearly drawn in historical research itself.

 

8 pm

Reading by counterfactual novelist Christian v. Ditfurth, Spiegelhalle, Theater Konstanz, Hafenstr. 12, 78462 Konstanz

 

What would have happened if Stauffenberg had succeeded in assassinating Hitler on July 20, 1944? Christian v. Ditfurth explores this unrealized possibility in his novel „Der 21. Juli“ (July 21). He depicts the provocative scenario of a German Reich that goes on to win the Second World War without Adolf Hitler. The author is joined by the members of  the DFG research unit Daniel Dohrn, Bernhard Kleeberg and Riccardo Nicolosi for a discussion of the scope and the significance of virtual history.

 

Saturday, October 27, 2012, V 1001 (Senatssaal)

09:00 to 09:30 am

Coffee

 

Session 3: Logical and Linguistic Aspects of Counterfactuals and Thought Experiments

09:30 to 10:30 am

Kai von Fintel: Should von Fintel and Gillies be mothballed?

 

Abstract: (joint work with Anthony S. Gillies, Rutgers University): We will examine the arguments from Moss 2012 against a dynamic strict analysis of conditionals (as proposed by von Fintel 2001 and Gillies 2007).

 

10:30 to 11:30 am

Lutz Danneberg/Andrea Albrecht: Counterfactual Imagination

 

In literary criticism as well as in the history of knowledge (Foucault), the affinity of fiction, on the one hand, and thought experiments and counterfactual imaginations, on the other hand, is often claimed. The "status of fiction" of a thought experiment is "indisputable", writes for example Sigrid Weigel, so that it can be used as "litmus test for the significance of literature in science and epistemology". Thomas Macho first defines thought experiments as 'impossible', 'not realizable', or counterfactual imaginations and then concludes that thought experiments in science as in philosophy are "necessarily literary" and "radicalize, what as transgression between facts and fiction" has supposedly been already discussed many times. Conceptual homogenizations of this kind are generally based on a simplistic notion of fiction and an inadequate understanding of the argumentative structure of counterfactual imaginations. Therefore, the contribution explicates the difference between thought experiments, counterfactual imaginations, and fiction. On this basis complex situations such as 'fictional counterfactual imaginations' or 'thought experiments within fiction' can be described.

 

11:30 to 12:00 pm

Coffee Break

12:00 to 1:00 pm

Hans Rott: A Contextualist Approach to Indicative and Subjunctive Conditionals

 

In this talk I suggest, against the mainstream of the work on conditionals, that it is not possible to accept an indicative "If A is the case, then B is the case" and a subjunctive conditional "If A were the case, then not-B would be the case" in one and the same context. Except for some special classes of cases, indicatives should only be used if the truth value of the antecedent is open, and subjunctives only if the antecedent is considered to be false. Standard counterexamples to a parallel analysis of indicatives and subjunctives such as the notorious Kennedy-Oswald examples appear to trade on a contextual ambiguity. I experiment with the idea that this phenomenon might be analogous to the context-dependence of knowledge ascriptions.

 

1:00 to 2:30 pm

Lunch

 

Session 4: Counterfactuality, Fictionality and Narrativity

2:30 to 3:30 pm

Ana Arregui: Some Things Change, Some Stay the Same: Evaluating Similarity in Counterfactuals

 

Abstract: The evaluation of counterfactual conditionals requires identifying circumstances that are different from the actual ones, but also similar. In his book on counterfactuals, Lewis famously illustrated this with kangaroos:

(1)     “If kangaroos had no tails, they would topple over” seems to me to mean something like this: in any possible state of affairs in which kangaroos have no tails, and which resembles our actual state of affairs
as much as kangaroos having no tails permits it to, the kangaroos topple over.”

Modal proposals for the semantics for counterfactuals in terms of quantification over possible worlds have often followed Lewis and Stalnaker in appealing to similarity in order to identify the worlds quantified over (I will refer to these informally as Lewis-Stalnaker type analyses). The focus of this presentation will be on the linguistic mechanisms responsible for bringing similarity into the picture. In general, it has been assumed that similarity in the evaluation of a counterfactual conditional is invoked by the counterfactual modal itself.
I will argue instead for a view according to which the modal works together with tense to construct a conditional interpretation that is sensitive to similarity. The proposal will be couched within the situations semantics framework elaborated by Kratzer (1989, 2009). The role of tense will be to identify the facts that count towards the evaluation of similarity. I will present and discuss various type of evidence supporting the view that similarity results from the interpretation of tense.

 

3:30 to 4:30 pm

Karin Krauthausen: Ernst Mach and Paul Valéry

 

Abstract: The Austrian physicist Ernst Mach was not the first to use the term ‘thought experiment’. Nevertheless when in 1897 he published his article “Über Gedankenexperimente” the concept ‘thought experiment’ for the first time found a remarkable resonance amongst other scientists and theorists of science. The most famous reaction came from Pierre Duhem, who in a critical résumé described the thought experiment as a fictitious supplement to ‘real’ experimental work. For Duhem the thought experiment was a doubtful scientific tool because thinking alone could not provoke objective answers. In my lecture I want to demonstrate that such an understanding of thinking as a virtual and subjective process is not true for Mach. In his psycho-physiological articles and books Mach analysed associative mental processes as empirical processes that follow their own laws and are not subordinated to consciousness. That led to two noteworthy conclusions: Mach’s understanding of creative mental processes as empirical and partly objective occurrences makes the thought experiment a ‘real’ experiment, and thus partly unsettles the distinction between fiction and fact. Curiously, this shift is not only observable in the field of science but also in art theory. At roughly the same time as Mach was writing his first article on thought experiments, the French author Paul Valéry developed a similar concept, which he called “expérimentation psychique” (“psychic experimentation”). Valéry thus developed an associative mode of thinking in a way which came quite close to Mach’s observations (which Valéry was not aware of at the time). Furthermore, Valéry also wrote about the possibility of exploiting the incomprehensible and productive imaginative processes by a setting that could be truly named an experiment. In my lecture I want to explain Mach’s and Valéry’s similar concepts of the thought experiment and the psychic experimentation. My interest in both authors is guided by two aspects: first, how the thought experiment and psychic experimentation as concepts subtly undermine the ‘order’ of knowledge (by dissolving the opposition between subjectivity and objectivity, fiction and fact, science and art); and second, how this subversive act was never intended to weaken knowledge but to strengthen human capacities in a realm where the conscious self is necessarily surpassed: the sphere of the unknown.


4:30 pm to 5 pm

Coffee Break

5 pm to 6 pm

Closing Discussion