Paradigms, conceptual frameworks, and denkkollektive

Image: Ludwik Fleck as prisoner / scientist in Buchenwald An earlier post opened a discussion of the "historical turn" in the philosophy of science in the early 1960s (link). This innovation involved two large and chiefly independent features: deep attention to the social and institutional context of scientific research, and the intriguing idea that research …

Social embeddedness of scientific and cultural work

How do complex, socially embodied processes of cultural and scientific creation work? (I'm thinking of artistic traditions, scientific research communities, literary criticism schools, high-end culinary experts, and mental health professionals, for example.) This is a complex question, by design. It is a question about how a field of "cumulative" symbolic production moves forward and develops; …

Realism about social entities

Critical realism depends on the key notion that sociologists are justified in construing their statements about social entities as real, objective features of the social world — “intransitive” objects, in Bhaskar’s somewhat idiosyncratic vocabulary. But does a realist ontology actually require this assumption? Or are there realist interpretations of sociological theory that do not “reify” …

Advancing high-energy physics in the United States

Here is an interesting and important scientific question: where is high-energy physics going? What future discoveries are possible in the field? And what strategies are most likely to bring these breakthroughs about? HEP is the field of physics that studies sub-atomic particles -- muons, quarks, neutrinos, bosons, as well as now-familiar larger particles like neutrons, …

Ludwik Fleck and “thought styles” in science

Let's think about the intellectual influences that have shaped philosophers of science over the past one hundred years or so: Vienna Circle empiricism, logical positivism, the deductive-nomological method, the Kuhn-Lakatos revolution, incorporation of the sociology of science into philosophy of science, a surge of interest in scientific realism, and an increasing focus on specific areas …

Decision-making for big physics

Big science is largely dominant in many areas of science -- for example, high-energy physics, medical research, the human genome project, and pandemic research. Other areas of science still function well in a "small science" framework -- mathematics, evolutionary biology, or social psychology, for example, with a high degree of decentralized decision-making by individual researchers, …

Five easy pieces (for the social sciences)

Social scientists are generally interested in "explaining" social outcomes: why did such-and-so take place as it did? Why did the Indochina War occur, and why did it end in the defeat of two modern military powers? Why did the French fail so miserably at Dien Bien Phu? Why was the Tet Offensive so consequential for …

Learning and engagement

John Dewey's Democracy and Education is over a century old. But it still seems strikingly modern, even avant-garde, when compared to many pedagogical practices currently in place in both secondary and post-secondary schools. Here is one line of thought that is especially insightful: that learning is a constructive and active process for the learner, not a question …

Guest post by Paul Roth on Neil Gross’s Richard Rorty

Paul Roth is distinguished professor of philosophy and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Roth has written extensively on the philosophy of social science, philosophy of history, and the history of analytic philosophy. His most recent book is The Philosophical Structure of Historical Explanation (Northwestern, 2019). Thank you, Paul, for this substantive contribution. (Interested readers …

Vienna Circle in Emerson Hall

I am enjoying reading David Edmonds' The Murder of Professor Schlick: The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle, which is interesting in equal measures in its treatment of the rise of fascism in Austria and Germany, the development of the Vienna Circle, and -- of course -- the murder of Schlick. Edmonds' presentation of the …

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