Location: SAV 264
“What is a Scientific Conception of the World?”
Joseph (Joe) T.Rouse
Hedding Professor of Moral Science
The question of how to characterize a scientific conception of the world arises in contexts from philosophical debates over naturalism to consideration of scientific contributions to public policy. Various accounts of scientific understanding in philosophy and science studies mostly identify it with a body of scientific knowledge. In Articulating the World (Chicago, 2015), I develop a different conception of scientific understanding as part of a revisionist naturalism. Its key features include:
1) scientific understanding is situated within the ongoing practice of research rather than a body of knowledge extracted from it, and outruns any current expression of that understanding;
2) scientific understanding opens and continually reconfigures a conceptual space (Sellars’s “space of reasons”), rather than comprising a single consistent theory or “image”;
3) conceptual understanding in the sciences is not just verbal and mathematical, but integrally involves experimental systems, instrumentation, and practical skills;
4) the modal (lawful) character of scientific understanding extends beyond familiar conceptions of scientific laws, through the work that the counterfactual invariance of concepts and practices does in scientific practice;
5) the resulting two-dimensional account of scientific conceptual understanding, which relates the “homonomic” development of concepts and practices within a scientific domain to their less systematic “heteronomic” contributions to other practices within and beyond the sciences, has novel implications for understanding the unity and disunity of the sciences;
6) this account of scientific understanding is itself scientifically intelligible within an evolutionary biological account of conceptual understanding as discursive niche construction, which was also developed in Articulating the World.
Joseph Rouse is the Hedding Professor of Moral Science at Wesleyan University, where he teaches in the Philosophy Department and the Science in Society Program. He is the author of Articulating the World (Chicago 2015), How Scientific Practices Matter (Chicago 2002), Engaging Science (Cornell 1996), and Knowledge and Power (Cornell 1987), and the editor of John Haugeland’s Dasein Disclosed (Harvard 2013).