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Indiana University Bloomington

Colloquium Series

FALL 2005 Colloquium Series

October 7
Marc Lange
Philosophy, UNC Chapel Hill

Laws of Nature: Their Stability, Their Necessity, and the Autonomy of Inexact Sciences


In this talk, I shall examine the natural laws' special (and yet notoriously elusive) relation to counterfactuals. I shall propose a non-circular means of distinguishing the natural laws (and their logical consequences) from the accidental truths. A product of this analysis is an account of the sense in which the laws and their logical consequences (but no accidents) possess a kind of "necessity." An analogous account applies to the logical necessities as well. Along with other payoffs of this proposal, I shall also examine how this account might apply to laws of a "special" or (as I would prefer to say) "inexact" science. Were there such laws, they would possess a distinctive kind of necessity, and therefore would figure in explanations that are irreducible to explanations of the same facts in terms of the fundamental laws of physics.

October 14
Eric Watkins
Philosophy, University of California, San Diego

Kant on Transcendental Laws


In this paper, I attempt to describe several features of Kant's account of transcendental laws, explaining how it differs in its essentials from Humean and Necessitarian positions. I also consider how the Kantian account can respond to objections that are based on foundational discoveries in geometry and physics, arguing that Carnap's notion of the relativised a priori does not ultimately constitute a distinct alternative to Humean accounts.

October 17 ****MONDAY****
[Cognitive Science Speaker, 4 p.m., Psychology Building]
Ned Block
Philosophy, NYU

October 21
The previously scheduled talk by Katharine Park has been cancelled.

October 28
Laura Perini
Philosophy, Virginia Tech

Visual Abstraction in Biology


Biologists use a wide variety of visual representations, and these range in style from very realistic depictions to extremely abstract representations. Several recent studies document the use of figures which differ in degree of visual abstraction, but although they provide some evidence that these differences are epistemically significant, they do not clarify how visual abstraction contributes to science. I address this issue by analyzing biological figures as visual representations. This approach to figures allows for identification of three different ways in which figures can be abstract, and corresponding clarification of the features that distinguish non-abstract images. These resources allow for explanation of how different kinds of visual representations play some of the evidential and theoretical roles identified by previous studies.

November 4
Sheldon Smith
Philosophy, UCLA

Continuous Bodies and Contact Interaction: The view from the applied mathematics of continuum physics


Many have claimed that there is a tension between the impenetrability of matter and the possibility of contact between continuous bodies. This tension has led some to claim that impenetrable continuous bodies simply could not ever be in contact, and it has led others to posit certain structural features to continuous bodies that they believe would resolve the tension. For example, some have claimed that to allow for contact, continuous matter would have to be "atomless gunk," a substance all of whose parts contain further sub-parts. Unfortunately, such philosophical discussions rarely borrow much from the investigation of actual matter. This is probably largely because actual matter is not continuous, and so it might seem as if discussion of the structure of continuous bodies is within the realm of philosophical thought experiments rather than actual scientific investigation. However, classical continuum mechanics models actual matter as if it were continuous, and it has implications when it comes to the structure of continuous bodies and about what contact and impenetrability amount to. This paper explores what those implications are.

November 11 2005 COFFA LECTURE
Michael Friedman
Philosophy, Stanford University

Descartes and Galileo: Copernicanism and the Metaphysical Foundations of Physics


As a direct result of Galileo's condemnation in 1633 for defending the Copernican system, Descartes suppressed his first major work, The World, which was to be a comprehensive exposition of his physics. He instead turned his attention to metaphysics, as first sketched in the Discourse on Method of 1637 and then fully articulated in the Meditations on First Philosophy of 1641. An understanding of what was at stake in Galileo's condemnation, and why Descartes reacted as he did, can therefore shed light on exactly how, for Descartes, physics and metaphysics are supposed to be related. I will be especially concerned, in particular, with the precise sense in which, as Descartes famously tells us, "these six Meditations contain all the foundations of my physics."

November 18
Alan Rocke
Henry Eldridge Bourne Professor of History, Case Western Reserve University

The Rise of Chemical Atomism: Untangling the Web


After millennia of speculative philosophical inquiry into the microstructure of matter, it was nineteenth-century chemists who first developed a detailed, connected, empirically-based investigation of the world of atoms and molecules. Starting slowly with John Dalton in the first decade of the century, theories of chemical atoms were vigorously developed in the second and third decades. But in some essential respects the field continued to be controversial throughout the century, since the objects of inquiry were beyond any direct perception. In this talk, certain aspects of the historical development of the theory will be discussed, focusing particularly on the empirical bases for belief in chemical atoms, the character of the theory, and the implications of this historical case study for different philosophies of science in the nineteenth century.