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Indiana University Bloomington

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Previous semesters' colloquia

2013 - 2014 Colloquium Series

All talks are on Friday from 4:00 to 5:30 PM in Ballantine Hall 003, unless otherwise noted.

Calendar [click date for details]

Jan 24Carin BerkowitzCharles Bell's Seeing Hand: Teaching Anatomy to the Surgeon's Senses, 1800-1840
Feb 7Kathleen Vongsathorn"Almighty God" or "A curse in the family": Missionary Medicine, Ugandan Knowledge, and Shifting Beliefs about Leprosy in the Twentieth Century1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Feb 14Carol ClelandPrediction and Explanation in Historical Science
Feb 21Kyle StanfordCatastrophist and Uniformitarian Scientific Realists: The Historicist Challenge and a Realism Dispute Worth Having
Feb 28Jenny RamplingPractically Making the Philosophers' Stone: Recovering Alchemical Knowledge in Early Modern England
Mar 7Shane ZappettiniThe Biology of the Phenomenal: Jakob von Uexküll, Konrad Lorenz, and the (Kantian) foundations of early ethology. 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Mar 28Maria Elice de Brzezinski Prestes Lazzaro Spallanzani and controversies in the teaching of biology"1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Apr 4Elisabeth LloydRobustness as a confirmatory virtue: The case of climate models1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Apr 11Rob Schneider“Producing Knowledge and Literature in the Age of Richelieu: Patrons, Spaces, and Language”1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
Apr 18Gianna PomataEpistemic genres: tools for the cultural history of knowledge.5:00 PM - 6:30 PM
Apr 25Sean LeiNeither Donkey nor Horse: Medicine in the Struggle over China's Modernity

Jan 24          

Carin Berkowitz

Chemical Heritage

Title: Charles Bell's Seeing Hand: Teaching Anatomy to the Surgeon's Senses, 1800-1840

Abstract: Surgeon-anatomist Charles Bell, who taught London's medical men in the early nineteenth century, developed a pedagogical philosophy that attempted to establish the status of the hand as a knowledge-making organ of the senses, and along with it, to advance the social status of the surgeon. In his Bridgewater Treatise on the hand, Bell argued that sensory reception must be coupled with muscular action to establish true knowledge, elevating the "doing" hand to epistemological parity with the long-superior "seeing" eye. According to Bell, anatomy simply could not teach the sort of feeling that one would encounter inside a living body. Instead, anatomy taught students to map the parts so that their fingers, moving through a surgical field, could “see” and therefore could know and could act. This apparently academic argument contributed to Bell’s reformist politics and attempts to reconfigure the standing of surgeons and their work within the medical community.

Feb 7          1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Kathleen Vongsathorn

Max Planck

Title: "Almighty God" or "A curse in the family": Missionary Medicine, Ugandan Knowledge, and Shifting Beliefs about Leprosy in the Twentieth Century

Abstract: When missionaries began the effort to control leprosy in Uganda in the 1920s, they believed education about the nature of leprosy and its contagion was essential to the eventual eradication of the disease. This paper will discuss the missionaries’ endeavors to teach about leprosy; differing Ugandan beliefs about the disease; and the results when these two sets of ideas interacted. Perceptions of leprosy, its causation, and its treatment varied widely across Uganda, and when Ugandans came into contact with mission leprosy settlements and biomedical and religious ideas about leprosy and its treatment, outcomes varied drastically. For some, perceptions of the disease and its sufferers changed dramatically, from acceptance to stigma. To others, the missionaries were responsible for bringing leprosy to the region and their behavior and teachings were surrounded by rumors of violence, abduction, and murder. For yet others, beliefs about leprosy and healing remained unchanged, or adapted to coexist with the missionaries’ teachings about the disease. This paper follows ideas about leprosy as they shift across the twentieth century, mapping the entanglement of Ugandan and European knowledge about the disease, and the implications of this entanglement for leprosy treatment and eradication.

Feb 14          

Carol Cleland

University of Colorado

Title: Prediction and Explanation in Historical Science

Abstract: In earlier work I sketched an account of the structure and justification of ‘prototypical’ historical natural science that distinguishes it from ‘classical’ experimental science. This talk expands upon this work, focusing upon the close connection between explanation and justification in the historical natural sciences. I argue that confirmation and disconfirmation in these fields depends primarily upon the explanatory (vs. predictive or retrodictive) success or failure of hypotheses vis-à-vis empirical evidence. The account of historical explanation that I defend is a version of common cause explanation. Common cause explanation has long been justified by appealing to the principle of the common cause. Some philosophers of science (e.g., Sober and Tucker) find this principle problematic, however, because they believe that it is either purely methodological or strictly metaphysical. I defend a third possibility: The principle of the common cause derives its justification from a physically pervasive time asymmetry of causation (aka the asymmetry of overdetermination). I argue that explicating the principle of the common cause in terms of the asymmetry of overdetermination illuminates some otherwise puzzling features of the practices of historical natural scientists.

Feb 21          

Kyle Stanford

University of California

Title: Catastrophist and Uniformitarian Scientific Realists: The Historicist Challenge and a Realism Dispute Worth Having

Abstract: Historicists suggest that the historical record of scientific inquiry itself give us reasons to doubt the truth of even the best contemporary scientific theories. One recent line of thought holds that the most compelling version of such an historicist challenge is posed by a particular pattern in that record: our repeated failure to exhaust the space of theoretical alternatives well-confirmed by the evidence available to us at a given time. Scientific realists have suggested in reply, however, that the failure to recognize such “unconceived alternatives” might be more plausibly attributed to past scientific communities than to those of the present day. I will first argue that this response is rendered unconvincing by what historians of science already recognize as the most profound transformations of the organization and structure of scientific inquiry since the Scientific Revolution. I then go on to suggest, however, that confronting this question invites us to reconceive what really divides the two sides of a realism dispute genuinely worth having, in large part because the answer we give to it carries significant consequences for how we should actually go about conducting the scientific enterprise itself.

Feb 28          

Jenny Rampling

Princeton University

Title: Practically Making the Philosophers' Stone: Recovering Alchemical Knowledge in Early Modern England

Abstract: TBA

Mar 7          1:30 PM - 3:00 PM         Hanson Lecture

Shane Zappettini

Indiana University

Title: The Biology of the Phenomenal: Jakob von Uexküll, Konrad Lorenz, and the (Kantian) foundations of early ethology.

Abstract: The early 20th century biologist Jakob von Uexküll has been receiving renewed interest, with appeals to his work being made by people in areas such as comparative psychology, embodied cognitive science, ethology, and even phenomenology. These appeals, however, often misconstrue the central explanatory concept of von Uexküll’s theoretical biology (the concept of an “Umwelt”), and are often silent on its fundamental presupposition. This presupposition is that the structure of a given animal’s Umwelt is determined by that animal’s constitution, and that any investigation into how a given Umwelt is structured must take into consideration how the animal’s constitution (as a subject) makes possible its experience, and hence Umwelt. In this talk, I will discuss von Uexküll’s claim that animals are subjects, and what it means to claim they constitute their Umwelten. Von Uexküll insisted that his Umwelt theory be understood as an extension of the results of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. I claim, however, that von Uexküll’s appropriation of Kant makes problematic as starting point for the biological study of animal behavior. Finally, I will argue that the view of the classical ethologist Konrad Lorenz better represents the insights most coveted by current appeals to Von Uexküll’s Umwelt concept. Lorenz, too, thought Kant relevant to the philosophical foundations of animal behavior, but rejected von Uexküll’s insistence that animal subjectivity be its central focus.

Mar 28          1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Maria Elice de Brzezinski Prestes

University of Sao Paulo

Title: Lazzaro Spallanzani and controversies in the teaching of biology"

Abstract: We find in the Eighteenth Century a well-known controversy among scholars about whether "animalcules of infusions" were originated by equivocal generation (spontaneous), from organic matter, or univocal generation, from parents. John Tuberville Needham (1713-1781) and Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799) were among the scholars that performed several experiments in order to clarify the issue. This presentation will discuss the experimental procedures of investigation in Needham and Spallanzani, relating them with the conceptual aspects relevant to the debate. Our goal is to analyze the evidence found to support their antagonistic positions and, particularly, check whether the evidence found by Spallanzani was sufficiently conclusive to Needham renounce his system. Taken as a genuine example of scientific controversy, in the sense given by McMullin (1987), this historical episode will be suggested for use in the teaching of biology, in order to promote explicit discussions about the nature of science.

Apr 4          1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Elisabeth Lloyd

Indiana University

Title: Robustness as a confirmatory virtue: The case of climate models

Abstract: Both climate scientists and philosophers have been working hard to understand how the huge multidimensional global climate models can be tested and confirmed. The convergence of multiple climate models on a single outcome or result has provided a key feature in these discussions. Philosophers of science tend to think that such convergence, or “robustness,” is not confirmatory, because the models could converge and still all be wrong. Climate scientists, on the other hand, do tend to see the convergence of climate models on a result as confirmatory. I will offer a defense and generalization of the climate scientists’ position, while differentiating their style of robustness from others considered by philosophers.

Apr 11          1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Rob Schneider

Indiana University

Title: “Producing Knowledge and Literature in the Age of Richelieu: Patrons, Spaces, and Language”

Abstract: In textbooks, the seventeenth century is often characterized in terms of the emergence of science—the so-called Scientific Revolution. But it was also a period that saw the development of two other “discourses” that should likewise been seen as aspects of an emerging modernity: literature and philosophy. While the cultivation of bonae litterae had long been central to humanism, it was really only in the early seventeenth century that emerged what Alain Viala (following Bourdieu) has called the “literary field.” And the same could be said for “philosophy”—that is, if we understand its modern development as a departure from centuries-long dependence on the teachings of Aristotle. In this paper I will pursue the dual tracks of the development of literature and philosophy in early seventeenth-century France by looking at the careers of two men: one, a minor poet, Guillaume Colletet (1598-1659); the other, a major figure in the history of philosophy, Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655). Inspired in part by work in the history of science in the last twenty or so years, work that has called our attention to the role of patronage and social context on its very development, I will show how the intellectual biographies of these two figures traversed social and linguistic fields that largely determined their literary and intellectual trajectories. NOTE TIME CHANGE

Apr 18          5:00 PM - 6:30 PM         Westfall Lecture

Gianna Pomata

Johns Hopkins University

Title: Epistemic genres: tools for the cultural history of knowledge.

Abstract: Epistemic genres: tools for the cultural history of knowledge. My paper will discuss the notions of “epistemic genre” and its use for the history of knowledge. While “styles of knowing” have been widely debated by historians and philosophers of science, less attention has been paid to the genres of scientific texts. I propose to call epistemic that class of genres which develop in tandem with scientific or cognitive practices -- just to give a few examples: the treatise, the lecture, the commentary, the encyclopedia, the textbook, the aphorism, the essay, the medical recipe, the case history, etc. I will argue that the notion of genre has a cognitive, and not only literary, dimension. I will also argue that a focus on epistemic genres can be very useful for the cultural history of science, especially in a long-term and cross-cultural, comparative dimension. I will examine in particular three of the benefits that a focus on epistemic genres may bring to the cultural (and cross-cultural) history of knowledge: a) A better awareness of the long duration in the history of cognitive practices. b) A rapprochement of the social history of practices and the intellectual history of concepts, both indispensable to our historical understanding of knowledge and science, but all too often cultivated as separate enterprises. c) A new perspective from which to examine the issue of inertia versus innovation -- a key issue in the history of scientific traditions.

Apr 25          

Sean Lei

Institute of of Modern History, Academia Sinica

Title: Neither Donkey nor Horse: Medicine in the Struggle over China's Modernity

Abstract: This talk aims to answer one question: How was Chinese medicine transformed from an antithesis of modernity in the early twentieth century into a potent symbol and vehicle for China’s exploration of its own modernity half a century later? Instead of viewing this transition as a derivative of the political history of modern China, it argues that China's medical history had a life of its own and at times even influenced the ideological struggle over the definition of China’s modernity and the Chinese state. Far from being a “remnant” of pre-modern China, Chinese medicine in the twentieth century co-evolved with Western medicine and the Nationalist state, undergoing a profound transformation—institutionally, epistemologically, and materially—that resulted in the creation of a modern Chinese medicine. Nevertheless, this newly re-assembled modern Chinese medicine was stigmatized by its opponents at that time as a mongrel form of medicine that was “neither donkey nor horse,” because the discourse of modernity rejected the possibility of productive crossbreeding between the modern and the traditional. Against the hegemony of this discourse, the definitive feature of this new medicine was the fact that it took the discourse of modernity (and the accompanying knowledge of biomedicine) seriously but survived the resulting epistemic violence by way of negotiation and self-innovation. In this sense, the historic rise of this “neither donkey nor horse” medicine constitutes a local innovation of crucial importance for the notion of China’s modernity, challenging us to imagine different kinds of relationships between science and non-Western knowledge traditions.