News & Events

Each year the History and Philosophy of Science Program strives to bring you new and exciting events, such as various lectures, seminars, and information sessions. These are great opportunities for interested students to learn about work in History and Philosophy of Science and teh HPSC Minor Concentration.

2019-2020 Events

5th Annual HPSC Lecture:
Prof. Chris Smeenk (Western)

September 16, 2019, 3:30pm, Leacock 927

How Scientific Theories get their Content: (Replacing) A Just-So Story

An appealing just-so story tells us that the content of a scientific theory — what it says about the observable — can be deduced from its basic postulates, with the assistance of auxiliary assumptions. Theories are successful to the extent that these consequences match what we see. Although it is initially plausible, there are several reasons why this just-so story needs to be replaced. It fails by over-estimating the extent to which we can survey the content of our theories. We typically assess theories based on understanding their consequences for a few tractable cases. It also under-estimates the role of theory in guiding ongoing inquiry, leading to an impoverished conception of success. I will sketch an alternative approach, indebted primarily to Howard Stein and George Smith. On this view, understanding content begins with representing the observer as a “measuring apparatus” of sorts. Theories extend our reach by making it possible to reliably measure new fundamental quantities the theory introduces. Specifying the content requires a model of how we interact with a target system. The resulting picture of the nature of scientific theories, and the challenges to fully specifying their content, leads to a different perspective on theory choice. I will illustrate these general themes with two cases from the history of physics, the development of celestial mechanics and contemporary cosmology.


2018-2019 Events

4th Annual HPSC Lecture:
Dr. Margaret Carlyle (Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, University of Chicago)

September 14, 2018

Delivering the Enlightenment: Technologies of Childbirth in 18th-century France

It is a commonplace in Enlightenment studies that the rise of male surgical authority eroded female influence in the domain of childbirth over the course of the eighteenth century. According to this narrative, male physicians introduced instruments like forceps into the birthing chamber while relegating midwives to the margins of obstetrical knowledge and practice; the triumph of the male surgeon in the birthing chamber was another manifestation of the triumph of the male medical gaze in the new institutional space of the clinic. Does this Foucauldian narrative hold water when we look at the material culture of childbirth, or when we look at how obstetrical knowledge was produced and used? Drawing on both textual and three-dimensional archives, this talk argues that both male and female authorities transformed childbirth in this period. They did so through attempts to create new technologies that served practical and pedagogical functions in and beyond the birthing chamber. One such technology is the "phantom," a simulative device for imparting manual knowledge of birthing positions to students that reveals the shifting grounds of gender and instrumental authority. Through this example, I suggest that the professionalization of midwifery was as much a debate about gender as about conflicting visions of the utility of instruments in the birthing milieu, at a time of increased political and social pressure on the profession. I conclude by suggesting that the debate over best practices in childbirth is more fruitfully understood as a variant on the conceptual tension between the "natural" and the "artificial."


2017-2018 Events

3rd Annual HPSC Lecture:
Prof. Sorin Bangu (University of Bergen, Norway)

September 8, 2017

Presented in association with The Montreal Philosophy of Science Network

Reductionism, Constructionism, and Explanation: The Case of Superconductivity

It is perhaps old news that understanding-generating explanations of phenomena in biology, geology, economics, etc. are not, and cannot be, formulated in terms of (or in some sense reduced to) the basic constituents of reality, i.e., electrons, quarks, and other fundamental particles. These explanations are thus 'higher-level'. While some argue that chemistry should also be on this list, it is surely controversial whether physics itself is (or could be) part of this group. This talk explores this possibility, namely that the explanation of superconductive properties of certain materials is an illustration of this kind of explanation.


Prof. Anouk Barberousse  (Université Paris Sorbonne)

December 1, 2017

Conférence co-organisée avec / Talk co-organized with McGill’s Philosophy Department

Formalism, mathematical interpretation, and physical theories

In this talk I shall argue in favor of considering formal settings (pieces of mathematical theories that are commonly used in physics or other empirical disciplines) as important units of analysis for understanding scientific achievements, along with theories, models, computer simulations, concepts, etc. I’ll present different examples of formal settings, from calculus to cellular automata. My main examples will be the representation of time in Discrete Mechanics.


2016-2017 Events

2nd Annual HPSC Lecture:
Prof. Eran Tal (McGill, Philosophy)

September 16, 2016

Weighing the Kilogram


Martin Carrier (Université de Bielefeld)

February 2, 2017

Le Réseau montréalais de philosophie des sciences a le plaisir d’annoncer sa conférence inaugurale par / The Montreal Philosophy of Science Network is pleased to announce its inaugural speaker.

Agnotological Challenges: How to Capture the Production of Ignorance

Agnotology concerns the creation and preservation of confusion and ignorance. Certain positions are advocated in order to promote economic, political, or metaphysical interests with the result of creating mock controversies or maintaining unjustified agreement. I propose to identify agnotological ploys by the discrepancy between the conclu- sions suggested by the design of the study at hand and the conclusions actually drawn or intimated. Agnotological ploys are characterized by the unrecognized difference between those issues for which a study is sensitive and those issues that feature in its interpretation. This mechanism of “false advertising” serves to implement agnotological endeavors without having to invoke the motivations of the relevant agents. I discuss three agnotological cases, i.e., studies on bisphenol A, Bt-maize/Roundup, and Oslo’s airport Gardermoen. Agnotological challenges are best met by transparency and plurality. The former requires recognizing the partial character of a study and the latter encour- ages conducting a different study so as to achieve a more balanced picture. The identification of agnotological moves serves to curb the manifold of contrasting assumptions that characteristically goes along with pluralism. Identifying agnotological endeavors is a means for weeding out approaches that look fitting at first glance, but are blatantly inappropriate, in fact. Pinpointing agnotological endeavors helps transform a pluralist manifold into a manageable range of alternatives.

Le Réseau montréalais de philosophie des sciences stimule la réflexion et la recherche en philosophie des sciences. Il résulte d’une collaboration entre l’Université du Québec à Montréal, l’Université de Montréal, Concordia University, McGill University et le CIRST. Pour plus d’information et pour y participer, cliquez ici ou nous suivre sur Facebook.

The Montreal Philosophy of Science Network stimulates thinking and research in philosophy of science through collaboration among Université du Québec à Montréal, Université de Montréal, Concordia University, McGill University and CIRST. For further information and to participate click here or follow us on Facebook.


2015-2016 Events

1st Annual HPSC Lecture: Brendan Gillon (McGill, Linguistics)

September 11, 2015

History and Philosophy of Science in Some Unusual Places