Field of Research and Teaching
Our chair investigates diverse philosophical questions and topics. We research and teach in the areas of epistemology, methodology, semantics, and the metaphysics of the sciences. Concrete questions in which we are interested include the following:
- What does it mean for a scientific theory to be (well or poorly) confirmed? Are there both empirical and non-empirical methods of confirmation?
- How do statistical and probabilistic inferences work? What exactly are the probabilities which these inferences use? Are they objective facts in the world (like, e.g., frequencies) or an expression of our lack of knowledge? What kinds of probabilities are there (e.g. precise or imprecise probabilities)?
- Scientists typically propose theories and models – but what are scientific theo-ries and models? What is the relation between different theories and models? Can we reasonably understand these relations as relations of emergence or re-duction? Should we be realists or anti-realists about theories and models?
- What kind of knowledge do scientists obtain through simulations (for exam-ple, through climate-simulations)? Can the thus-obtained knowledge be com-pared to the results of experiments? What is the difference between knowledge which scientists gain from computer simulations and so-called analogous simulations?
- How should we interpret causation and explanation in the sciences? How can we discover causes? What kinds of explanation are there? How is explanation connected with causation? Is there a unified notion of causation or explana-tion?
The members of our chair answer these (and other) philosophical questions with dif-ferent and complementary objectives: Some of our projects aim to better understand the similarities and differences between different scientific disciplines (for example: Does it make sense to talk of theories in physics and in economics? Is the notion of causation used across scientific disciplines? How can we explain cooperation in the social sciences and in evolutionary biology?) These objectives mark the domain of general philosophy of science.
However, the philosophical focus can also lie on a particular discipline, a particular theory, or a particular model (e.g. on the concepts of space and time in quantum gravity theory, probability in statistical mechanics, the problems of confirmation in string theory, the interpretation of idealizations in the context of Lotka-Volterra mod-els, etc.). This orientation is typical of special philosophy of science. In research and teaching in this area, we focus especially on the philosophy of physics (resp. the so-called foundations of physics), on the philosophy of the social and economic sciences, and of psychology, statistics, and computer science. We believe that the right combi-nation of general and special philosophy of science is crucial for a philosophy of science that is both close to science and philosophically contentful.
Our chair consciously combines different methodological approaches to philosophical problems and questions. These methods include the following:
- Descriptively oriented research projects, whose task lies primarily in the detailed description and conceptual analysis of case studies of scientific theory-building and practice;
- Formal approaches, which use, e.g., probability theory to answer philosophical questions, and whose aim is often both descriptive and normative;
- The import of empirical methods from the sciences, which solve philosophical problems through, e.g., psychological tests and the use of computer simulations.