Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP)
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Reading Groups

Social Epistemology

The reading group focuses on current issues in formal and non-formal social epistemology, which have enjoyed many interesting developments in the recent years. Our first series of sessions deals with peer disagreement, i.e. situations in which agents disagree although they are equivalent from an epistemic/evidential/rational point of view. Other topics of interest include (but are not limited to) judgment aggregation, information markets, simulations of social epistemic systems, and the like. Participants are encouraged to suggest interesting papers from these and smiliar areas.

The group holds usually bi-weekly meetings throughout academic term, and all are welcome. For further information please contact the convener of the reading group, Cedric Paternotte.

Mathematical Explanation in Science

There has been a burst of publications on the topic of mathematical explanation (see the entry on mathematical explanation in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), driven by the intuition that a mathematical explanation of an empirical phenomenon proceeds by identifying “structural” facts and “in virtue of” ignoring the (causal) details.

As such, the mathematical account of scientific explanation has the potential to undermine the pretensions of causal accounts, nowadays very popular. Obviously, to this end mathematical explanations should be such that they cannot be recast as causal, but rather be “distinctively” mathematical.

While the existence of mathematical explanations may constitute a problem for the causalist, it doesn't directly affect the pluralist, who is happy with there being various kinds of explanation. Still, the interesting issue remains of understanding how exactly mathematical explanation works and what makes it different from other kinds of explanation.

It seems then desirable to answer the following questions: (i) What is a mathematical explanation of an empirical phenomenon? (ii) Are differences (if any) with causal explanations sharp? (iii) How does this debate advance our understanding of scientific explanation? In particular, are there interesting features that are shared by causal and mathematical explanations?

The reading group takes place on Tuesdays, 2-4pm, in Ludwigstr 25, room D 2a.

For further information, please contact Lorenzo Casini.

May

  • Batterman, R (2001). Devil in the Details, OUP, chap 4, OR: Batterman (2002). Asymptotics and the Role of Minimal Models, BJPS, 61:1-25

June

  • Pincock, C (2007). A Role for Mathematics in the Physical Sciences, Nous 41(2):253-275
  • Bueno, O and Colyvan, M (2011). An Inferentialist Conception of the Application of Mathematics. Nous, 45(2):345-374

July

  • Lange, M (2012). What Makes a Scientific Explanation Distinctively Mathematical? BJPS
  • Baker, A (2009). Mathematical Explanation in Science. BJPS, 60:611-633

October

  • October 22: Batterman, R. (2010). On the Explanatory Role of Mathematics in Empirical Science, *BJPS*, 61 1-25.
  • Plus reply in: Pincock, C. (2011). On Batterman’s ‘On the Explanatory Role of Mathematics in Empirical Science. *BJPS*, 62:211-217.
  • October 29: Bueno, O. and French, S. (2011). Can Mathematics Explain Physical Phenomena? *BJPS*, 62:1-28.

November

  • November 19: Sober, E. (1983). Equilibrium Explanation, *Philosophical Studies* 43:201-210. Plus reply in: Strevens, M. (2008). *Depth*, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, pp. 266-272.
  • November 26: Skow, B. (2013). Are There Non-Causal Explanations (of Particular Events)? *BJPS*, forthcoming.

December

  • December 10: Lange, M. (2011). Conservation Laws in Scientific Explanations: Constraints or Coincidences? *Philosophy of Science, *78(3):333-352.

January

  • January 7: Lange, M. (2013). Really Statistical Explanations and Genetic Drift, *Philosophy of Science,* 80(2):169-188.

A Reason-based Rational Choice Theory

The goal of this reading group is to get acquainted with the core papers on the reason-based theory of rational choice that has recently been formulated by Christian List and Franz Dietrich. The idea behind List and Dietrich’s approach is to fuse formal rational choice theory with the philosophical literature on reasons in order to develop a research program concerned with the role of reasons in rational agency more generally. List and Dietrich start from the observation that the philosophical literature on reasons rarely engages with formal approaches to decision-making, while formal rational choice theorists do not take seriously into account the role of reasons in making rational choices. List and Dietrich complement formal rational choice theory with an account of preference formation, which embodies the idea that preferences are formed on the basis of one’s motivating reasons and can be revised in light of such reasons. As such, their reason-based rational choice theory captures the relationship between deliberation about reasons and rational choices.

We will have four sessions in which we read:

  • A reason-based theory of rational choice (December 2)
  • Where do preferences come from? (December 16)
  • Reasons for (prior) belief in Bayesian epistemology (January 13)
  • Reason-based rationalization (January 27)

For further information, please contact Catherine Herfeld or Cédric Paternotte.

Imprecise Probabilities

This reading group focuses on the philosophical problems raised by imprecise probabilities. One motivation for using imprecise probabilities instead of precise probabilities is that former are more psychologically realistic –– real people tend not to have precise, real-valued probabilities in their heads. However, this small dose of realism causes a number of interesting philosophical difficulties. The reading group will be focused on the lack of proper scoring rules for imprecise probabilities, how to define probabilistic independence in the context of imprecise probabilities, and methods of imprecise probability aggregation.

For further information, please contact the convener of the reading group, Aidan Lyon.