skip to primary navigationskip to content

Abstracts for Departmental Seminars

Seminars are held on Thursdays from 3.30 to 5pm in Seminar Room 2. There is tea beforehand from 3pm in Seminar Room 1.

Organised by Mary Brazelton and Marta Halina.

Easter Term 2017

Show overview

4 May Heather Douglas (University of Waterloo)
The materials for trust-building in expertise
The need for expertise is undisputed in today's complex society, but what expertise is, how to identify it, and how to build trust in it is hotly contested. Some philosophers presume that experts should be trusted and provide cursory means of assessment. Other philosophers argue that only experts can identify other experts, and thus we can do nothing but trust experts and hope for the best. Still other philosophers rightly point out that experts have failed some groups of people (and been part of past injustices), so trust is something that must be earned. This debate takes place against a backdrop of an increasing rejection of expertise in Western democracies, and thus addressing these issues takes on some urgency. In this talk, I will argue that expertise consists of a fluency of judgement in a complex terrain. While such fluency cannot be transferred to non-experts quickly or easily (we cannot all become experts in everything), expertise can and should be assessed by non-experts. I will articulate plausible bases for assessment experts by non-experts, and argue that crucial trust-building materials are to be found among them.
11 May Twenty-Second Annual Hans Rausing Lecture
Lissa Roberts (University of Twente)
The history of failure: a chronicle of losers or key to success?
McCrum Lecture Theatre, Bene't Street, at 4.30pm
18 May Henry Cowles (Yale University)
Scientific habits circa 1900
In the decades around 1900, habits were scientific. Psychologists saw mental habits as the intersection of an evolutionary past and an experimental future, while neurologists thought that habit signaled the mind's bodily roots. This talk explores the consequences of this attention to habit in the emerging human sciences, including the idea that science itself was (or could be) habitual. The sciences of habit helped recast the scope of scientific thinking and the reach of moral judgement, as issues of choice, willpower and belonging were naturalized in new ways.
25 May Lydia Patton (Virginia Tech)
Frogs in space: physiological research into metric relationships and laws of nature
A surprising amount of research into theories of space and time in the nineteenth century involved experiments done on frogs' reactions to stimuli. William James and Hugo Munsterberg performed classic such experiments, but there was a much broader group involved. Those who cited the research and used it in their discussions of spatial relationships, and of the relationship between physiological and metric space, include Henri Poincaré and Ernst Mach. Hermann von Helmholtz used experiments on frogs to establish a number of his most important results, including the claim that sensations are not propagated instantaneously but take time to propagate along a nerve. Helmholtz used other experiments on frogs to argue against the existence of a vital force, a key element of his proof of the conservation of force (energy), and a turning point in nineteenth-century physiology and medicine. Frogs mediated between the physiological and the metric: in theories of space and movement, and in theories of metabolism, energy and sensation. The formulation of well-known scientific laws during this time sprang from physiological as well as physical reasoning, and the domain of application of those laws extended to living bodies as well as to inert physical masses. Philosophers who argued that spatiotemporal relationships are fundamental to all sciences, like Cassirer and arguably Poincaré, were drawing on this history in part. The history of amphibious research forms part of the background to accounts of scientific law, like Wigner's and Mach's, that draw on evolution, perception and consciousness, including Wigner's controversial argument that consciousness collapses the wave function.