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SLAPSA sponsors an annual conference on philosophy and history of science. SLAPSA XII will be held on 25 April 2020 at Adorjan Hall (3800 Lindell Blvd), Room 142, Saint Louis University. The program and list of speakers include:

SLAPSA 2020: Exploration


Talia Dan Cohen (WUSTL; Anthropology)

Janella Baxter (WUSTL; Philosophy)

Will Fleischer (WUSTL; Philosophy)

Sean Valles (Michigan State)

Yiling Zhao (SLU; Philosophy)

Tomy Ames (UMSL)


8:30–9:00 Coffee and general congregation

9:00 Sean Valles (Michigan State) Untangling the causes of individual differences and of population disparities in the pursuit of health equity

10:00 Talia Dan Cohen (WUSTL Anthropology) On the Uses of Complexity in Archaeology

Complexity, today, is everywhere. From biology to genomics, from anthropology to public policy, experts are marveling at the complexity of the phenomena they study. In this talk, I give an idiosyncratic account of how complexity got to be everywhere by examining the uses of complexity in archaeology. Attributions of relative complexity to different societies have a long history in anthropology. Archaeologists, in particular, have defined and redefined, debated and deconstructed complexity over the course of many decades, leaving behind a lively textual trail. I examine this trail in order to  investigate some of the different and sometimes conflicting logics behind what gets to count as complex, when, and why, as well as behind the more general expansion of complexity’s reach in recent decades.

11:00 Tomy Ames (UMSL; Philosophy): On Unifying Declarative Memory

The distinction between episodic and semantic declarative memory systems, as introduced by Tulving (1972, updated in 1984, 1991), was a revolutionary approach to human memory. While the distinction is now widely endorsed in the study of memory, there are debates about what constitutes each system’s domain, how each system is used, how each system functions, and the phenomenal experiences associated with the functioning of each system. On the basis of clinical studies and insights from conditions affecting memory, this paper argues that the episodic/semantic distinction can be reframed as a result of a unified declarative memory system. In this view, experiences are encoded into memory traces, and retrieval of memories is dependent on the cues specific to each particular instance of remembering. The upshot of this proposal, called unified memory functionalism, is that the phenomenal differences of remembering can be understood in terms of the differential salience of cues without defaulting to the view that there exist multiple declarative memory systems.

12:00–1:30 Lunch. See program for recommendations.

1:30 Janella Baxter “Explanatory and Non-Explanatory Values of Specificity in Genetics” (Washington University, St. Louis)

Sequence specificity has been embraced as the causal property that makes molecular genes explanatory biology (Waters 2007, 2017, 2019; Weber 2013, 2017). I argue that sequence specificity does not capture what makes molecular genes in the majority of explanations formulated by geneticists. By drawing on one of the most central experimental methods in genetics – namely, the loss of function study – I show that molecular genes are often singled out in biological explanations for their regulatory properties. What this shows is that, as Waters (2006, 2019) has recently argued, there is no general structure to the biological world; however, the scope of genetic explanations is broader than what Waters admits. Although the sequence specificity of genes may not be as explanatorily significant as some philosophers have suggested, I argue that it is nevertheless significant for the purposes of intervention. Unlike biomolecules like proteins, intervention on molecular genes is much more tractable because of sequence specificity. In this way, molecular genes don’t just have a plurality of explanatory properties, but they have a plurality of uses in the life sciences.

2:30 Yiling Zhou The Problem of Disjunctive Variables in Causal Explanation

The manipulationist view of causal explanation (Woodward 2003, 2008b, 2010) is recently criticized as inadequate for providing theoretical background for why in some cases “high level” causal variables are explanatorily (vs. practically) superior to others (Franklin-Hall 2016). In the manipulationist view, when multiple variables are qualified for causal explanation of one explanandum effect, the variable that constitutes the most proportionate and stable causal relationship is better. Franklin-Hall’s example, however, shows that proportionality and stability as defined by the manipulationist lead to a bizarre judgment that disjunctive variables (whose values include a disjunction of relevant causes) are always better than single-factor variables (whose values include only a single cause). Franklin-Hall assumes that the single-factor variable is not just practically but explanatorily better than the disjunctive ones. Without clarifying what the distinction is, she draws the conclusion that the only way to draw the difference is appealing to metaphysical standards. In this paper, I disagree with Franklin-Hall’s conclusion that to solve the problem of variables, the manipulationist must abandon the minimalist, purely relational view of causation and embraces additional metaphysical constraint on what qualifies as a causal variable (so that the disjunctive variables can be excluded). Instead, I interpret her example as a case where the norms of causal representation (i.e., proportionality and stability) are not sufficient for norms of causal explanation, which highlights a possible difference between causal representation and explanation. I thus suggest whether there is any non-causal and non-pragmatic norm of explanation that favors single-factor variables depends on how we understand the nature of explanation in comparison to representation of causal structures.

3:30 Coffee and pastries

3:45 Will Fleischer  (WUSTL) “Courage and Inquisitive Reasons”

          Nobel laureate Barry Marshall famously drank broth infected with bacteria (H. pylori) in order to demonstrate that it causes stomach infections and ulcers (Marshall et al., 1985). This was a courageous act in the service of inquiry. Marshall acted in the pursuit of successful medical research, despite risking (and in this case suffering) serious harm. Even before this dramatic episode, Marshall and his Nobel-sharing collaborator Robert Warren were engaged in courageous inquiry. They endorsed a theory that had long been out of favor in the medical community: that ulcers are often caused by bacteria. Pursuing research on this theory, and advocating for it in print and at conferences, posed a significant risk of harm to their careers and reputations. This earlier work thus also risked harm in the pursuit of successful inquiry. For these reasons, Marshall and Warren count as intellectually courageous: they are pursuing epistemic ends despite significant threat of harm (Baehr, 2011).

          When Marshall and Warren began their inquiry there was very strong reason to doubt that the bacteriological theory of peptic ulcers was true. The scientific consensus, and the available evidence, pointed to other factors as the primary causes of the disease (stress, excess acid production). Thus, Marshall and Warren cannot be simply described as seeking the truth, or following the evidence, despite risk of harm. Instead, Marshall and Warren were following good reasons to think that the theory was worth pursuing (Laudan, 1978). They were also (plausibly) sensitive to features of their social epistemic circumstances, in particular, that few other researchers were pursuing the bacteriological theory. Pursuing it would thereby improve the scientific division of labor (Kitcher 1990). Neither of these kinds of reasons count as evidence to think the theory is true. We therefore need an account of intellectual courage that treats these considerations as involving appropriate epistemic ends.

          In this paper, I offer a theory of the kind (or aspect) of intellectual courage displayed by researchers like Marshall and Warren. I argue that the proper account of this sort of courage requires recognition of what I call inquisitive reasons. Inquisitive reasons are a distinct category of epistemic reasons. These are not reasons to think a particular proposition is true. Instead, they are reasons concerning the promotion of successful inquiry. Reasons to think a theory is pursuitworthy are inquisitive reasons. Also included in the category are social epistemic reasons such as avoiding premature consensus and properly distributing cognitive labor. I propose that this aspect of courage, what I will call inquisitive courage, requires having certain competences to successfully act in a way that is sensitive to inquisitive reasons. Marshall and Warren act with inquisitive courage because they endorsed and pursued a theory based on the inquisitive reasons

          I focus on two kinds of inquisitive reasons in explaining inquisitive courage. As mentioned, one kind of inquisitive reason has to do with distribution of cognitive labor. That too few researchers are working on a theory can serve as a genuinely good reas

eggs in a single theoretical basket. Recognition of inquisitive reasons helps ease tension between individual and collective rationality concerning the distribution of cognitive labor. Inquisitive reasons may justify pursuit of theories which are not the most likely to be true, but which are important possibilities to be explored.

          The other kind of inquisitive reason mentioned above may be found in the literature on theory change, pursuit, and pursuit-worthiness. Following Kuhn (1970) and Laudan (1978), philosophers of science have been concerned with what could epistemically justify the abandonment of an established theory for an upstart theory. A new theory will almost certainly be less developed and have less empirical support, since scientists have yet to work on it. But there must be a way of justifying moving on to pursue a new theory, even when it is less well-supported. After all, excellent scientists often do just that. Recognition of inquisitive reasons also helps to epistemically vindicate researchers when they pursue an undeveloped theory. My theory of inquisitive reasons also shows how different kinds of epistemic reasons, considerations, or values can be weighed and traded-off in making pursuit judgments.

          Inquisitive courage requires sensitivity to these two types of inquisitive reasons. A researcher who acts courageously does so by being sensitive to these reasons. This is the target (Swanton, 2003) or aim (Sosa, 2007) of the virtue: acting in the way prescribed by the weight of inquisitive reasons. A subject is virtuous when they successfully hit this target, reliably enough when they engage in research activities. They are disposed to act this way even when faced with damage to their reputation, career, or other interests. Marshall and Warren, for instance, recognized the potential avenues for research the bacteriological theory offered, and plausibly also recognized how pursuing it would contribute to a good distribution of labor. Their continued pursuit of the theory over time suggests that they were reliably disposed to continue the research, even in the face of the risk of harm. The theory of inquisitive courage thus appropriately counts them as courageous.

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