Variety of Approaches to Philosophy of Science

Anne Fagot-Largeault
(Collège de France, Paris, France)

Unity of Science by Integration: A Case Study

Luc F(Departement of Philosophy, Québec University, Montreal, Canada)

Edouard Machery
(University of Pittsburgh)

The project of unification of science as spelled out by its logical empiricists has been mainly a philosophical project, that is, a project pursued mainly for philosophical reasons. Unity of science through reduction of language (Carnap, 1934; Hempel, 1934) or through reduction of theories (Putnam and Oppenheim, 1954) is motivated by monism, be it language monism (every theoretical term has to be reducible to physicalist terms) or theory monism (every theory has to be reducible to a lower level theory and ultimately to physical theories). This project of a global reduction has lost impetus with the wind of naturalism that has blown on philosophy of science in the last few decades. Philosophers of naturalistic bend have been more attentive to what scientists are actually doing than their predecessors and as a result they have been concerned by more local projects of unification. Indeed, when philosophers look at what scientists are really trying to do when they are talking of unification, they might find at least one of two following things: either scientists are trying to explain the phenomenon at one level by invoking some phenomenon at a lower level (by giving an explanation by local reduction, a mechanistic explanation, or some other forms of explanation) or they are trying to build a framework to integrate prima facie incompatible theories (local integration). It is the second of those projects that we are interested in.

Instead of trying to speculate abstractly about the conditions of unification, we will turn our attention to a precise case where there is a crying need for unification. One place where we identified such a need is in social sciences. In previous papers on racial cognition (Machery and Faucher, 2005, forthcoming), we have try to provide a framework, inspired by the work of Boyd and Richerson on gene-culture co-evolution, to integrate two approaches dominant in social sciences but seen as largely incompatible, that is the biological approach and the social constructivist approach. In this presentation, we would like to go further. Despite the fact that most scientists agree that there is no such thing as races in the world (or that races are not natural kinds), racial cognition has been the object of intense research in many different (scientific) fields: social psychology, evolutionary psychology, history, anthropology, neuroscience. The problem, as we see it, is that for methodological and disciplinary reasons, those fields have failed to interact with each other. The net result is that many of the insights within one field are ignored by the others and vice versa. This is a genuine problem (not only a ‘philosophical’ problem). Such a problem, so we claim, has to be solved in a bottom-up fashion, that is, by looking one by one at the obstacles in the way of integration and by trying to remove them. As we noted, we already provided a framework for the integration of the evolutionary psychology approaches and the social constructivist approaches that dominate the humanities. This time, we would like to look instead at the problems of integration encountered by neuroscience, evolutionary psychology and social psychology. In our mind, the efforts of integration should focus on social psychology because of its strategic position between neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. Indeed, the most interesting work of evolutionary psychology has been concerned with providing social psychology with a clearer picture of the cognitive architecture sustaining social phenomena (but also more realistic models of learning) while neuroscience has been using the data and paradigms of social psychology to pursue its fray into the brain mechanisms.

Théatre @ Science

Carlos Fragateiro
(Director of the National Theater  D. Maria II, Lisbon, Portugal)

More information regarding this Colloquium may be obtained from the website