Works in Progress
Truth and Scientific Understanding
There has been a strong resurgence of interest in the concept of scientific understanding. Indeed, there were four major monographs published on the topic in 2017, one of which was awarded the Lakatos Prize. A common theme in much of this work is that understanding is claimed as an epistemic aim of science, but that it departs from truth in some philosophically interesting ways. I disagree. In an article under development, I argue that scientific understanding, even when it is understood as something like a “pragmatic” concept, is always grounded in a more fundamental understanding of the world. As such, all scientific understanding, if genuine, retains a core commitment to truth (and more specifically, truth as correspondence).
Philosophy of History
I’ve recently published an article (with Adrian Currie) in the Journal of Philosophy of History. In it we respond to what we take to be conceptual errors made by Paul A. Roth in the development of his irrealist theory of historical explanation. We develop and defend a modest version of historical realism, and explore examples from the anthropological literature on the development of “barter economies” to support our account. Roth is expected to write a response, and we have been invited to write a final rebuttal once he does so. Further, with respect to philosophy of history, I am interested in looking for conceptual routes toward “naturalizing” historical knowledge. I take it that scientific and human historical knowledge are of a piece with one another. While this claim is a somewhat controversial one, I think close examination of the historiographical methods that historians use for the generation of knowledge ultimately vindicates my claim.
History and Philosophy of Biology
I am in the early stages of developing a project with Charles H. Pence (UC Louvain) wherein we explore Francis Galton’s use of toy mechanical models to understand the mathematics underlying selection processes. We then turn to the historical and philosophical implications of this work with respect to his contemporaries and future generations of biologists interested in the dynamics of evolutionary change. I’m also currently researching and crafting a structure for a work on the influence of Darwin’s use of Lyellian uniformitarianism. More specifically, I am interested in what Darwin’s use of this concept means (or meant) for the development of a realist understanding of evolutionary theory more broadly.
One current project (under R&R) develops a new account of inference to the best explanation (IBE). The theory has many famous problems, and I show that we can get around them by focusing our analysis on the explanatory connections between evidence sets and explanatory targets. The explanatory connections that do the inference-guiding labor for IBE, I argue, are relations of causal production licensed by domain-specific causal mechanisms. A central feature of this account is that by making explanatory inference a domain-specific affair, it brings scientific practice to the fore, which I take to be a positive feature of the account. There are many other related avenues left to explore with respect to this project, which I expect to constitute one of my main future research streams.
In keeping with the biomedical ethics course I developed and taught in Spring 2021, I want to develop a theory that examines the ethical challenges raised in biomedicine through various “socio-epistemic frameworks.” The core idea is that the question of what biomedical problems are is always filtered through specific socio-epistemic frameworks, and it follows that what counts as a “good” solution to such problems is going to change relative to the framework an individual occupies. The hope, then, is to find and develop deliberative spaces that can assist us in negotiating between these different perspectives in an equitable way.