Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2010 Australasian Association for Logic conference

2-4 July 2010, Kensington Campus, UNSW

Immediately precedes AAP conference. Papers on any aspect of logic are welcome. Abstracts should be sent to the conference organiser:
Dr. Phillip Staines
School of History and Philosophy
University of New South Wales
NSW 2052

or by email to

by Friday, 4 June 2010.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

2010 Australasian Association of Philosophy conference

Discount conference fees are available before 31 March 2010 for the 2010 AAP conference at the University of New South Wales, 4-9 July 2010. Keynote speakers include John H. McDowell (Pittsburgh), Candace Vogler (Chicago), and Christopher Norris (Cardiff). Visit the conference website for more information.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Postdoctoral Fellowship

Congratulations to Rachael Briggs who has been awarded a University of Sydney Postdoctoral Fellowship to work on multi-agent decision making.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Causation and Humean Metaphysics conference, University of Sydney, Dec 17-18

The Causation and Humean metaphysics conference will be held at the University of Sydney, Dec 17-18 and will explore issues surrounding causation, and various broadly Humean themes in metaphysics.

Attendance is free, and everyone is welcome.

Further details (timetable, venue, etc.) will be posted shortly.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book launch: What Science Knows... by James Franklin

Associates of the SCFS are invited to the launch of Jim Franklin's new book, What Science Knows... and how it knows it, which will take place in the Skeleton Gallery at the Australian Museum, 6 College St, at 6-7pm, on Tuesday 15 December. Professor David Armstrong AO, and Alan Saunders, host of ABC Radio's Philosopher's Zone (and SCFS advisor) will be speaking.

Please rsvp by December 8 to: or 9385 7093.

What Science Knows will appeal to anyone who wants a sound, readable, and well-paced introduction to the intellectual edifice that is science. On the other hand it will not please the enemies of science, whose willful misunderstandings of scientific method and the relation of evidence to conclusions Franklin mercilessly exposes.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rethinking Mind & Cosmos Graduate Philosophy Conference at the University of Sydney

To be held over two days this Thursday the 19th and Friday the 20th of November at the University of Sydney, Education Lecture Room 424, Education Building, Manning Rd.

No registration required, all are welcome. Coffee and tea will be provided. Abstracts and further details

Thursday 19th November

9:15 - 10:45
Keynote Speaker - Daniel Stoljar: Knowledge and Perception

10:45 - 12:15
Jamin Asay: Truth, Truthmaking and Realism
Alison Fernandes

12:15 - 1:30
Lunch (not provided)

1:30 - 3:00
Sam Baron: Tense and Two-dimensionalism
Ian Lawson

3:00 - 3:15
Afternoon Tea

3:15 - 4:45
Glenn Carruthers: A Metacognitive Model of the Sense of Agency over Thoughts
Melanie Rosen

Friday 20th of November

9:15 - 10:45
Dan Haggard: The Semantic Ladder and Scientific Realism
Talia Morag

10:45 - 12:15
Raamy Majeed: Problems of Experiential Deflationism for Representationalism
Lise Marie Andersen

12:15 - 1:30
Lunch (not provided)

1:30 - 3:00
Kelby Mason: The Return of Religious Non-cognitivism
Matthew Hammerton

3:00 - 4:30
Stef Savanah: The Fundamental Dichotomy of Self Consciousness
Peter Farleigh

4:30 - 4:45
Afternoon Tea

4:45 - 6:15
Keynote Speaker - Nic Damnjanovic: Revelation for the Masses

Hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time

Professor Sean Carroll, Caltech

Monday 16th November 2009
6 pm - 6.50 pm with discussion 6.50 pm - 7.30 pm
Eastern Avenue Auditorium, The University of Sydney
All welcome, admission free

One of the most obvious facts about the universe is that the past is different from the future. The world around us is full of irreversible processes: we can turn an egg into an omelet, but can't turn an omelet into an egg. Physicists have codified this difference into the Second Law of Thermodynamics: the entropy of a closed system always increases with time. But why? The ultimate explanation is to be found in cosmology: special conditions in the early universe are responsible for the arrow of time. I will talk about the nature of time, the origin of entropy and how what happened before the Big Bang might be responsible for the arrow of time we observe today.

Sean Carroll
is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in 1993 from Harvard University and has previously worked at MIT, the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Chicago. His research ranges over a number of topics in theoretical physics, focusing on cosmology, particle physics and general relativity. He is the author of From Eternity to Here, a popular book on cosmology and the arrow of time; Spacetime and Geometry, a textbook on general relativity; and has produced a set of introductory lectures for The Teaching Company entitled Dark Matter and Dark Energy: The Dark Side of the Universe. Carroll is a co-founder of the popular science blog Cosmic Variance ( He was recently awarded the 2009 Viktor Hamburger Outstanding Educator award. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, writer Jennifer Ouellette.

This event is jointly sponsored by the University of Sydney’s Centre for the Human Aspects of Science and Technology (CHAST), the Centre for Time and the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, and supported by the Australian Institute for High Energy Physics (AUSHEP).

Monday, November 2, 2009

ARC Discovery Project grant

Congratulations to SCFS's Stephen Gaukroger who, with Anik Waldow, received an ARC Discovery Project grant for "The rise of empiricism and the attempt to produce a unified understanding of the world, 1680-1750"

NSW Premier's History Award winner

Congratulations to SCFS's Warwick Anderson, who has won the major prize in the NSW Premier's History Awards, for his book The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

AAPNZ2009: 57th annual conference of the New Zealand division of the Australasian Association of Philosophy

Closing Date for Submissions/Registrations: November 1.

AAPNZ2009 will be held at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand from the evening of Monday, December 7 to Thursday, December 10. The Conference will end with the Conference Dinner, to be held on the evening of Thursday December 10.

Registrations and submissions in all areas of philosophy are invited. Please visit the following website for details:

For information about accommodation in and travel to Palmerston North, please see the Conference Venue section of the website.

If you have any other enquiries, please address them to the conference organiser, Bill Fish, at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Re-Trial of Galileo

As part of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) to mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo's use of the telescope History and Philosophy of Science at UNSW is holding "The Re-Trial of Galileo."

Cast includes:

Former Premier Bob Carr, Julian Burnside QC, Anna Katzmann SC, Professor Maurice Finocchiaro, Professor Fred Watson, Monsignor Tony Doherty, Dr. Paul Collins, Dr. Charley Lineweaver and ABC presenters including Robyn Williams, Alan Saunders and Geraldine Doogue.

This event is being filmed by the ABC Compass Program to be shown as an hour long special in early 2010.

Date: Monday 26th October 2009 6:30pm

Venue: Sir John Clancy Auditorium (Gate 9), The University of New South Wales, Kensington campus, Sydney, 2052

RSVP: by 15th October 2009.

Further information: Rebecca Straker (02) 9385 8512

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Update: Festival of Dangerous Ideas

The following deals are now available:
  • Dambisa Moyo: $20 tickets (single purchase), or $15 if included as part of a multipack if the code ETHICS is used.
  • Susan Greenfield: $20 tickets (single purchase), or $15 if included as part of a multipack if the code ETHICS is used.
  • IQ2 Debate: $20 tickets (single purchase), oor $15 if included as part of a multipack if the code ETHICS is used.
  • The Multipack of the three events above is being promoted as a 'Sunday Pass' at $45.
All these tickets were initially $45 so it is a saving of $25/$30.

Box Office (02 9250 7777)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Key Thinkers Lecture: Mark Colyvan on Gödel

The Director of the SCFS, Professor Mark Colyvan, will be delivering a lecture on "Kurt Gödel and the Limits of Mathematics" for the Key Thinkers Lecture series hosted by Sydney Ideas. The lecture will be given at the New Sydney Law School Building on Wednesday, September 30, 6:30 - 8:00 pm.

View an interview of Mark talking about Gödel.

"Kurt Gödel was one of the foremost mathematicians and logicians of the 20th century. He proved a number of extremely surprising results about the limitations of mathematics. Perhaps the most significant of these is his celebrated incompleteness theorem, which tells us that there are mathematical "blind spots": parts of mathematics that traditional methods of proof cannot access. These results are thought by many to have far-reaching consequences for computing and for our understanding of the nature of the human mind. Gödel's results have thus been the subject of a great deal of popular attention. Indeed, few other results in the history of mathematics have had such an impact outside of mathematics. For those of us who have never heard of Gödel, this lecture will give an accessible outline of his work and achievements."


Congratulations to Honorary SCFS Associate Zach Weber, and his lovely wife, Vicki, on the birth of their son, Oskar, on September 22. Our best wishes and thoughts to Dunedin.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Charles and the Women: Darwinian psychology meets the female body

My review essay of some recent books in evolutionary psychology, titled 'Charles and the Women: Darwinian psychology meets the female body' just appeared in the Australian Review of Public Affairs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Second Call For Papers: “Darwin and the Social Sciences”

Interdisciplinary Conference, organised by the Research School of the Social Sciences, Australian National University, November 12-14, 2009 at Sparkle Helmore Lecture Theatre, Law School

The call-for-paper deadlines have been extended until September 30

1. Keynote Speakers

Peter Godfrey-Smith (Philosophy, Harvard)

Dalton Conley (Sociology, NYU)

Paul Seabright (Economics, IDEA, France)

Brian Boyd (English, Auckland)

2. The Origin Cycle

In addition, the conference will host the Australian premier of “The Origin Cycle”: a connected series of compositions written for and to passages of the Origin, and sung by Jane Sheldon. More details on this unique event will be provided in the next CFP/conference information notice.

3. Registration.

There is no fee for conference attendance. But space at the lecture theatre is limited, so those intending to attend should e-mail Professor Kim Sterelny ( to notify him of your interest. If lack of space is a problem, he will let you know.

4. Papers.

Themes for the Conference may include (but are not restricted to): evolution and complexity; evolutionary models of cultural change; the cultural importance of Darwinian ideas; the role of primate legacies in human social worlds. Contributed papers are invited: they should be of about 40 minutes duration, allowing about 20 minutes for questions/discussion. Those offering a paper should e-mail Sterelny (( with a brief abstract and a brief biographical note (a link to an academic website suffices) so he can group similar-themed papers together. Offers should reach him by September 30 (for preference); he will confirm acceptance early October.

5. Accommodation.

There is a reasonable amount of accommodation available on campus at University House and Liversidge. (There may be somewhat cheaper, but less upmarket accommodation available at the various student halls of residence). But this can be booked out quite early. So those intending to come are urged to book early (;

Friday, September 18, 2009

John Wilkins' New Book

Congratulations to SCFS Research Associate John Wilkins on the publication of his latest book, Defining Species: A Sourcebook from Antiquity to Today. (Especially after the recent [weeks-ago!] launch of his Species: A History of the Idea.)

Description: This volume provides excerpts and commentary on source material ranging from the Greeks, through the middle ages, to the modern era, on the definition of "species". It demonstrates that the logical meaning of species is in direct contrast to the use of kind terms and concepts in natural history and biology, and that the myth that biologists or natural historians were ever essentialists about kinds is mistaken.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Key Thinkers Series

Paul Griffiths delivered his Key Thinkers lecture on "Konrad Lorenz and the Rise of Sociobiology" last night. Two more SCFS researchers will be following Paul in this series hosted by Sydney Ideas: Duncan Ivison on "John Rawls on Social Justice" (September 23) and Mark Colyvan on "Kurt Godel and the Limits of Mathematics" (September 30).

Festival of Dangerous Ideas

Over the October long weekend the Sydney Opera House is hosting the Festival of Dangerous Ideas

Of particular interest to SCFS associates would be Julian Savulesca's "Genetically Enhance Humanity or Face Extinction." Baroness Susan Greenfield is also giving a talk.

For the possibility of tickets, closer to the date, contact:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SANU Meeting August 31st 2009-08-26

This is the first of a planned series of meetings to explore common interests between philosophy of biology researchers at ANU and Sydney.

11.00-12.30 Show-and-Tell (5-10m each)
12.30-2.00 Lunch
2.00-2.30 Brett Calcott (ANU), "Levels of Selection and Individuality in Evolution: Conceptual Issues and the Role of Artificial Life Models" (15m talk, 15m discussion)
2.30-3.00 Jack Justus (Sydney), "A Case Study in Concept Determination: Ecological Diversity."
3.00-3.30 Coffee
3.30-4.15 Rachael Brown (ANU), "Reassessing the Modern Synthesis = Reassessing Behavioural Biology?"
4.15-4.30 Charles Wolfe (Sydney), “Montpellier Vitalism”
4.30-4.45 John Wilkins (Sydney), Précis of “Species: A History of the Idea”

5.00-6.00 Reception and booklaunch for ‘Species: A History of the Idea”
6.30 Dinner

Anyone interested in attending the meeting should contact

Call for Papers:

The Future of Philosophy of Science

Sydney-Tilburg conference on

The Future of Philosophy of Science
Wednesday 14 - Friday 16 April 2010

Tilburg University, The Netherlands

Philosophy of science deals with the foundations and the methods of science. While the scope of philosophy of science is rather uncontroversial, there is considerable disagreement about its methodology. A look into the relevant journals reveals that there is a plurality of approaches. Some researchers use the traditional method of conceptual analysis, others engage in formal modeling, conduct case studies and – more recently – experiments, or consult the history of science in considerable detail. Despite the differences in these approaches, there also seem to be undeniable trends in our discipline, such as the increasing specialization, and the increasing co-operation with empirical scientists and policy makers. This conference will explore the future of philosophy of science. In particular, we are interested in how the different methods philosophers of science use relate to each other, whether they can fruitfully complement each other, and whether current trends allow predictions about the development of our field. We invite contributions that combine cutting-edge individual research with a general perspective on the methods and future of philosophy of science.

We invite submissions of both a short abstract (max. 100 words) and an extended abstract (1000-1500 words) through our automatic submission systemby 15 November 2009. Decisions will be made by 15 December 2009.

The conference language is English.

Selected papers will be published in a special issue of European Journal for the Philosophy of Science (subject to the usual refereeing process). The submission deadline is 1 July 2010. The maximal paper length is 7000 words.

Graduate Fellowships
A few travel bursaries for graduate students are available (up to 200 €). If you wish to be considered please submit a CV and a travel budget in addition to your extended abstract.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Philosophy @ 2009 Melbourne Writers Festival

Hosted by the Monash University School of Philosophy & Bioethics, as part of its Philosophy in Australasia project.

Saturday, August 22, 11:30am-12:30pm, ACMI cinema 2
John Armstrong (University of Melbourne), “Searching for Civilisation”
What is civilisation, really? It can mean a lot of different things: technlology, art, medicine, education, cooking, economic or political progress; and sometimes it has been a fig leaf for imperialism. I want to get beneath the surface: What are the more personal issues at stake here? Why should civilisation matter to me? I trace the idea to its core: the hope of integrating material needs and ‘higher longings’ (beauty, love, wisdom). But is this hope realistic? This is a great issue of both private life and public culture.

Sunday, August 23, 5:30-6:30pm, ACMI cinema 1
Neil Levy (University of Melbourne, and Oxford Centre for Neuroethics), “Free Will and the Brain”
Articles in popular science frequently claim that scientists have shown that there is no such thing as free will. The findings upon which these claims are based are often interesting, as I will show, but they don’t threaten the existence of free will in any way. Nevertheless, I will argue that we can learn a great deal about human decision-making processes, and the ways in which they go awry, from the sciences of the mind. I will show how we can use cognitive science to understand the loss of self-control in pathological cases like addiction as well as in more ordinary cases.

Saturday, August 29, 2:30-3:30pm, ACMI cinema 1
Michelle Boulous Walker (University of Queensland), “Reading Essayistically: Toward an ethics of reading and an open-ended philosophy”
An exploration of what an open-ended philosophy might be from the perspective of how we read. If reading is a performance that can be judged in ethical terms, then reading essayistically (or in the mode of the essay) suggests a model of open-ended rumination that takes its time and returns – time and time again – to the matter at hand. Such a reading thwarts our modern preoccupation with speed and haste, and opens us to the wondrous space of a slow engagement that welcomes thought. Just as the essay engages its topic in ways that meander luxuriously through time and space, so too does reading essayistically open philosophy – or thought – to an indeterminate space from which the ethics of a “receptive attitude” or “patient attention to the other” may emerge. As such, philosophy can be enticed to relax its anxiety to know and to know fully (in the manner of the neurotic), and come that bit closer to being an infinite and wondrous engagement with life.

Sunday, August 30, 3:30-4:30pm, ACMI cinema 1
Russell Grigg (Deakin University), “In the Name of the Father: understanding monotheism and fundamentalism”
Why have the reports of the death of God turned out to be greatly exaggerated? Why has the appeal of religion proved so tenacious? I will discuss some of the deep psychological reasons for the continuing hold that religion, specially monotheism, has over the human mind. I would like to offer some ideas about the psychological forces behind two recent phenomena: the rise of fundamentalism and the emergence of new forms of spiritualism.

For more details about the Festival, and to make bookings, please go to <> .

2010-11 Visiting Fellowship applications open


We are currently inviting applications for one-semester visiting fellowships at The University of Sydney, for either second semester (August to November) 2010 or first semester (February to May) 2011. This program is associated with The Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science (SCFS), a research centre sponsoring work into the logical, philosophical and historical foundations of science (further details below). We are hoping to receive applications from leading historians and philosophers of science (including the special sciences and biomedical sciences) at any post-PhD career stage. This is the fourth round of such fellowships and we anticipate being able to offer them each year.

It is expected that there will be up to four fellowships per year, and each fellowship will come with a travelling allowance of up to AUD 6,000. These fellowships will provide opportunities for academics on sabbatical from their home institution to spend a semester in a productive and collegial research environment (in a beautiful city), to work with members of the SCFS and with other visiting fellows. The stipend is to help offset some of the travelling and living-away-from-home expenses. The successful applicants will be expected to work on a specific research project that is of interest to members of the SCFS. One of the aims of the SCFS is to strengthen international links in history and philosophy of science, so expressions of interest from researchers outside Australia are particularly encouraged.

Applications should including a cover letter, a CV, and a brief outline of the proposed research project (including why you wish to pursue the research at the University of Sydney and which members of the SCFS team you anticipate collaborating with). Applications should be sent (preferably electronically) to:

Rod Taveira
Administrative Officer
Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science
School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry
A14, Main Quadrangle
University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW, 2006

by 30th September 2009.


The SCFS is an interdisciplinary research centre at the University of Sydney. We draw together researchers from philosophy, history, history and philosophy of science, science and medicine, with research concentrations in and around foundations of physics, decision theory, history and philosophy of biology, history of early modern science, and history of medicine. Senior members of the SCFS include, Warwick Anderson, Stephen Bartlett, Alison Bashford, David Braddon-Mitchell, Mark Colyvan, Clio Cresswell, Ofer Gal, Stephen Garton, Stephen Gaukroger, Paul Griffiths, Jenann Ismael, Ian Kerridge, Dominic Murphy, Hans Pols, Huw Price, Dean Rickles, Nick Smith, and Karola Stotz. We also have a number of mid-career and junior faculty, as well as several postdoctoral fellows and graduate students associated with the SCFS. Further details can be found on our website: <>

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Naturalism and Normativity Reading Group, Semester Two 2009

Convenors: David Macarthur, Paul Griffiths, Charles Wolfe

This reading group is designed to take advantage of the visit of Prof Lenny Moss, University of Exeter, to explore the connections between contemporary biology and the philosophical debate over the place of the normative in the natural world. Prof Moss holds PhDs in cell biology from UC Berkeley and philosophy from Northwestern University and his research examines contemporary biology from the perspective of post-Kantian philosophical anthropology (see: His visit is part of an ongoing collaboration between the researchers at the University of Exeter and a five-year ARC-funded project on postgenomic biology and human nature headed by Prof Griffiths and Dr Karola Stotz. Two visiting students from Exeter will also be participating in the seminar.

Amongst the other seminar convenors, Dr David Macarthur is editor of the recent Normativity and Nature: Toward a Liberal Naturalism (Columbia 2008) and has published extensively on these themes. Dr Charles Wolfe brings expertise on the history of biological thought about the role of purpose in nature, and is currently editing a special issue of History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences on the idea of the organism.

The seminar will meet Friday 1-3 except on two dates when it will meet Wednesday 11-1 to accommodate Prof. Moss’s other commitments while in Australia.

Contact Paul Griffiths

Times and (tentative) Texts

1. Friday July 31, 1.00-3.00
Science, Nature and Normativity - Renewing Critical Theory from a Naturalistic Point of View. Lenny Moss & Vida Pavesich (Manuscript) Discussion leaders: Moss and Pavesich

2. Friday Aug 7, 1.00-3.00
“Naturalizing the Human or Humanizing Nature: Outlines of a New Naturalism, David Macarthur. Discussion leader David Macarthur

3. Wednesday Aug 12, 11.00-1.00
Exchange between John McDowell and Herbert Dreyfus, Inquiry 50 (4) 2007: 338-377 and responses by each author.

4. Friday Aug 21, 1.00-3.00
Extracts from Plessner, Cassirer, Goldstein: Discussion Leader Charles Wolfe

5. Friday Aug 28, 1.00-3.00
Extracts from Georges Canguilhem Knowledge of Life

6. Friday Sept 4, 1.00-3.00
Extracts from Evan Thompson Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind (Harvard, 2007) and Marc Kirschner John Gerhart The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma (Yale 2006)

7. Wednesday Sept 9, 11.00-1.00
Exchange between Michael Thompson and Jay Bernstein?

8. Friday Sept 25, 1.00-3.00
Extracts from Robert Brandom?

Paul Griffiths' Inaugural Lecture August 11th

The Sydney University Arts Association presents The Inaugural Lecture of Professor Paul E. Griffiths, Department of Philosophy and Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science

Reconstructing Human Nature: Tuesday 11th August 2009 at 6:00pm

Refreshments in the Woolley Common Room from 5:30pm. Lecture in the Woolley Theatre N395 Woolley Building. The Common Room is on the first floor of the Woolley Building. The Lecture Theatre is on the right hand side of the entrance lobby.


The idea of human nature is the locus of longstanding disputes about the relevance of the biological sciences to the humanities and social sciences. But the ideas of "human nature", "instinct", and "innateness" are not derived from the biological sciences. They originate in intuitive, pre-scientific thought about living things, sometimes known as "folkbiology". In this lecture Professor Griffiths will present a model of the folkbiological understanding of human nature, based on empirical research conducted with biologically naive subjects in Australia and North America. This folkbiological understanding of human nature is fundamentally inconsistent with current biology. This raises the pressing issue of what a biologically credible account of human nature would look like, and he will try to address this question.

A philosopher of science with a focus on biology and psychology, Paul was educated at Cambridge and the Australian National University. He taught at Otago University in New Zealand and was later Director of the Unit for History and Philosophy of Science at The University of Sydney, before taking up a Professorship in Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. He returned to Australia in 2004, first as an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow and then as University Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Sydney . He spends part of each year at the University of Exeter in the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, an adjunct member of the Pittsburgh HPS faculty, and a member of the Australian Health Ethics Committee of NHMRC.

For further information regarding upcoming events, please see: Or contact:

Emeritus Professor Paul Crittenden T: 9799 7796 E:

Emeritus Professor Nerida Newbigin T: 9351 3594 E:

Dr Michael McDonnell T:9351 6733 E:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Call for contributions...

You might know about The Reasoner: a free, online, monthly report based in Kent, on what's new and exciting in all things reasoning.

Contributors are mathematicians, philosophers, computer scientists, and anything in between -- it's a publication that recognizes the existence and importance of inter-disciplinary work. And, a few current and former members of the Centre are members of the editorial board.

I encourage all of us to consider, in those spare and quiet moments, submitting a short piece (100 - 1000 words). It's an easy way to spend a few paragraphs perched on your favorite soap-box, in front of an eclectic international audience.

The latest issue opens with an interview with Luciano Floridi, and includes Jan Sprenger's report on the Evidence, Science and Public Policy conference held here back in March. Have a look.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Evolving Thoughts moves

My blog, Evolving Thoughts, is now here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New on PG: Punnett on Mendelism

PG released a nice HTML version today of Mendelism (1911) by the Cambridge biologist with the enshrined name, Reginald Crundall Punnett.
A curious thing in the history of human thought so far as literature reveals it to us is the strange lack of interest shown in one of the most interesting of all human relationships. Few if any of the more primitive peoples seem to have attempted to define the part played by either parent in the formation of the offspring ...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Quantum spooks in the Philosopher's Zone

"Does physics offer us a fuzzy picture of a clear reality or a clear picture of a fuzzy reality? In 1947, Albert Einstein told Max Born - a great physicist and the grandfather of Olivia Newton-John - that he couldn't accept quantum theory because it involved 'spooky actions at a distance.' But does having quantum theory without the spooks mean believing in time travel? Huw Price, philosopher and physicist, helps us boldly go." ABC Radio National, 1:35pm, Saturday 2 May. Details here.

SydFoP: A new mailing list for Foundations of Physics in the Sydney region

Pete Evans, Owen Maroney and I have just set up a mailing list for advertising events in Foundations and Philosophy of Physics, in the Sydney region. If you would like to sign up, visit the list information page:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Foundations of Science reading: Woodward

Our reading group in general philosophy of science anticipates meeting weekly for the near future. Over the next couple weeks, we will be looking at Jim Woodward's manipulationist theory of causal explanation in his book Making Things Happen. We will focus this time on Chapter 2, "Causation and Manipulation." This chapter lays out an account of causation which is developed into an account of causal explanation in later chapters we anticipate reading. Various brief motivating arguments are developed in the introductory Chapter 1, and they may be worth a skim.

We will meet the first time at 4PM on Thursday April 30 at the Centre for Foundations of Science, N293 on the first floor of the Main Quad building.

Email me (Chris) if you need a copy of Chapters 1 and 2. An electronic version of the text is available on the Sydney Uni library site, though the interface strikes me as suitable for searching but designed to frustrate rather than facilitate actual reading.

Citation: J. Woodward. Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Oxford University Press, New York, 2003

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Events Calendar

The SCFS events calendar has been populated with events relating to the history and philosophy of science in Australia.  If you would like to have an event added to the calendar, please email with the relevant information.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dupre and Griffiths reply to Collins

Nature have published my and John Dupre's reply to Harry Collins foolishness about the future of science studies. It's in Nature, April 9th 2009, 458 (7239) pp679-796. Here's the content:

Sir, Far from being dominated by scepticism about science, as Harry Collins claims in his Essay 'We cannot live by scepticism alone' (Nature 458, 30–31; 2009), mainstream philosophy of science opposes the relativism that Collins decries. We are both philosophers of biology, a field that analyses key biological concepts such as species and genes, dissects theoretical debates in biology and examines emerging fields such as systems biology. This work often involves criticism of scientific positions. But if any of it is part of Collins's sceptical 'second wave' of science studies, Richard Dawkins is a bishop.

Collins dismisses philosophy of science as a 'first wave of science studies' largely coinciding with post-war confidence in science and superseded by the work of sociologists of knowledge like himself. In fact, mainstream philosophy of science — which was being developed before the Second World War by Rudolph Carnap, Carl Hempel, Karl Popper, Hans Reichenbach and others — remains a thriving discipline in most universities. It teaches students that science is neither the 'voice of a God' nor merely the view of one social group, just as Collins advocates.

The only contemporary 'philosopher' Collins mentions (though not by name) is Steve Fuller, whose statement to a US court that intelligent design is science Collins uses as evidence that post-modern scepticism pervades science studies. However, Fuller is a professor of sociology. All the philosophers of science who, like Fuller, were witnesses or advisers in the Dover Area School District case (see Nature 439, 6–7; 2006) appeared for the other side, supporting evolution.

Working in an interdisciplinary research centre alongside historians and sociologists of biology and medicine, we can assure Collins that post-modern science sceptics are thin on the ground. The 'science wars' of the 1990s were whipped up by a selective focus on the work of a very few scholars, many of whom did not work in the philosophy, history or sociology of science. Let us hope that Collins's remarks do not reignite this unproductive controversy

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Caterpillar memory

Without looking into any of the technical details, I wonder if this week's discussion of Gilbert suggests alternate interpretations of what "memory" means here:
Adult moths can remember their "childhoods" as caterpillars, a new study has found. Recently scientists trained tobacco hornworm caterpillars in the lab to avoid a nail polish-like odor delivered in association with a mild shock. [...] As adults, they also avoided the nail-polish odor—showing that they had retained their larval memory.
(National Geographic story reporting on this PLoS One article.)

I wonder how one methodologically disentangles memory in the sense of conscious or semi-conscious recall and memory in the sense of encoded during the fixation period of developmental plasticities.

Monday, March 30, 2009

May 9 - 10: Melbourne - Adelaide Logic Axis

Every year, the logicians of Melbourne have an informal workshop with the logicians of Adelaide.

This year the axis is expanding. Anyone interested in matters logical is invited. We will be meeting in Adelaide over the weekend of May 9.

From Melbourne you can expect Graham Priest, Greg Restall and Ross Brady. In Adelaide you can expect Chris Mortensen and his school, who do (among other things) some intriguing work on impossible pictures:

You can present a talk, or just listen in. It's always interesting good fun.

For more information, contact me (zweber [at]

Friday, March 27, 2009

Spare books

I have the following books to disperse to the first persons to contact me:

The Physical Treatises of Pascal by Spiers and Barry

Essays on the Theory of Numbers, by Dedekind

The Foundations of Geometry, by Hilbert

A14, room 403

HPS Research Seminar 6 April: Jessica Ratcliff

The next HPS Research Seminar will be held on Monday 6 April, 6pm, in the Fac of Science meeting room (Carslaw 450). All are welcome.

Bacon v. the Projector: Vernacular Perspectives on Technological Invention in Early Modern England

Jessica Ratcliff
Visiting Scholar, Department of Science & Technology Studies, Cornell University
Visiting Scholar, Unit for History & Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney

Judging from their depiction in the vernacular literature, inventors in early modern London were about as well regarded as Wall Street executives are in the United States today. Seventeenth-century stage comedies, poems and pamphlets present, on the whole, a distinctly negative attitude—a cynical and derisive attitude—towards technological inventors. One character type in particular that embodied this negative stereotype: the projector (or projectress)—“one whose head is full of projects”. Following the literary trail of the projector brings the historian to a little-used vantage point from which to consider the place of invention and inventors in the culture of the period. Far from being the exclusive domain of savants, it seems anyone might try his or her hand at invention. Reports and claims about new inventions were commonplace—common enough, at least, to be the subject of parody. And inventors themselves were closely associated with the Crown, capital investment schemes, and, above all, the much maligned patent system. Overall, what we get is a clear picture of the challenges that would have been faced by anyone seeking to establish authority, expertise, or trustworthiness in the realm of technology-making. On a different level, this vantage point is in direct contrast to that which one obtains by following the trail left by the influential work of Francis Bacon and Samuel Hartlib. Opposing they may be, the two perspectives were undoubtedly in dialogue. I would argue that these widespread negative portrayals of invention are key to explaining why Baconian rhetoric gained the force that it did among the elite of mid-seventeenth-century London.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Quantum Spooks at the Australian Museum

I'll be talking about 'Einstein and the Quantum Spooks', in the Australian Museum's Night Talk series next week – Thursday 2 April, 6:30 for 7pm. Details and online ticket purchase are available here. Tickets are $20 for Australian Museum members, $30 for non-members, and pre-booking is essential.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New at PG: Darwin bio, 17th C medicine

New public domain releases this week from Project Gutenberg (in HTML, plain text, and Plucker formats):

Life of Charles Darwin by George Thomas Bettany (1887)

An early biography.

Medicine in Virginia, 1607-1699 by Thomas P. Hughes (1957)

It's the 17th century in the new colonies and humoral theory is waning, while illnesses and their putative causes and management are among the strongest social and political forces. Lots of quotations from original sources, like:
In September the weather usually breaks suddenly, and there falls generally very considerable rains. When the weather breaks many fall sick, this being the time of an endemical sickness, for seasonings, cachexes, fluxes, scorbutical dropsies, gripes, or the like which I have attributed to this reason. That by the extraordinary heat, the ferment of the blood being raised too high, and the tone of the stomach relaxed, when the weather breaks the blood palls, and like overfermented liquors is depauperated, or turns eager and sharp, and there's a crude digestion, whence the name distempers may be supposed to ensue.
Among the most deadly and universal diseases is Seasoning, which appears seasonally in July and August and affects nearly all new arrivals from Europe.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Descended from Darwin freely downloadable

Joe Cain and Michael Ruse have published a volume Descended from Darwin, being the proceedings of a conference held in 2004. The entire book is freely downloadable from the publisher's site due to funding from the American Philosophical Association Society.

Harry Collins on Science and the Humanities

There is an extraordinary article by the sociologist of science Harry Collins in Nature last week.

Collins argues that social scientists and humanists have undermined public confidence in science to such an extent that we now have some serious social and political problems as a result of this. He presents himself as the sensible middle way between science worship and science scepticism. Frankly, this is a bit like Martin Luther offering to 'mediate' in the thirty years war.

The elephant in the room here is traditional, mainstream history and philosophy of science, so Collins has to pretend that for the past thirty years the only people in humanities and social science writing about science have been people like himself. He does this by describing traditional HPS as a ‘first wave of science studies’ which was superceded by people like him in the 1970s. This 'earlier' approach was a product of post-Second World War confidence in science, and culminated with Karl Popper (he suggests it was his work that really sank Popper!)

The villains of Collins' article are 'postmodernists' whose relativism has sapped public confidence in science. He claims that he was simply misinterpreted by these people to support their case.

In a breathtakingly self-serving twist Collins gives as an example of 'postmodernism' "a philosopher acting as an expert witness in a court case in the United States [who] claimed that the scientific method, being so ill-defined, could support creationism". The person in question is, of course, Steve Fuller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick, who has since written a book defending his position at the trial. Fuller has degrees in History and Sociology and in History and Philosophy of Science. For twenty-one of the past twenty-four years he has held appointments in Sociology or Science and Technology Studies. Philosophers of science were actively involved in the trial as witnesses and advisors, but all on the other side.

You have to give it to Collins for chutzpah, but it would be a travesty if he were to succeed in getting this fantasy accepted by scientists.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Michael Ruse's Darwin lecture on ABC

The lecture that Michael gave in the Sydney Ideas series is now available on the ABCs internet TV channel Fora:

Dominic Murphy seminar Monday 9th

The Social Function of Self-Representation: From Adam Smith to Cognitive Neuroscience

Dominic Murphy

Unit for History & Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney

The HPS Research Seminars will take place, as always, on Mondays at 6, in Carslaw 450 (the Faculty of Science meeting room).