Friday, November 18, 2011

Templeton grant

Huw Price, Kristie Miller, Dean Rickles and Alex Holcombe have been awarded a Templeton Grant for their project New Agendas for the Study of Time: Connecting the Disciplines. The award will be worth a little over $1.5 million over three years. It will enable the project to advertise four full time research positions at USYD in the Centre for TIme, a small grants program, and three major international conferences in Sydney, Cambridge and Capetown.

SCFS funding success

Here are the details of the latest ARC successes at Sydney in history and philosophy of science and medicine:

ARC Laureate Fellowship (2011–2016) awarded to

Prof Warwick Anderson for the project Southern Racial Conceptions: Comparative Histories and Contemporary Legacies

ARC Future Fellowships (2011–2015) awarded to

Prof Mark Colyvan for the project Mathematical Explanation

Dr Ivan Crozier (currently at the University of Edinburgh) for the project Culture-bound Syndromes, Koro, and the Emergence of 'Cosmopolitan' Psychiatry

ARC Discovery Early Career Research Awards (2012–2014) to

Dr Victor Boantza for the project The Making of the Modern Chemist: Struggles within Enlightenment Science

Dr Eric Cavalcanti (currently at Griffith University) for the project The Structure of Nonclassicality and the Foundations of Quantum Theory

ARC Discovery Grants (2012–2014):

Prof Warwick Anderson (with Ian MacKay)
Disease and the Modern Self: Becoming Autoimmune

Prof Mark Colyvan
Mathematical Notation: A Philosophical Account

Dr Dominic Murphy
The Structure and Function of Self-representation

This all adds up to a grand total of just over $4.7 million ($4,754,899) from the various ARC schemes in the last few months; this figure is over $6 million when we add Prof Huw Price's Templeton grant (see above post). Congratulations to all!

Friday, November 4, 2011

SCFS ARC success

Congratulations to the following SCFS researchers, who were recently awarded Discovery grant funding from the Australian Research Council.

Prof Warwick Anderson (with Ian MacKay)
Disease and the modern self: becoming autoimmune

Prof Mark Colyvan
Mathematical notation: a philosophical account

Dr Dominic Murphy
The structure and function of self-representation

Total amount awarded is $417,000.00

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2012-13 Visiting Fellowships at the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science

We are currently inviting applications for one-semester visiting fellowships at The University of Sydney, for either second semester (August to November) 2012 or first semester (February to May) 2013. 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 fifth round of such fellowships and we anticipate being able to offer them each year.

Up to four fellowships are available, 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. It is important that the applicant has a position at their home institution that extends beyond the term of the intended stay in Sydney and is on salary from their home institution for the duration of their intended stay. The allowance is to help offset some of the travelling and living-away-from-home expenses; it is not a salary. 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:

Dr Rodney 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 14th November 2010. Applicants will be informed of decisions by 19th December 2010.


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, history of medicine, and decision theory. 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, Ian Kerridge, Dominic Murphy, Maureen O’Malley, 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:

Please feel free to pass on this announcement to anyone who might be interested. Thanks.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Congratulations, Warwick!

Warwick Anderson has received a prestigious and highly competitive Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council for a project looking at, says Warwick, "scientific debates around what it meant to be human in the southern hemisphere in the 20th century, placing Australian racial thought in a new context."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

John Wilkins at Scientific American

John has a guest blog entry on evolution and truth on the Scientific American site. Click here to read.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Blackheath Philosophy Forum lectures by SCFS members

Recent lectures by SCFS members to the Blackheath Philosophy Forum:

Arthur Eddington and Time's Arrow, Huw Price

How Evolution Selects for truth, Paul Griffiths

Available online at:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Report on the 4th Sydney-Tilburg Conference on the Philosophy of Science: The Authority of Science
University of Sydney, 8-10 April 2011

The conference brought together scientists and philosophers of science to explore the idea that recent developments in philosophy of science can help with the uptake of scientific ideas in public policy. It opened with a public forum (televised and available here) and ran two days of papers, including several plenaries and a keynote address.

Christian List's plenary address, which opened the conference, examined the very idea of the `voice of science' from the perspective of his recent work on group agency. List emphasised that if the `voice of science' is considered to be the expression of the views of the scientific community then, whatever aggregation procedure is used, the collective judgment of science may lack essential qualities of a `voice' which guides policy, such as consistency of opinion across a range of issues. For science to have a coherent `voice' in this sense, science itself must be a structured institution of the kind that is often regarded as a group agent, such as a corporation or a government. Institutions such as national academies may have adequate structure to count as group agents.

The debate over action on climate change is widely regarded as an example of the failure of science to translate itself into policy. In his plenary address, the distinguished chemist Theodore Brown compared this case to the successful effort to reach international agreement on the control of chlorofluorocarbons to protect the ozone layer. He demonstrated how contingent that outcome was on the timing of events and the interests of particular actors at those times, and how these conditions for successful policy making were absent in the superficially-similar case of international negotiations over greenhouse gas abatement and climate change. Similar themes were explored by academic lawyer Rosemary Lyster, although her focus was on the legal implications. She discussed the recent attempt to bring a case of `civil conspiracy' against ExxonMobil for mis-leading the public about climate change, and the legal and moral responsibilitiesof the media in giving disproportionate coverage to climate-change sceptics.

The keynote address was delivered by Sir Peter Gluckman, who, in his role as the New Zealand Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, has just released `Towards better use of evidence in policy formation: a discussion paper'. In contrast to much recent discussion engendered by the perceived failure to translate climate science into policy, Gluckman argued that to maintain the efficacy of scientific advice, scientists must scrupulously avoid advocacy and seek to act as honest brokers laying out options and facilitating social choice through the normal democratic process.

A general theme that ran through the conference was that there is a genuine need for engaged philosophy of science to help with both the public acceptance of science and the subsequent translation of science into policy. Indeed, this has been something of a recurring theme in all the Sydney-Tilburg philosophy of science conferences; we hope to see such socially-relevant philosophy of science continue in our future conferences.

Mark Colyvan (University of Sydney), Paul Griffiths (University of Sydney),
Stephan Hartmann (Tilburg University), and Jan Sprenger (Tilburg University)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ways of Seeing: Reforming the Humanities

Sydney Ideas Event, copresented with The Griffith Review and SCFS

Thursday April 7th 6.00-7.30 Law School Foyer

A discussion of the future of the humanities. More information here

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Alison Gopnik, "The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life"

A Sydney Ideas lecture

The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life

Alison Gopnik, Professor of Psychology and Affiliate Professor of Philosophy, University of California , Berkeley

Co-presented with the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, University of Sydney

In the last thirty years there's been a revolution in our scientific understanding of babies and young children, a revolution that's also transformed our understanding of human nature itself. In this talk, Alison Gopnik will outline some of the new discoveries and their implications for the way we think about young children and ourselves. Human beings have a longer childhood than any other animal - our children are more helpless and dependent than any others. Why make babies so helpless for so long? She shows that childhood - our long period of helplessness - is responsible for our uniquely human consciousness and our ability to learn, imagine and love. Their long protected childhood gives human babies an opportunity to learn and play, and that lets them plan and work as adults. Children not only learn about the world around them, they also learn about other people and themselves. By the time they are three or four they understand love and morality. These remarkable learning abilities reflect special features of babies' brains, features that may actually make babies more conscious than adults.

Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. She is an internationally recognised leader in the study of children's learning and development and was the first to argue that children's minds could help us understand deep philosophical questions.

Date: Thursday 24 February, 2011

Time: 6.00pm to 7.30pm

Venue: Law School Foyer, Eastern Avenue, the University of Sydney

Cost: Free event, no booking or registration required


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

DOES UNDERSTANDING EVOLUTION HELP US TO UNDERSTAND ETHICS? Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University

Sydney Ideas talk co-presented with Think Global School

Free event but registration is essential. (Registration is full. It will be audio and visually recorded - recordings will be available from the Sydney Ideas website.)

Evolution is neutral with regard to values. It is a fallacy to try to deduce what we ought to do from our understanding of evolution. But understanding evolution does help us to understand human nature, and since in ethics we are often interested in changing behaviour, evolution gives us valuable clues as to what is, or is not, likely to work. The first part of the lecture will explore this topic. In the second part, I will consider the argument that since our moral sense has evolved, it serves to enhance our reproductive fitness, and hence is not a guide to what is really right or wrong. I shall argue that there is some truth to this claim, but properly understood, it should lead us to scepticism about some ethical views, but not about ethics itself.

Peter Singer was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1946, and educated at the University of Melbourne and the University of Oxford. He has taught at the University of Oxford, La Trobe University and Monash University, and has held several other visiting appointments. Since 1999 he has been Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. From 2005 on, he has also held the part-time position of Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne, in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics.

Peter Singer first became well-known internationally after the publication of Animal Liberation. His other books include: Democracy and Disobedience; Practical Ethics; The Expanding Circle; Marx; Hegel; Animal Factories (with Jim Mason); The Reproduction Revolution (with Deane Wells), Should the Baby Live? (with Helga Kuhse), How Are We to Live?, Rethinking Life and Death, Ethics into Action, A Darwinian Left, One World, Pushing Time Away, The President of Good and Evil, How Ethical is Australia? (with Tom Gregg), The Way We Eat (with Jim Mason) and The Life You Can Save. He also co-authored The Greens with Bob Brown, founder of the Australian Greens.

Peter was the founding President of the International Association of Bioethics, and with Helga Kuhse, founding co-editor of the journal Bioethics. Outside academic life he is the co-founder, and President of The Great Ape Project, an international effort to obtain basic rights for chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. He is also President of Animal Rights International.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sydney Ideas talk by Professor Michael Hunter, "The Royal Society and the Decline of Magic"

A Sydney Ideas lecture co-presented with HPS and the SCFS.

The role of the Royal Society in the so-called ‘Decline of Magic’ was paradoxical. In the society’s early years, many of its Fellows were deeply committed to magical pursuits, while some urged the institution actively to investigate their validity. Yet in practice the society simply excluded magic from its corporate activities, for a variety of reasons on which it is possible to speculate. What is important is that, due to the society’s crucial role in defining the proper realm of scientific enquiry, the result was to banish magic from this by default. This proved surprisingly influential, leading to the emergence in the early 18th century of a myth of the society’s positive role in eradicating such beliefs which was erroneous but is significant in itself.

Michael Hunter has been Professor of History at Birkbeck since 1992. He is the principal editor of the Works (14 vols., 1999-2000) and Correspondence (6 vols., 2000) of Robert Boyle, the founder of modern chemistry. In addition, he has written various interpretative works on Boyle, and his biography, Boyle: Between God and Science, was published in 2009. He has also written or edited many books on the history of ideas and their context in late 17th-century Britain, dealing with such themes as the early history of the Royal Society. His current research is on changing attitudes to magical ideas c. 1700. A further interest is in printed images of the period. A major grant from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2006 to 2009 resulted in the construction of the website, British Printed Images to 1700 a digital library of prints and book illustrations from early modern Britain, and the publication of an ancillary interpretive volume.

Date: Tuesday 15 February, 2011
Time: 6 to 7.30pm
Venue: Law School Foyer, Eastern Avenue, the University of Sydney
Cost: Free event, no booking or registration required

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Workshop - "Constructive Mathematics" - University of Melbourne

Anyone interested who will be in Melbourne the week of Feb 14 is welcome to attend this interdisciplinary workshop at the University of Melbourne.

"What constructive mathematicians actually do"

Maarten McKubre-Jordens, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

I) Introduction to constructive mathematics

11:00am, 14 February, Old Arts-227 (Cecil Scutt Collaborative Teaching Room)

II) Constructive mathematics in action

11:00am, 16 February, Old Arts-227

III) Strange encounters and the importance of constructive thought; or, the Infinite Monkey Theorem

11:00am, 18 February, Old Quad Moot Court

See for more information.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

John Wilkins on National Radio

John Wilkins will be doing the 'Ockham's Razor' talk on National Radio this week, on the concept of species: