EGENIS seminar: "Processual Empiricism the COVID-19 Era: Rethinking the research process to avoid dangerous forms of reification" Prof John Dupre and Prof Sabina Leonelli (University of Exeter)

Egenis seminar series

An Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences seminar
Date5 October 2020
Time15:30 to 17:00
PlaceOnline event. Joining instructions to follow.

Whether we live in a world of autonomous things, or a world of interconnected processes in constant flux, is an ancient philosophical debate. Modern biology provides decisive reasons for embracing the latter view. How do we understand the practices and outputs of science in such a dynamic, ever-changing world - and particularly in emergency situation such as the current pandemic, where scientific knowledge is regarded as bedrock for decisive social interventions?

We argue that key to answering this question is to carefully consider the role of the activity of reification within the research process. Reification consists in the identification of more or less stable features of the flux, and treating these as stable things. In this sense, it is a necessary component of any process of inquiry; indeed, it is the universality of this activity that makes a substance metaphysics so naturally appealing. We distinguish between two forms of reification: (1) phenomena-to-object (when we create objects meant to capture features of the world, or phenomena, in order to be able to study them); and (2) object-to-phenomena (when we infer an understanding of features of the world from an understanding of the objects we created to study them). We note that both the objects we create and the phenomena into which we take them to provide us with insight are static approximations to dynamic processes in the world, and we have no reason to assume the changes in objects and phenomena track one another.

We illustrate how these forms of reification have worked in recent biological and biomedical research on COVID-19, and use these examples to reflect on associated opportunities and dangers - and particularly the risks involved in failing to acknowledge the existence of these forms of reification and their epistemic role in scientific inquiry. 

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