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EGENIS seminar series: "Who is Afraid of Mimesis?", Dr Chiara Ambrosio (University College London)

Egenis seminar series

An Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences seminar
Date11 February 2019
Time15:30 to 17:00
PlaceByrne House

"All epistemology begins in fear," claim Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison (2007: 372) in the final chapter of their history of objectivity. Their account shows that our relationship with objectivity coincides with the story of the scientific self, and of the epistemic virtues that communities cultivate explicitly to "discipline" their practitioners. In this talk I aim to show that the notion of representation in philosophy of science, and in particular that of mimesis, followed a fate very similar to that of objectivity. Specifically, I claim that the somewhat tormented relationship philosophers of science have developed with mimetic accounts of representation marks just another chapter in the history of epistemic fear.

A widespread criticism of mimetic accounts of representation is that they are merely a "common sense" view, built on the assumption that representation can be exhausted simply by postulating a mirror-like, dyadic relation between a representational source and its target.  But as Stephen Halliwell (2002) argued in The Aesthetics of Mimesis, this kind of criticism was far more nuanced even in Plato, credited as one of the earliest and most adamant critics of mimetic accounts of art (and knowledge more broadly).  I propose a revival of mimesis in philosophy of science that looks explicitly at texts in aesthetics such as Halliwell's, to show the unique potentialities this historical concept still holds when it comes to our understanding of scientific representation.  Drawing on concrete case-studies, I will propose a positive account of mimesis as historically-located, enactive and iconic.  Construed as a form of iconicity, I claim, mimesis can be understood as a fertile representative device to discover, articulate and present new epistemic possibilities.


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