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EGENIS seminar series: "An empirical challenge for scientific pluralism – Alternatives or Integration?" Sophie Juliane Veigl (University of Vienna, Austria)

Egenis seminar series

An Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences seminar
Date10 June 2019
Time15:30 to 17:00
PlaceByrne House

Scientific pluralism has become an increasingly popular position in the philosophy of science. One shared notion among scientific pluralists is that some or all natural phenomena require more than one theory, explanation or method to be fully understood. One distinction within pluralist positions is often overlooked. Some pluralists argue that several theories or explanations should be integrated (e.g. Mitchell, 2002). Others rather treat different theories and explanations as alternatives (e.g. Kellert, Longino and Waters, 2006). But does this distinction address the “nature” of the respective phenomena? And, consecutively: Are there genuine cases of “alternative” or “integrative” pluralism? In this talk I challenge this perspective and argue that it is not possible to uphold the distinction of alternatives vs. integration.

Using “extended inheritance” as a case study, I advance the hypothesis that research traditions, rather than the nature of specific phenomena decide whether theories or explanations are treated as alternatives or integratable. I will ask how to relate Lamarckism and (Neo-)Darwinism: are they alternatives, or integratable? To answer this question I introduce an actor-based model for the emergence and decrease of plurality within one scientific field. For the case of “extended inheritance” I point to assymetries within the research field: Proponents of Neo-Darwinism are “singularists” as they only accept one theory. Defenders of “extended inheritance” accept Neo-Darwinism along with a Lamarckian theory, thus they are “dualists”. Although defenders of “extended inheritance” accept more than one theory and thus create plurality within their research field, they do not have a clear (neither epistemological, nor metaphysical) attitude towards this state of plurality. I will provide a toolbox to address these issues and assess the trajectories of these problems within the respective scientific disciplines. In so doing, I aim at developing an approach towards scientific pluralism, that is responsive towards developments within research fields.

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