Seminar on History and Philosophy of Science

Wednesday, October 12, 2016
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
How is an Olinguito like a Gothic church?
Aleta Quinn, Ahmanson Postdoctoral Instructor in Philosophy of Science, Caltech,

In this talk I analyze the role of causal reasoning in historical science (science that makes claims about the past). Philosophers typically describe historical science as constructing narrative hypotheses that cite chains of events linked by causal transactions. This view does not adequately describe biological systematics, the science that discovers evolutionary relationships between organisms. I develop an alternate account of historical causal reasoning based on the work of William Whewell. Whewell's philosophy of historical science avoids key assumptions that underlay twentieth century philosophical work on causal explanation and set the framework of current work on historical science. I demonstrate the fit of my account by comparing pre-evolutionary to evolutionary systematics. Following Darwin's publication, systematics was reinterpreted as a historical science. I conclude by showing several conceptual challenges in contemporary systematics that reflect the ongoing process of historicization.

For more information, please contact Fran Tise by phone at 626-395-3609 or by email at ftise@hss.caltech.edu.