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Congress

The big picture of philosophy

München, 08/16/2017

From social inequality to the epistemological challenge of quantum mechanics: Over 700 representatives of analytic philosophy will gather at LMU.

“Many philosophers deal with currently relevant issues,” says Stephan Hartmann, Professor of philosophy of science at LMU, the organizer of the congress.

Philosophers dedicate themselves to pressing social questions: these include social inequality as well as the significance of diversity for social decision-making processes and the credibility of climate simulations. Analytic philosophy has addressed an incredible variety of issues over the past decades. From August 21 to 26, the 9th congress of the European Society for Analytic Philosophy at LMU offers a unique opportunity to become better acquainted this wide-ranging subject. It is taking place in Germany for the first time. 700 scholars from all over the world have registered.

Initially, analytic philosophers were only interested in linguistic philosophy and the philosophy of science. Today this has fundamentally changed. In the meantime, analytic philosophers “deal with all questions,” according to Stephan Hartmann, an Alexander von Humboldt Professor and Full Professor of philosophy of science at LMU, the organizer of the congress.

The congress program features both topics from the philosophy of religion and the history of philosophy as well as questions from applied ethics and even aesthetics and political philosophy. “Many philosophers deal with currently relevant issues,” says Stephan Hartmann. “A systematic approach and the aim to provide answers is always in the foreground.” For example, with diversity: Philosophers ask how diversity can be characterized. And they are looking for answers regarding under which conditions and for which goals diversity is good. “It is also evident in formal models that it is often a good thing when diversity comes into play.”

In addition, there is a tendency in analytic philosophy to examine specific problems very carefully. For example, this is the case in climate science. “Climate change opens up many possible starting points for philosophers. They ask about - purely epistemologically - the foundations of certain complex climate simulations, but also about how they are evaluated and how credible their results could be for the public.” For example, how important is it that climate science presents a unified opinion to the public, particularly when trying to convince the public to take urgent measures?

No philosophical vacuum

The example of climate science demonstrates how interdisciplinary today’s philosophy is. It is not merely a “nice interphilosophical field,” according to Hartmann, that deals with the philosophy of science, epistemology, and social philosophy and political philosophy. It also shows how interlinked philosophy is with other disciplines. “Analytic philosophy stands out for its extreme level of openness towards findings from social science and natural science. But philosophical theories still need to be compatible with academic questions. It is often beneficial when philosophers don’t work alone in a philosophical vacuum and want to clear up everything with mere thinking.”

Stephan Hartmann, who is not only a philosopher, but also a physicist, is looking to solve philosophical questions with mathematical methods at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy. In addition, he also works with the psychologist and recipient of the Anneliese Maier Research Award, Ulrike Hahn, from the Birkbeck University of London. She is an expert in the psychology of reasoning, decision-making and judgment, and performs cognitive science experiments. Both the psychologist and the philosopher are interested in individual and collective rationality. The philosophy of neurosciences is also one of the areas "in which a great deal is happening, at LMU, for example, in close collaboration with the Munich Center for NeuroSciences (MCN) and the Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences (GSN),” says Hartmann. In turn, the topic is strongly represented at the congress.

The philosophy of language and the philosophy of science traditionally play an important role in the subject and at the congress. “In the philosophy of science, it is now consensus that one cannot say so much about science in general, because the individual disciplines are so diverse. Philosophies of biology or physics are now dealing with very specific questions arising from the practice of the subjects.” For example, philosophers and physicists work closely together on the foundations of quantum mechanics and quantum information theory. “For instance, they question what the “speedup” of quantum computers explains, and whether quantum mechanical probabilities are objective or subjective.” On the other hand, the question of values and their role in science, for example in the selection of topics and the acceptance of certain questions, is relevant across the board.

On the foundation of all existence

The second most popular section of the congress is metaphysics, whose representatives are concerned with the foundations of all being. Yet metaphysics meant little to the founders of analytic philosophy in the so-called "Vienna Circle" at the beginning of the last century. “They were averse to metaphysics, even hostile towards it, because their statements were not empirically verifiable. Today the attitude is very different,” according to Hartmann.

It is possible that analytic philosophy will ultimately benefit from the diversity of European history. At the same time it took decades for analytic philosophy to play a major role in Europe again: “Many of the logical empiricists of the Vienna Circle were Jewish and had to flee to America during the Nazi period, where analytic philosophy then blossomed.” It was not until the 1960s that analytic philosophy slowly returned to (continental) Europe. “Wolfgang Stegmüller, my pre-predecessor, worked hard to bring analytic philosophy back. At the beginning the philosophers still oriented themselves very much to America and discussed what was done there. In the meantime analytic philosophy is very strong in many parts of Europe and is very versatile overall. It has also increasingly emancipated itself from America.”

Several philosophers from the U.S. will also attend the congress. Kwame Anthony Appiah of New York University is one of the outstanding representatives of the subject of social and political philosophy. He will deliver one of the two public evening lectures at the congress, talking about political equality.

Stephan Hartmann particularly appreciates how the congress opens up possibilities for interphilosophical and interdisciplinary exchange, also across national boundaries. "In analytic philosophy, there is not one basic discipline - which some may consider to be language philosophy or metaphysics," says Stephan Hartmann. “For me, philosophy is a greater whole with many internal connections - this can also be played out at such a congress.”

Participation in the congress is possible: Further information about the program and registration

  • For female philosophers a Women's Caucus is offered at the congress, in order to foster networking, for example.
  • There is also a Graduate Student Gathering for young scholars. It is intended to provide young researchers with opportunities to get together and create a community at the congress.

For more information, see: European Society for Analytic Philosophy