Archive for October, 2012


What is the “Paradox of Phase Transitions?”

October 26, 2012

Elay Shech

I present a novel approach to the recent scholarly debate that has arisen with respect to the  philosophical import one should infer from scientific accounts of “Phase Transitions,” by appealing to a distinction between “representation” understood as “denotation,” and “faithful representation” understood as a type of “guide to ontology.” It is argued that the entire debate of phase transitions is misguided for it stems from a pseudo-paradox that does not license the type of claims made by scholars, and that what is really interesting about phase transition is the manner by which they force us to rethink issues regarding scientific representation.


Operationalizing Consciousness: Subjective Report and Task Performance

October 26, 2012

Trey Boone

There are two distinct but related threads in this paper. The first thread is methodological and is aimed at exploring the relative merits and faults of different operational definitions of consciousness. The second thread is conceptual and is aimed at understanding the prior commitments regarding the nature of conscious content that motivate these operationalizations. The first approach I consider operationalizes consciousness in terms of dichotomous subjective reports. This approach is motivated by the assumption that consciousness is a maximally specific binary property. The second approach operationalizes consciousness in terms of graded subjective reports, and is correspondingly motivated by a view of consciousness as a graded property. I ultimately argue for a third position that maintains that consciousness is a binary property, but that it is not maximally specific. This alternative supports an operationalization of consciousness that involves integration of subjective report and task performance.


What is a genetic disease?

October 19, 2012

Marie Darrason (of IHPST, Paris)

The concept of genetic disease originally designated a very restricted class of rare, Mendelian, hereditary, monogenic disorders, such as phenylketonuria. More recently it has come to include common, non–‐Mendelian, non–‐hereditary polygenic disorders such as cancer, diabetes or schizophrenia. Now several authors in the contemporary biomedical literature assert that every disease can be considered genetic and is part of a genetic continuum ranging from simple monogenic Mendelian diseases to complex polygenic disorders.

Philosophers recognize both this geneticization of diseases and the expansion of the concept of genetic disease. They usually propose three interpretations for the shift:

  • either genes are considered the most important causal factor in diseases at the expense of the epigenetic and environmental factors of disease (genocentrism)
  • or this is a heuristic move justified by pragmatic considerations
  • or this is the trivial expression of a weak interactionism where genes and diseases are both considered to be important causal factors in diseases.

Whichever the interpretation they choose, they still try to save the concept of genetic disease. In this presentation, I argue that there is no reason to save the concept of genetic disease, but there is every reason to seek robust explanations of the genetic sides of diseases. To put it in fewer words: the concept of genetic disease is dead, but genetic explanations of disease are not!


How well do physicians inform surrogate decision-makers about the principles of surrogate decision-making?

October 12, 2012

Thomas Cunningham

Background: Bioethical theory suggests there are three hierarchically ordered standards for surrogated decision-making (SDM): a patient’s advance directive (stated preferences), substituted judgment, or best interests. Empirical studies of SDM indicate flaws in this theory. However, to date, studies have failed to measure the extent to which surrogates are informed about these standards, information that is itself important for understanding ethical SDM in practice. Objective: To measure the extent to which physicians inform surrogates about the normative principles of surrogate decision-making in a sample of 73 ICU family conferences. Methods: An interdisciplinary team of researchers developed a coding framework for assessing values-based surrogate decision-making, including whether ethical standards for surrogate decision-making were explained, discussed, or referred to; two coders then applied the framework to 73 transcribed conferences. Results: In 49% of conferences, physicians did not explicitly explain any of the three principles; in 37% they explained one; in 13% they explained two, and in no conferences (0%) did they explain all three principles. Additional data show that physicians did discuss or refer to the principles in a higher percentage of conferences. Conclusions: Physician-surrogate communication is rich and complex, including some explanation of the principles of surrogate decision-making, but more often only implicit use of them.


Cartographers, Cardboard, and Wellington Boots

October 12, 2012
Yoichi Ishida

I’m going to give a true work-in-progress talk: I will briefly describe my dissertation project and then present some of my ideas from the first two chapters. I plan to discuss what sort of objects we should think models are and what it is to study their uses in everyday scientific research. I also present my tentative formulation of the distinction between representational and non-representational uses of models. Representational uses include those uses that philosophers commonly recognize as uses of models in science, such as descriptive or explanatory uses. But non-representational uses tend to be neglected or characterized (mistakenly, in my view) as representational uses, because we lack appropriate conceptual resources. So I will develop the necessary conceptual resources to recognize non-representational uses and illustrate them with a variety of examples, including some drawn from the research I did at the Caltech Archives. If time remains in the discussion period, we can explore some of the implications of these ideas for other philosophical topics—e.g., our understanding of realism and instrumentalism, the idea of a good model, as well as approaches to the evaluation of models—which I plan to discuss in the second half of my dissertation.