Explanatory and Scientific Pluralism
My systematic work in philosophy has been centred on explanatory and scientific pluralism - that is, elaborating our understanding of scientific pluralism in relation with more traditional topics in philosophy of (social) science like the theory of scientific explanation, causality, social ontology, scientific objectivity and values in science. In my research, I always connect the philosophical problems to the actual scientific practice – both historical and contemporary. I have been undertaking case-studies in economics, political science, history, sociology, psychiatry and medical sciences. My most elaborate historical analysis up to now deals with the history of International Political Economy, analysing the sources of plurality and how it has been (and should be) dealt with within the discipline.
Science and Democracy
Paying close attention to the historical and social embeddedness of science in society (and how this is linked to plurality) also has inspired me to think, write and teach about the deep entanglements between science and democracy. Topics I have been working on are: the status of scientific expertise, the participation of citizens in science (participatory technology assessments, consensus conferences, citizen science, ...) as well as how scientific pluralism bears on science policy debates. Connecting the idea of democracy to scientific pluralism, I have also been scrutinizing the structural symmetries between models of (pluralist) science and models of democracy (e.g., the congruence between models of science aiming for scientific consensus and models of deliberative democracy). This is an example of a social epistemology making use of models of democracy.
Completed research projects
Science, Expertise and Democracy.
This project focuses on the role of the novice, the expert(s) and society in dealing with scientific expertise. The relation between experts and stakeholders will be studied from three viewpoints: the non-expert or novice one (who is demanding adequate expertise), the expert's (who is supplying expertise), and the societal viewpoint (that is providing the institutional context and its norms in which the exchange between novice and expert takes place). Each of these players can be ascribed some form of responsibility. Spelling out each of the responsibilities as well as making the connections amongst them philosophically explicit, is the overarching aim of this project. (01.01.2010 - 31.12.2014; Supervisors: Jeroen Van Bouwel and Erik Weber; Funding Agency: Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO); Researchers: Laszlo Kosolosky, Rogier De Langhe.)
A Pragmatic Theory of Scientific Explanation.
A pragmatic theory of scientific explanation can be characterized as follows: (1) it starts from the idea that why-questions originate in different epistemic interests, (2) it answers questions about the structure of explanations by taking into account (among other things) these epistemic interests, and (3) it answers questions about criteria of explanatory power by taking into account (among other things) these epistemic interests. In their past research, the promoters of this project have shown that such an approach is fruitful for analyzing debates on scientific explanation in history, the social sciences and psychology. In this project, the “system” is completed by (1) analyzing explanations in physics and the engineering sciences, and (2) explicating and elaborating the general idea of a pragmatic theory of scientific explanation. The project will contribute to debates in philosophy of technology (more specifically, about the structure of technological explanation, and about the reducibility of explanations of the functions of artifacts to explanations of their capacities), and will clarify how epistemic interests, explanatory requests, structures of scientific explanation, and criteria for explanatory power are related to each other. (01.01.2009 - 31.12.2013; Supervisors: Erik Weber, Jeroen Van Bouwel and Maarten Van Dyck; Funding Agency: Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO); Researchers: Jan De Winter, Raoul Gervais, Leen De Vreese.)
Interdisciplinarity, causation and explanatory pluralism in the biomedical sciences.
Explanations of diseases can result from a biological, psychological or social science approach. This project examines how these approaches relate to each other in the biomedical sciences. Should they be integrated? Are they, on the other hand, incompatible? Etc. We will address these questions by comparing the causal concepts, methodology and forms of explanation applied in these different approaches. (01.01.2007 - 31.12.2010; Supervisors: Erik Weber and Jeroen Van Bouwel; Funding agency: Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) ; Researcher: Leen De Vreese.)