Bringing together Philosophy and Sociology of Science

Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science

October 21-24, 2008

Aims & Scope.

Both philosophy and sociology of science aim at understanding the workings of scientific endeavour. Despite their different emphasis and possibly methodology, they deal with the same subject matter. And yet, they seem to be worlds apart.

The 20th century has seen Western philosophy being divided in two big currents: a newly arising Anglo-Saxon or analytic one, and a traditional European or continental one. There is very little communication between these two areas of philosophy. A precise meta-philosophical definition of these two currents is difficult, if not impossible, and yet the differences in approach are striking. This seems to suggest that what unites or divorces philosophers in and across both traditions be better thought of in terms of family-resemblances instead of radical opposites. The study of sociology of science is strongly influenced by the continental tradition, whereas the philosophy of science has been the near exclusive playground for analytic approaches.

Second, there is the central issue of the so-called "science wars": the question of the the proper relationship between humanities and natural sciences. To wit, philosophy of science has been (and is) predominantly the philosophy of natural science, while the sociology of science is almost exclusively conducted from within humanity faculties that are fairly remote to the actual practices of the exact sciences they purport to describe.

In the early days, the sociology of science explicitly set its task as being complementary to that of philosophy, but current sociology of science focuses on social organization, epistemic content and cultural aspects of science, breaking down the barrier respected by their ancestors, resulting in an approach seemingly incompatible and openly at odds with that of philosophy of science.

The good news is that, in the course of the last few decades, steps have been taken towards a (partial) reconciliation. We see our conference FotFS VII as part of this process, bringing sociological aspects into philosophy of science and philosophical aspects into sociology of science, by bringing together researchers from both areas.

Given that the conference series is concerned with the "formal sciences", we have a certain, but non-exclusive focus on the role of mathematics as one of the sciences covered by philosophy and sociology. It is therefore fitting that the network PhiMSAMP ("Philosophy of Mathematics: Sociological Aspects and Mathematical Practice") is supporting our conference.