Abstracts: Pursuit 2021

“Creativity, Pursuitworthiness and Epistemic Tradition” 

Julia Sánchez-Dorado (UCL / Max Planck Institute for the History of Science) 

In this paper I propose to call attention to recent discussions in the philosophy of creativity in order to inform the current debate on the pursuitworthiness of scientific inquiry. This is because in epistemic contexts such as scientific practices it is usually the case that models and methodologies that are creative are also pursuitworthy, and that pursuitworthy enterprises are creative to a considerable degree. This remark should suffice to motivate, without aiming to reduce pursuitworthiness to creativity (or vice versa), a closer examination of these concepts in the light of one another, trying to further specify the relation between them. 

The most widely accepted definition of creativity –also considered the standard view on creativity– says that creative products (ideas, artworks, scientific models) are those that are both novel and valuable (Boden 2004; Gaut 2010). One of the challenges that philosophers of creativity encounter, though, is to explain how exactly creative products are ‘valuable’, as a mere ‘value condition’ is uninformative and easily gives rise to misattributions of unwarranted merits to creative products. One common misattribution of merit to creativity is the identification of its value with the production of ‘true beliefs’ (Bird and Hills 2018). In the first part of the article, I argue that the value condition in the definition of creativity should be identified with the pursuitworthiness of its novelty, and not with its truthfulness (Bird and Hills 2018), usefulness (Klausen 2010), or appropriateness (Sternberg and Lubart 1999). This proposal fits accounts that stress the difference between justifying acceptance and justifying pursuit particularly well (Laudan 1977; Nyrup 2015; Šešelja and Strasser 2013). That is, being creative might not give us reasons to accept (the truth or fitness of) a hypothesis, or even its higher plausibility, but it gives us reasons to think that further inquiry on it will help us make a research program move forward or escape from a cognitively stagnant situation. 

In the second part of the article, I focus on the specific features that pursuitworthy models and methodologies have, this time by looking at a proposal originally meant to deal with the problem of creativity, namely Carroll (2010). Drawing on Carroll (2010), I argue that attempts to define pursuitworthiness should not be made exclusively in terms of the “promising character”, “future bet”, or “potential” of a model or method, but also in terms of what they actually do for us in present research. Pursuitworthy models and methods generally “show us the tradition and its possibilities more clearly, expansively, and perspicuously than earlier works… They recombine elements and concerns in an especially deft way… enabling us to see afresh the tradition we thought we knew so well” (Carroll 2010: 70-71). The ability to clarify a tradition in which we are already embedded (of previous methods, modelling resources, etc.) should be acknowledged as a common feature of pursuitworthy models and methods, together with our prospective assessment that they will produce adequate explanations in the future (Šešelja and Strasser 2013). As illustrative example, I discuss the current case of the EHT (Event Horizon Telescope), whose (creative) methodology can be considered pursuitworthy to the extent that it is bringing clarity to our tradition of observational and imaging methods in astronomy now, while we can issue a promissory note about its truthconduciveness in the future. 

“Toward an Account of Misguided Pursuit” 

Marina DiMarco (University of Pittsburgh) & Kareem Khalifa (Middlebury College)

In this paper, we offer a taxonomy of misguided pursuit. While recent work in philosophy of science has attended primarily to epistemic justification for pursuit, a normative role for social values in judgments of pursuit-worthiness has been rather taken for granted. By contrast, we are concerned to say something specific about what these values are or ought to be. Following DiMarco and Khalifa (2019), we take misguided pursuit to be an important phenomenon in the epistemology of scientific inquiry; namely, a failure to ask the right kind of question. We argue that the normative force of this mis/guidedness is partly derived from social roles. We propose a tripartite account of misguided pursuit, on which pursuit is misguided when one fails to ask a question one ought to have asked (failures of due diligence), when one asks a question which, given the opportunity cost of pursuit, one ought not to have asked (wasted questions), and when one asks a question, the answer to which can be expected to have pernicious social effects (taboos). We illustrate these kinds of misguided pursuits with examples from epidemiology, medicine, and social science. This account helps us to better diagnose the role of pursuit in epistemologies of ignorance and epistemic injustice in science. 

“Theory Pursuit, Question Pursuit, and Question Acceptance” 

Hakob Barseghyan (University of Toronto)

Despite a growing body of literature on pursuit, the relationship between question pursuit and theory pursuit is still ambiguous. In particular, are questions the only object of pursuit (DiMarco & Khalifa, 2019) or can theories too be an object of pursuit (Laudan, 1977; Whitt, 1990)? In addition, it remains to be seen whether there is anything in the notion of question pursuit that goes beyond the basic notion of question acceptance. Specifically, is there any difference between saying that a question is accepted as a legitimate topic of inquiry (Rawleigh, 2018) and saying that it is considered worthy of pursuit (Barseghyan & Levesley, 2021)? I argue that while any pursuit involves at least one question, theory pursuit cannot be fully reduced to question pursuit. There is a clear difference between pursuing a certain answer to a question, i.e. a certain theory, and pursuing a question without any specific answer in mind. I also show that there is an important difference between accepting a question as a legitimate topic of inquiry and considering it pursuitworthy. While a question normally becomes accepted when all of its epistemic presuppositions are accepted, and it is accepted that the question is answerable (Jardine, 2000; Rescher, 2000; Barseghyan & Levesley, 2021), I argue that this doesn’t necessarily make the question pursuitworthy, for the latter often depends on many additional considerations that go beyond the mere acceptance of the question’s epistemic presuppositions. Thus, there are good reasons to keep the notions of theory pursuit, question pursuit, and question acceptance separate.

“Epistemic and Non-Epistemic Standards of Pursuit in Emerging Biomedicine” 

Grant Fisher (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology)  

Biomedicine and biotechnology offer rich opportunities to probe decisions underlying the pursuit of emerging science and technology, particularly because they offer cases that have generated disagreement over epistemic and normative standards. Although pursuit-worthiness may concern epistemic reasons for undertaking novel forms of research, epistemic factors do not exhaust the evaluation of pursuit worthiness itself (Šešelja & Straßer 2014, pp. 3114-3115). Practical pursuit-worthiness and hence the role of values in pursuit are also important. However, the relationship between the epistemic modes of evaluation and non-epistemic values requires further exploration. Furthermore, it is important to engage with the complex ways in which the pursuit of technoscientific objects, exploratory scientific models, laboratory methods and protocols as well as scientific theorizing interact in complex ways in relation to both epistemic and non-epistemic goals. Non-epistemic standards of pursuit-worthiness can be less open to scrutiny than epistemic norms and less binding given the plurality of values in contemporary societies, especially in cases of scientific and technological developments with important social implications and divergent public and policy responses. In biomedical science and biotechnology, and in particular therapeutic stem cell research, non-epistemic standards of pursuit worthiness become especially significant and can converge and conflict with epistemic aims.   

This paper explores the pursuit-worthiness of induced pluripotent stem cell research in therapeutic stem cell biology. Introduced in an attempt to undercut ethical, economic, and regulatory pressures on human pluripotent stem cell research, induced pluripotent stem cell research highlights how practitioners and stakeholders with divergent values sought a robust norm of pursuit against a background of deep public disagreement. In many ways the attempt to forge a desideratum of pursuit is reminiscent of what legal theorists call “incomplete theorization” (Sunstein 1996). In the pursuit of novel methods and models in stem cell biology, incomplete theorization can be associated with a strategy to seek an agreement over a research policy that is intended to underdetermine conflicting ethical, social, and economic values in order to promote shared epistemic and non-epistemic goals. As part of the “heuristic assessment” (Nickles 2006) of emerging science and technology, incomplete theorization thereby seeks to sustain – by not engaging with – conflicting non-epistemic values in the face of potentially disruptive innovations by deflating their impacts on the evaluation of pursuit-worthiness. However, it is highly problematic. For example, some historians and philosophers of biology highlight how induced pluripotent stem cell research has been mistakenly interpreted as offering the opportunity to replace human embryonic stem cell research by overcoming ethical and regulatory problems in stem cell biology (Fagan, 2013; Maienschein 2014). What remains to be addressed are what these developments suggest for the evaluation of pursuit-worthiness in the field. It might suggest a strong interaction between non-epistemic and epistemic standards of pursuit in ways that sometimes conflict while also mutually shaping the future direction of research. Although some work has been done regarding the ways values in pursuit impact on epistemic appraisal (see for example Elliot & McKaughan 2009 on toxicology), there remains ample scope to probe the engagement of epistemic and non-epistemic values in the pursuit of emerging biomedical science and biotechnologies. 

“Endorsement and Pursuit”

Will Fleisher (Northeastern University)

In response to Kuhn, philosophers of science have long been concerned with what could epistemically justify the abandonment of an established theory for an upstart theory (or research program). A new theory will almost certainly be less developed and have less empirical support, since scientists have yet to work on it. But there must be a way of justifying moving on to pursue a new theory, even when it is less well-supported. After all, excellent scientists often do just that. Larry Laudan proposed that scientific research programs can be evaluated not just in the context of justification, but also in the context of pursuit. He suggested that whether a research program is worthy of pursuit depends on whether it is progressively solving new problems. Subsequently, philosophers have proposed a variety of other considerations that make a theory or program pursuit-worthy, including its coherence with other research, whether it fruitfully suggests new lines of research, and whether it has a useful associated heuristic or model. Few of these considerations appear to be good reasons to believe a theory, or accept it as true. So, considerations that make a theory worth pursuing are not enough reason to believe or accept it. This raises the question: what sort of propositional attitude is appropriate toward theories (or research programs) whose pursuit is justified by these considerations? I argue that the appropriate attitude is a distinct mental state, which I call endorsement.  

Endorsement is an attitude of resilient commitment and advocacy one has toward a theory or research program. It is ideally suited to play the role of the appropriate attitude of theory pursuit. Rational endorsement does not require that a theory be more likely than competitors. Furthermore, it is rationally sensitive to considerations regarding the success of future inquiry. This includes reasons concerning the social structure of collective inquiry, including pursuitworthiness considerations, and evidence for the theory. My framework, and the associated decision theory, show how these different kinds of epistemic reasons can be weighed and traded-off in making pursuit judgments. The endorsement framework thus suggests a better account of episodes in the history of science that have been the focus of the pursuit literature, e.g., the move from affinitism to atomism in chemistry, or the history of the theory of plate tectonics. It also offers normative guidance regarding how to trade-off between considerations of evidence, pursuit-worthiness, and the distribution of scientific labor. 

“Pragmatic Approaches to Pursuitworthiness: The Role of Values in the Context of Pursuit” 

Erman Sozudogru (UCL) 

Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT also known as Sleeping Sickness) is a parasitic disease endemic in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa with approximately 8.5 million people at risk of infection. The current efforts combat this disease is led by the World Health Organisation, and the current aim is set to eliminate this disease by 2030. Given the biological complexity of HAT as a disease and the broader environmental and social context in which it exists, there are multiple, competing research programmes that can be pursued to achieve elimination by 2030. In this paper, I will focus on the current efforts to eliminate HAT, in particular examining how the context of pursuit is shaped by a range of epistemic and pragmatic values.  

Elimination of HAT can be achieved through multiple research programmes including, biomedical intervention (like developing new drugs), vector control or environmental control. WHO’s current efforts mainly concentrate on biomedical approaches, developing new therapeutic tools that can be used in screening campaigns. In deciding which research programme to pursue in order to eliminate HAT, WHO experts consider broader social, economic and political values specific to the context of HAT as well as epistemic values that scientist appeal to when assessing different theories, models, methods. In this paper, I will provide an analysis of how socio-economic and political context plays an important role in determining which research programmes are worth pursuing. 

In this paper, I will first argue that epistemic norms are not sufficient to determine which research programme is worthy of pursuit in the elimination of HAT. To overcome this problem, I will develop a pragmatic framework where we can understand the role of different epistemic and pragmatic values in the context of pursuit. Therefore, I will argue that the context of pursuit cannot be fully understood by only studying epistemic norms (explanatory power, coherence, consistency, etc) without pragmatic norms specific to the wider context of inquiry. 

“Feyerabend and the Paradox of Pursuitworthiness”

Jamie Shaw (University of Toronto) 

There are numerous proposals, scattered across the philosophical literature, on criteria of pursuitworthiness: heuristic potential (Musgrave 1978), analogies with previous theories (Nyrup 2015), methodologically sound attempts to answer correct questions (Khalifa and DiMarco 2019), or its conduciveness to a set of goals (Seselja et al. 2012). In this paper, I raise a paradox that holds for any account of pursuitworthiness. The paradox, inspired by Feyerabend (1981), contends that any account of pursuitworthiness with lead to an infinite regress. The regress is as follows: to meet a criterion of pursuitworthiness (p), an epistemic object must be pursued until it meets p, forcing us to posit a prior criterion of pursuitworthiness p’, and so on ad infinitum. I survey a few attempts to escape this paradox and contend that only one is successful. The first requires that we accept some pre-existing set of knowledge as given. I go on to contend that the decision to accept this knowledge rests on value judgment about the urgency of the promises of the research program. I conclude by contrasting this view of values and pursuit with existing accounts (Kitcher 2004; Elliott et al. 2009). 

“Pursuit and Dynamical Structure of Scientific Theories: The LIGO Project” 

Lydia Patton (Virginia Tech) 

The practice of science has diverse aims: e.g., finding truth, rigorous practices, and secure methods and inferences. Experiments ‘have lives of their own’, as Hacking put it, and Steinle, Burian, and Schickore have emphasized the exploratory nature of experiment. In searching for fruitful methods for experiment and inference, scientists may follow lines of inquiry that do not feature in the written-up results. For instance, Nickles has distinguished ‘comparative evaluation of problemsolving efficiency and promise’ and the ‘evaluation of completed research’. I will focus on a specific consequence of this scientific practice for the evolving structure of scientific theories. Scientific ‘languages’ (as Carnap and Hempel called them) develop to capture experimental and observational facts and relationships, and, later, to formulate theoretical statements and inference methods. These languages may be used to describe ‘real’ things accurately, or they may be developed deliberately to describe speculative, artificial, or hypothetical situations. Multiple languages are often needed to make sense of a theory or to make it work in practice: most theories are complexes of different languages. Analyzing the context of pursuit in science allows us to analyze theoretical structure and language as it changes over time. This paper will analyze ‘pursuitworthiness’ in science via the choices scientists make about how to construct, assess, and test theories, and how these are reflected in the formal features of scientific theories. The paper will analyze the recent progress in gravitational wave astrophysics, especially the LIGO experimental tradition. Working from the excellent empirical research of Collins and others, the paper will argue that LIGO research builds on a complex set of experimental and theoretical ‘languages’, and will demonstrate that inferences about black holes (e.g.) in the LIGO project encode a set of higher order formal relationships, which in turn reflect decisions about what is worth pursuing in experiment and theory-building. 

“Acceptance, Pursuit and Inductive Risk in Archaeology” 

Rune Nyrup (Cambridge) 

Debates over values in science usually focus on acceptance. The use of nonepistemic values to guide decisions about pursuit is often seen as unproblematic but uninteresting. Elliott and McKaughan (2009, Phil. Sci. 76:598-611) have questioned this division, pointing out that decisions about pursuit can indirectly influence acceptance, by shaping what types of evidence and well-developed hypotheses become available. This paper further complicates this pictures, by highlighting influences running in the opposite direction, from acceptance to pursuit. I focus on an argument by feminist archaeologist Joan Gero (2007, J. Archeaological Method and Theory, 14:311-327), which criticises the tendency to overvalue certainty and avoid ambiguity in archaeological interpretation. I argue that this can be interpreted as a version of the inductive risk argument: in setting high standards for acceptance, traditional archaeology assigns too much value to avoiding false or poorly supported interpretations. As this disincentivises archaeologists from pursuing research on non-elite or marginal populations (e.g. women, servants, rural populations) who are less likely to leave behind material evidence, this decision is not value-neutral. This paper analyses the details of Gero’s argument, highlighting the complex interplay between pursuit and acceptance underpinning it. 

“Towards a Plausibility-Based Account of Pursuitworthiness Evaluation” 

Fabio Sterpetti and Marta Bertolaso (Campus Bio-Medico University)

By taking inspiration from Boden’s (2004) account of creativity and De Regt’s and Gijsbers’ (2017) non-factive account of scientific understanding, we aim to outline a plausibility-based account of pursuitworthiness in order to shed some light on why the process by which the pursuitworthiness of a given scientific research is evaluated is so contentious. Indeed, epistemic virtues are often taken into consideration when assessing pursuitworthiness in science, and several ways to formalize such evaluative process and how to rank epistemic virtues have been developed. But there is no consensus on which is the correct way to formalize that process, and pursuitworthiness evaluation remains a matter of controversy (Glymour 2015). We claim that this is not by chance, and that in order to see why this is the case one has to take into account the concept of plausibility (Bartha 2019; Cellucci 2017). Roughly, something is plausible when the arguments or the reasons for it are stronger than the arguments or the reasons against it, on the basis of existing knowledge. More precisely, we wish to defend the claim that there is no objective way to assess the pursuitworthiness of a given scientific research, since every assessment of pursuitworthiness rests crucially on the plausibility assessment of some metaphysical assumptions that, as we will make clear, one has to make about how the space of relevant possibilities is shaped. Since there is no objective way to demarcate metaphysical possibility from metaphysical impossibility (Clarke-Doane 2019), in evaluating the pursuitworthiness of a given research one cannot resort to objective probabilities to represent the space of relevant possibilities and thus provide an objective account of the process of pursuitworthiness evaluation. One has instead to assess whether it is plausible that the relevant space of possibilities might change and how that would affect our understanding of the matter at issue. This is especially evident when one approaches the frontiers of scientific inquiry. In this perspective, pursuitworthiness evaluation can be conceived as second-order plausibility assessment. Since plausibility, contrary to probability, is not a mathematical concept, it is not possible to provide an objective account of the plausibility assessment process, and thus it is not possible to uncontroversially formalize the process of pursuitworthiness evaluation.  

“Zombie Hypotheses in Ecology: When Should They be Allowed to Live?”

Tina Heger (University of Postdam), Jonathan M. Jeschke (University of Berlin), Dunja Šešelja (TU Eindhoven) and Christian Straßer (Ruhr-University Bochum)

In ecology, it can often be observed that major hypotheses and concepts stay in the focus of researchers even if many empirical studies have accumulated that provide evidence refuting them. These hypotheses have been called ‘zombie ideas’, because they are neither really ‘alive’, with many studies disproving them, nor are they really ‘dead’, because they keep being cited and tested. We will link discussions about zombie ideas in ecology with the debate about pursuitworthiness in philosophy of science. A helpful tool for this interdisciplinary bridge is the hierarchy-of-hypotheses (HoH) approach which we outline here. We discuss its potential usefulness for assessing the pursuitworthiness of major hypotheses in ecology and other disciplines. In a hierarchy of hypotheses, general hypotheses are branched out into increasingly specialized sub-hypotheses. Since the general hypotheses are supposed to be applicable across a variety of study systems and organism groups, empirical evidence is usually not unequivocal. Even if the majority of empirical evidence is questioning a major hypothesis, there may still be branches containing supporting evidence. We will discuss implications for the worthiness of pursuit and worthiness of acceptance of ecological and other hypotheses. 

“Putting IBE into Context”

Leah Henderson (University of Groningen)

It is often assumed that Inference to the Best Explanation, or `IBE’, belongs to the context of justification. Yet Peircean abduction, which has been designated as an immediate precursor, is, according to recent scholarship, best located in the context of discovery and pursuit. Recently, it has been suggested that IBE should be seen as a theory of `acceptance’. The implication is that it should move out of the context of justification, and relocate back to the context of pursuit, or perhaps some other non-justificatory context. I argue that although abduction plays an important role in the context of pursuit, IBE is not simply a renaming of abduction. It has been reconceptualised in a way which makes it unsuitable to operate in the context of pursuit. We should distinguish between a modest form of IBE, which can be situated in the context of justification as it is standardly understood, and a stronger version, which involves a different kind of evaluation of hypotheses than is usually considered. Nonetheless, this stronger version should be still be located in the context of justification, although it involves appraisal of hypotheses that contains some elements in common with the appraisal of hypotheses in terms of pursuitworthiness