Ontology & Methodology 2013

Philosophers of science have long been concerned with the question of what a given scientific theory tells us about the contents of the world, but little attention has been paid to how we set out to actually build theories and the relevance of pre-theoretical methodology on a theory’s interpretation.

As contemporary scientific inquiry probes increasingly complex systems, and where empirical observation intertwines highly idealized theoretical entities with high dimensional data analysis and novel computer simulations, we are compelled to reconsider core philosophical questions about how the entities we conceive as possibly populating our universe are not only revealed but are simultaneously molded by the growing horizons of a shifting landscape of exploration, imagination, and method.

  • How do initial conjectures about the entities and processes under scrutiny influence the structure of theories, the choice of variables, and how to interpret what they really say about the world?
  • Does successful methodology depend on a single correct interpretation for theoretical variables, or can plural interpretations actually contribute to scientific knowledge?
  • Does a theory's ontology emerge only once a theory is to hand, or as part of the process of theory building?


  • How does historical analysis of the development of scientific theories illuminate the interplay between scientific methodology, theory building, and the interpretation of scientific theories?
  • How do conceptions embedded in methodology influence the creation and appraisal of local experimental claims and pre-theoretical understanding of phenomena?
  • Are these issues analogous over historical episodes in science, or have contemporary advancements resulted in unique interconnections between method and theoretical understanding?


  • How do specifications of data generation, statistical modeling and analysis influence the construction and appraisal of theories at multiple levels?
  • Can we obtain reliable explanations using empirical predictions that contain multiple approximations and probabilistic idealizations?

This conference brings together prominent philosophers engaged with these interconnected methodological and ontological questions from the philosophy of science, biology, computational cognitive science, causation, economics, and physics.