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Structure Workshop: Thinking ecologically about policy and structure

(6 September 2017)

Learning how to affect change in stable structures, 31 October 2017, 1-5pm, Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study.

Organised by Nancy Cartwright, CHESS, Durham and Hakan Seckinelgin, LSE and funded by K4U (ERC project) and Durham's IAS.

This workshop will look at the philosophical foundations of ecological structure as an explanatory mechanism and aims to explore 1) methods for studying the causal pathways that different social structures afford and 2) how far one can intervene in social settings without altering their basic structures.


Florian Fischer (Universität Bonn) - A Reconciliation of Change and Stability

In my talk I will examine the theoretical foundations of change and stability. Traditionally change is conceptualized as the unity of identity and difference. Contrary to this I will argue that there are changes without difference. The apparent contradictoriness of this claim is removed, if one distinguishes different levels. Stability on one level is often brought about by massive cooperation on another level. Change2 in this new conception then is the bringing about of a new state — which need not be qualitatively different from the old. The contrast class to change2 is not stability, but idleness. 

Peter Simons (Trinity College Dublin) - Variant Configurations

A configuration is an arrangement of parts or elements of a whole or system, where the structural relations may be spatial or functional or both. Variant configurations exist when the elements of a common structure can be configured in more than one way, whether temporarily or permanently. Such variants are important in engineering and manufacturing as they permit efficient flexibility of production and operation. We will explore the conceptual geography of variant configurations and consider how the notions may carry over to social wholes. 

Jacob Stegenga (University of Cambridge) - Magic Bullets and the Structural Targets of Medical Interventions

Some medical interventions, such as penicillin and insulin, are good examples of magic bullets. The magic bullet model of medical interventions represents two principles: specificity and effectiveness. The magic bullet model gained popularity in the mid-twentieth century with the discovery of antibiotics and insulin. I argue that once we appreciate the complexity of the constitutive causal basis of diseases and the cascading physiological complexity of effects of exogenous interventions, the expectation of effectiveness and specificity ought to be mitigated. The theory that drugs can intervene on one or few microphysiological targets and thereby bring about an effect that is both clinically significant and symptomatically specific is, for many interventions, unfounded. Nevertheless, the magic bullet model is a regulative ideal for medical interventions, and the low effectiveness of many interventions can be understood in virtue of the fact that these interventions do not come close to satisfying the principles of the magic bullet model.

All welcome and refreshments provided – please contact the Centre Administrator to register attendance at

Full information and details about the second workshop in the series can be found at 

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