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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Darrell P Rowbottom

COFUND Senior Research Fellow at Trevelyan College, Durham University (October - December 2014)

Prof Darrell Rowbottom is from the Department of Philosophy, Lingnan University, Hong Kong and is recognised as a dynamic rising star in philosophy, with the sort of publication record one would normally expect of someone far more senior.

The Instrument of Science : Prof Rowbottom proposes to address scientific realism, the question of whether or not evidence in favour of scientific theories constitutes evidence for their truth, rather than their mere reliability for practical purposes. For the last thirty years, philosophers have tended to agree that scientific theories should be interpreted literally (in contrast, for instance, to the way in which liberal theologians interpret parts of the Bible). The realism debate therefore concentrated evidence: can science find evidence that its theories (literally construed) are true? During this time instrumentalism, which rejects literal construal, received relatively little attention, although it has a long history: Osiander and Cardinal Bellarmine offered instrumentalist interpretations of the Copernican system, and scepticism about physical atomism engendered an instrumentalist interpretation of that theory among many nineteenth- and twentieth-century scientists. Rowbottom’s project aims to revive instrumentalism in the light of more recent philosophical and psychological work on models and cognitive mechanisms of understanding, and also scholarship on the development of atomic theory in chemistry and physics during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is a project of first-rate interest and significance, and Professor Rowbottom’s outstanding record of publication means that he is ideally placed to pursue it.