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Durham University

Department of Philosophy

Perspectives in Epistemology and Philosophy of Science

Perspectives in Epistemology and Philosophy of Science


Thursday 30 January 2014, 11am – 6pm

Durham University Philosophy Department

51 Old Elvet, Durham DH1 3HN


All are invited to attend this one day workshop. There will be a registration fee of £5, which covers lunch and refreshments. Please sign up in advance by Monday 27th January, noon (GMT).


Sign up and more information:



SCHEDULE - Thursday 30th January



11.00 Registration and welcome incl. tea and coffee


11.30-13.00 Michela Massimi (Edinburgh) – Perspectival Realism


13.00-14.00 lunch


14.00-15.00 Rune Nyrup (Durham) – Perspectival Pluralism: where is the perspective in that?


15.00-16.00 Gurpreet Rattan (Toronto) – Perspective and the Limits of Intersubjective understanding


16.00-16.30 Tea and coffee


16.30-17.30 Peter Vickers and Henry Taylor (Durham) – Perspectivism and the Rise of Conceptual Fragmentation


17.30-18.00 Informal concluding remarks


18.00 Workshop closes




Rune Nyrup – Perspectival Pluralism: where is the perspective in that?


“Cases where two or more models rely on mutually inconsistent assumptions but nonetheless provide seemingly good and predictively successful explanations of the same phenomenon present a prima facie challenge to scientific realism (Teller 2001, Rueger 2005).

Perspectival realism (Giere 2006a, 2006b) suggests a solution to this problem. Instead of being selective but unqualified realists towards parts of the models (Chakravartty 2010, 2013), perspectival realists aim to formulate a qualified realist attitude where inconsistent models are not necessarily problematic. For perspectivists, different models rely on different 'theoretical perspectives'. Within their respective perspectives, each model can be claimed well-fitting or even true of the target system. However, that a system is best modelled in a particular way within one theoretical perspective does not exclude it being modelled differently within other perspectives.

The perspectivist solution promises to combine two appealing features. On the one hand, it seems to sidestep the question of what the target systems really or objectively must be like, in order for multiple inconsistent models to be (approximately) true. On the other, it promises to maintain a more robust sense of realism than constructivism or empiricist anti-realism.

In this paper I argue that perspectivism fails to deliver on these promises, at least in its present state. Giere uses the metaphors of visual perspectives and of colour vision to explain how perspectival knowledge can still be about the world. However, these metaphors suggest an underlying, objective reality which the perspectives are perspectives on. This has led critics to argue that Giere fails to rule out seemingly plausible strategies for investigating questions about the objective features of the world (Lipton 2007, Chakravartty 2010, Votsis 2012).

Giere has anticipated this objection, claiming that there simply is no way to formulate or answer such questions except within a perspective. But while it does answer the previous objection, it is not clear that it allows perspectivism to retain its claim to being a form of realism. Specifically I argue that on a plausible interpretation (drawing on Giere's deflationism) this manoeuvre blurs the distinction between theoretical perspectives, which are only instrumentally justified, and models of the world made within those perspectives. However, it is exactly this distinction which is supposed to form the touch-stone between his account of scientific theorising and the perspective metaphor, on which the realist promises of perspectivism rely.


Chakravartty, A. (2010): “Perspectivism, inconsistent models, and contrastive explanation”, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 41: 405-412.

--- (2013): “Dispositions for Scientific Realism”, in: Groff, R. & Greco, J. (eds.): Powers and Capacities in Philosophy: The New Aristotelianism. London: Routledge.

Giere, R. (2006a): Scientific Perspectivism, Chicago: Chicago University Press.

--- (2006b): “Perspetival Pluralism”, in: Kellert, S., Longino, H, & Waters, K. (eds.): Scientific Pluralism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lipton, P. (2007): “The World of Science” [Review of Giere 2006], Science 316: 834.

Rueger, A. (2005): “Perspectival Models and Theory Unification”, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 56, pp. 579-594.

Teller, P. (2001): “Twillight of the Perfect Model Model”, Erkenntnis 55: 393-415.

Votsis, I. (2012): “Putting Realism in Perspective”, Philosophica 84: 85-122.”



Gurpreet Rattan – Perspective and the Limits of Intersubjective understanding


“How does the notion of perspective fit into epistemology? And what are its consequences for the nature of intersubjective understanding? This paper outlines an account of one significant role of perspective in epistemology, and in particular in the epistemology of disagreement, and argues that this account of the role of perspective entails some epistemologically non-trivial and necessary limits for intersubjective understanding. These limits are not grounded in contingent cognitive limitations but instead in the very structure of epistemic normativity in its application to deep disagreement.”



Peter Vickers and Henry Taylor – Perspectivism and the Rise of Conceptual Fragmentation


“Perspectivism is often characterised as the view that (in at least some cases) two parties can express distinct, contrary propositions, where both are equally ‘correct’ or ‘good’. In this paper we examine how this position relates to the rise of conceptual fragmentation. We list twenty prominent concepts once thought to have one privileged meaning, but which now have been found to fragment into different sub-concepts no one of which expresses the original concept. Examples include species, acid, race, concept, natural kind, innate, health, memory, intelligence, life, person, and art. Such conceptual fragmentation typically invites pluralism about the concept in question. We argue that the root cause of the rise of such pluralism is the death of definitionism: it is now increasingly accepted that searching for necessary and sufficient conditions for any given concept is no longer an appropriate way to do conceptual analysis (e.g. Margolis and Laurence 1999).

We further argue that this can explain how two thinkers can believe apparently contradictory propositions and both be correct. In this regard our explanation in terms of conceptual fragmentation might be viewed as perspectivist. On the other hand, the word ‘perspectivism’ suggests that people can have contrary and yet equally legitimate viewpoints concerning some subject matter; by contrast, the point of pluralism is usually to note that what at first seems to be a point of disagreement is not really a disagreement at all. If we take an apparent disagreement concerning whether Fred is intelligent, it may turn out that one person is talking about emotional intelligence, and the other about IQ. If we can agree that neither of these is what intelligence really is, then we have no disagreement.

We further investigate this idea, exploring the senses in which perspectivism and pluralism are similar and different. One focus of the paper is the case of the map, so often put forward as a paradigm example of perspectivism. We argue that in fact ‘perspectivism’ might be a misleading way to characterise this example, and that it actually has much in common with cases of conceptual fragmentation. If we are correct, there may be a plausible and attractive middle ground between (i) insisting that at most one party in a dispute can be correct, and (ii) embracing perspectivism.


Margolis, E. and Laurence, S. (1999): ‘Introduction’, in Margolis, E. and Laurence, S. (eds.), Concepts: Core Readings, MIT Press, pp.3-81.”