I am very pleased to announce that Dr. Oliver Lean will join my research group at University of Calgary in September 2016 as one of the three Postdoctoral Researcher positions funded by the From Biological Practice to Scientific Metaphysics project. Speaking on behalf of my project colleagues at the Universities of Geneva and Minnesota, we are excited to have Oliver join the project. The members of the Philosophy Department at the University of Calgary are looking forward to Oliver becoming a member of our thriving community. Please find below Oliver's description of his research. -Ken
My research takes an evolutionary view of human perception, thought and language, and explores its implications for foundational issues in metaphysics and the philosophy of science. In particular, I explore to what extent the Darwinian view of these phenomena necessitates some form of pragmatism about their contents – whether in a limited or a global sense.
Darwinism and pragmatism have a long history together; in fact, Darwinism – with its emphasis on contingency, utility, and the concrete over the abstract – was a major and explicit influence on the views of the classical American pragmatists; William James's avowed anti-essentialism, for example. I intend to revisit their relationship with respect to emerging applications of Darwinian ideas to philosophical questions, such as the recent use of evolutionary signalling games in a naturalised approach to meaning. I will highlight and evaluate implicit metaphysical assumptions in these approaches, such as presupposing an objective set of partitions over states of the world that evolving populations mirror with increasing accuracy. A Darwinian challenge to this kind of assumption is the claim that mirroring reality was never what perception, thought and language were in the business of doing.
However, even if the evolutionary perspective supports pragmatism about some of these issues, it may not be necessary in all cases. In particular, it may be that more rigorous endeavours such as those involved in scientific inquiry achieve a kind of independence from biological utility unavailable to their ancestors; in which case, it may be possible to make metaphysical claims about reality beyond practicality and convention. Deciding whether this is the case will require a careful assessment of whether and how the practice of science breaks free of other ways of interacting with and reasoning about the world.
[link to academia]