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A bold hypothesis about pursuit

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Many decisions in science are not about how well-confirmed or otherwise some hypothesis is, but about which hypotheses or investigations should be chased up. This is the context of pursuit. I’m developing an account of pursuit which is built around a bold hypothesis: that questions of pursuit best turn on the biproducts rather than the products of scientific investigations. I’ll start by motivating my analysis via a discussion of the pursuitworthiness of morphological phylogenetics in paleontology. I’ll make a pessimistic bet that the central product of such investigations – knowledge of the ancestral relationships between extinct taxa – are unlikely to be forthcoming. But I’ll then argue that a biproduct of such investigations, knowledge of the evolutionary and developmental nature of characters, is forthcoming and underwrites the pursuitworthiness of the practice. With this in place, I’ll then provide an account of a practice or investigation’s ‘products’ and ‘biproducts’ which turns on investigations themselves (as opposed to merely scientists) having aims (I’ll co-opt some recent work by Hasok Chang to do this). I’ll close by considering some possible arguments in favour of the bold hypothesis, and briefly considering two possible circumstances where the hypothesis might break down: investigations involving inductive risk, and some highly controlled experimental contexts.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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