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Bobby Vos

PhD student

College: Trinity
Supervisor: Jeremy Butterfield
Advisor: Hasok Chang

Thesis topic: The Logical Structure of Scientific Knowledge-Systems

Previous Education

2014-2017: MSc Mathematical Sciences (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
                  MSc History and Philosophy of Science (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
2011-2014: BSc Mathematics (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands)
                  BSc Physics and Astronomy (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands)

Programmatic Statement of Interest

I am deeply interested in the study of knowledge-systems. As its name implies, a ‘knowledge-system’ should be thought of as any kind of system for generating knowledge claims about a given subject matter. In particular, I am interested in those knowledge-systems that concern themselves with nature. By far the most prominent of such ‘systems of nature-knowledge’, of course, is the knowledge-system of modern science. In my research, I seek to understand what characterizes science as a knowledge-system and what sets it apart from other systems of nature-knowledge.

More specifically, my interest in knowledge-systems decomposes into three interrelated sets of research interests: philosophical, historical and methodological.

Philosophical: What is the general structure of a knowledge-systems? What makes a knowledge-system scientific?

Historical: What systems of nature-knowledge does one find throughout history? What factors contributed to the rise of modern science?

Methodological: What is the best method for systematically theorizing about knowledge-systems? What role is there to be played for logic and other formal methods?

One question that intrigues me especially is the Contingency Question: Is science (as we know it) the only pragmatically successful system of nature-knowledge that can be used to make sense of the natural world or is it but one of many? At its most tantalizing, this question should invite one to imagine the form and content of an ‘alien’ science. It should not, however, be taken as veiled attempt at validating contemporary pseudo-scientific practices (hence the stipulation of ‘pragmatic success’ in the Question above).

Research Interests by Topic

The programmatic research interests stated above naturally intersect with a great many discourses in the history and philosophy of science as well as philosophy more generally. In particular, I maintain an active interest in the following subject areas:

General Philosophy of Science: the structure of scientific theories, explanation, representation, realism vs anti-realism

Philosophy of Physics: the role of symmetry principles in physics, axiomatization of physical theories, quantum logic, category-theoretic formulations of physical theories.

History of Science: Ancient Greek natural philosophy, non-Western approaches to nature-knowledge, (the historiographical notion of) the Scientific Revolution

Philosophical Methodology: logic in the philosophy of science, formal vs historical approaches to philosophy of science, modal logic, model theory, history of logical empiricism

In addition to the areas of interest listed above, I also have a general philosophical interest in relativism, pluralism, anti-realism, voluntarism, conventionalism and other related –isms as they appear in metaphysics, epistemology and logic.

Current Work

I am currently working on my PhD thesis, in which I aim to do two things (roughly corresponding to the methodological and philosophical components of my larger research project).

First, I wish to argue for the viability of ‘systematic’ approaches to the study of scientific knowledge. Such systematic approaches, exemplified by logical empiricism and Munich structuralism in the philosophy of science, are widely believed to be unable to do justice to the historical and disciplinary diversity that exists within the scientific enterprise. Arguing against this presupposition, I posit that the failure of systematic approaches to capture this diversity is a contingent feature of existent systematic approaches rather than a necessary feature of any systematic approach whatever. In particular, I argue that these existent approaches suffer from a ‘theory-centrism’, that makes them ill-suited for accommodating different types of scientific knowledge.

My second aim, then, is to lay the foundations for a systematic approach to the study of science that can engage more fruitfully with the pluralistic nature of scientific knowledge. To this end, I draw inspiration from the field of universal logic; a field of study which aims to establish a systematic framework for the study of the many different systems of logic that have emerged in recent decades. My argument, in short, is that we can extend the methods from universal logic (more specifically: from particular model-theoretic frameworks falling under the header of universal logic) so as to make them applicable to the study of science. The metascientific counterpart of the logician’s system of logic is what I call a system of scientific knowledge (or scientific knowledge-system). I conclude the thesis by applying the obtained insights to the reconstruction of a number of concrete scientific knowledge-systems.