Philosophy professor Darrell Rowbottom clinches prestigious research award

23 Mar 2021

Philosophy professor Darrell Rowbottom clinches prestigious research award

Prof Darrell Rowbottom, Professor of the Department of Philosophy, is one of only three Hong Kong scholars who received “The 8th Outstanding Scientific Research Output Award (Humanities and Social Sciences) for Higher Education Institutions -- 2nd Class Award" from the Ministry of Education of the Mainland. His winning work, Extending the Argument from Unconceived Alternatives: Observations, Models, Predictions, Explanations, Methods, Instruments, Experiments and Values, was supported by the Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship Scheme from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong in 2013-14.


“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the RGC for this support,” Prof Rowbottom says, explaining “when we’re choosing between theories in science, we often have more than one option available. So we prefer the best we have, judged on several factors: accuracy, simplicity, scope, and so on. But now consider the possibility that there are unconceived theories -- theories we haven’t yet thought of -- which are superior when judged on the aforementioned factors, but which make very different claims about what exists. How can we be sure that there aren’t such theories now, when we have conceived of new theories like this in the past? More specifically, what’s the chance that there are such theories?”


Prof Rowbottom’s work shows there is a family of related problems involving unconceived alternatives of other kinds. “I show that we should consider not only unconceived theories, but also unconceived models, observations, methods, explanations, predictions and so forth. The overarching issue is about how much we should trust what our current theories say about unobservable things, and hence about fundamental reality, given our limitations.”


These awards recognise outstanding scholars of humanities and social sciences from higher education institutions, who make significant contributions to academia or the betterment of humankind. They are given every three years. This year’s award was open to nominations from Hong Kong for the first time.