Prof. Darrell P. Rowbottom
Professor, Department of Philosophy, Lingnan University
Editor-in-Chief, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Associate Editor, Australasian Journal of Philosophy
Coordinating Editor, Theory and Decision
Prior to my appointment at Lingnan, I was a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford. I have also worked at several other universities in the UK, including Aberdeen, Bristol, Durham, and Edinburgh.
I started out studying physics, but undertook graduate studies in philosophy and history and philosophy of science. The shift of direction is easily explained: I was fascinated by quantum theory, and what my lecturers (wrongly!) thought that it tells us about the world.
I am interested in a wide variety of topics in philosophy of science, epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of probability. I also publish in other areas, including philosophy of education and philosophy of mind, from time to time.
The core connected questions that drive my research are 'How should we inquire about the world?' and 'What can we know about the world?'
My reecent monograph, The Instrument of Science: Scientific Anti-Realism Revitalised, articulates and defends a new form of instrumentalism about science. This position—‘cognitive instrumentalism’—involves three core theses. First, science makes theoretical progress primarily when it furnishes us with more predictive power or understanding concerning observable things. Second, scientific discourse concerning unobservable things should only be taken literally in so far as it involves observable properties or analogies with observable things. Third, scientific claims about unobservable things are probably neither approximately true nor liable to change in such a way as to increase in truthlikeness.
There are examples from science throughout the book, and I show at length therein how cognitive instrumentalism fits with the development of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century chemistry and physics, and especially atomic theory. I also argues that there is a kind of understanding, empirical understanding, which we can achieve without having true, or even approximately true, representations of unobservable things.
My work on this was supported by a Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship from Hong Kong's Research Grant Council (RGC), and a COFUND Senior International Research Fellowship held at Durham University's Institute of Advanced Study.
‘This accessible and engaging defence of instrumentalism is essential reading for all those interested in the debate between realism and instrumentalism in the philosophy of science.’
Jon Williamson, University of Kent at Canterbury
‘Analyzing fascinating examples from the history of science, this book builds a compelling and carefully argued case for cognitive instrumentalism: that is, for a philosophy of science that takes seriously what we can understand, and do, with science in the world as we experience it.’
Axel Gelfert, Technical University of Berlin
‘[A] welcome and timely addition to the literature. It will certainly help the anti-realist cause, as it provides a number of serious challenges to realism.’
Review in NDPR, by K. Brad Wray, Aarhus University
My textbook on the philosophy of probability, imaginatively called ‘Probability’, was published by Polity Press in 2015. It’s intended to be the most accessible introduction to the subject of how we should interpret, or understand, probabilities. It discusses real world applications, e.g. in fallacies and reasoning, quantum mechanics, genetics, and game theory.
It was recently published in Japanese by Iwanami Shoten Press.
It will also appear shortly in simplified Chinese with Shanghai People's Publishing House.
‘This is a remarkable book in that, while using the absolute minimum of mathematics, it manages to explain all the main views in the philosophy of probability clearly and accurately. Indeed it covers some recent approaches on which active research is taking place at the moment.’
Donald Gillies, University College London
‘Easy and fun to read, this book is a thought-provoking introduction to a wide range of important theories and issues about the nature of probability.’
Timothy Williamson, University of Oxford
‘[A] wonderful introductory book on the philosophical
issues surrounding the notion of probability.’
Review in Polish Journal of Philosophy, by Leszek Wroński, Jagiellonian University
‘Its optimal audience will include anyone interested in what probabilities are regardless of prior background in mathematics. The book is written in a playful style, consisting of enthusiastic prose, frequent examples, and many short dialogs that are mainly used to illustrate difficulties for each of the views considered. These features make the book well suited for readers who are new to philosophy or who have never studied interpretations of probability, including students just starting their university degree. The book is particularly well suited for individuals who are interested in learning about the metaphysics of probability on their own. Instructors who are interested in teaching a course on interpretations of probability would also do well to assign this book as a clear guide to the central positions and motivations of the debate, using it as a foundation to explore more detailed discussions or primary work on the subjects it covers ... There really is not a comparable text on interpretations of probability at this level of accessibility.’
Review in Metascience, by Justin Dallmann, University of Toronto
I presently supervise four PhD students, each of whom holds a Hong Kong PhD Fellowship. These are:
My first PhD student (as chief supervisor) was Christopher Atkinson, who now teaches at Lingnan and Hong Kong University. Congratulations to Chris for his recent paper on the aim of belief in Synthese.
I also currently supervise two MPhil students, namely:
Congratulations to Chi Yin for her recent paper on self-deception in Philosophical Psychology (which you'll find a preprint of below).
Other Forthcoming & New Publications (2015-)
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (In Press)
An important suggestion of objective Bayesians is that the maximum entropy principle can replace a principle which is known to get into paradoxical difficulties: the principle of indifference. No one has previously determined whether the maximum entropy principle is better able to solve Bertrand’s chord paradox than the principle of indifference. In this paper I show that it is not. Additionally, the course of the analysis brings to light a new paradox, a revenge paradox of the chords, that is unique to the maximum entropy principle.
First, I identify a methodological thesis associated with scientific realism. This has different variants, but each concerns the reliability of scientific methods in connection with acquiring, or approaching, truth or approximate truth. Second, I show how this thesis bears on what scientists should do when considering new theories that significantly contradict older theories. Third, I explore how vulnerable scientific realism is to a reductio ad absurdum as a result. Finally, I consider which variants of the methodological thesis are the most defensible in light of the earlier findings.
Philosophical Psychology (In Press)
A major problem posed by cases of self-deception concerns the inconsistent behavior of the self-deceived subject (SDS). How can this be accounted for, in terms of propositional attitudes and other mental states? In this paper, we argue that key problems with two recent putative solutions, due to Mele and Archer, are avoided by ‘the shifting view’ that has been advanced elsewhere in order to explain cases where professed beliefs conflict with actions. We show that self-deceived agents may possess highly unstable degrees of belief concerning the matters about which they are self-deceived.
Synthese 196, 451–484 (2019)
First, I answer the controversial question ‘What is scientific realism?’ with extensive reference to the varied accounts of the position in the literature. Second, I provide an overview of the key developments in the debate concerning scientific realism over the past decade. Third, I provide a summary of the other contributions to this special issue.
This is my bibliography entry on Karl Popper, which covers the full range of his work and the secondary literature theron. Sections include: key primary sources; introductory works and collections; multiauthor general anthologies; critical rationalism; philosophy of science (incl. many subsections); social and political philosophy; probability; ancient philosophy; education; and biographical interest.
The Kuhnian Image of Science: Time for a Decisive Transformation?, 191–208.
(Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield)
In this chapter, I provide an account of how science may undergo rational piecemeal change without any 'revolution', or dramatic shift from normal to extraordinary science, taking place. I argue that partial paradigms (qua disciplinary matrices), or groups thereof, may be used as to direct exploration.
Introduction to Formal Philosophy (Dordrecht: Springer) (2018)
This chapter covers the epistemic or information-based interpretations of probability: logical, subjective, objective Bayesian, and group level. It explains how these differ from aleatory of world-based interpretations of probability, presents each in detail, and then discusses its strengths and weaknesses.
Scientific Realism (London: Routledge) (2017)
This chapter does three main things. First, it provides a characterisation of instrumentalism with reference to nineteenth-century thinkers involved in its genesis. Second, it identifies and addresses several common misconceptions concerning instrumentalism. Third, it covers several key objections to instrumentalism, which hinge on the significance of observability. Overall, the chapter argues that instrumentalism is a live position when it is properly construed.
Encyclopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory (Springer) (2016)
Can students be trained to be excellent scientists purely, or failing that mainly, by means of indoctrination? And if not, what role, if any, should indoctrination play in science education? These are the main questions discussed in this entry. They are epistemic and pragmatic, rather than moral, in character.
When do we agree? The answer might once have seemed simple and obvious; we agree that p when we each believe that p. But from a formal epistemological perspective, where degrees of belief are more fundamental than beliefs, this answer is unsatisfactory. On the one hand, there is reason to suppose that it is false; degrees of belief about p might differ when beliefs simpliciter on p do not. On the other hand, even if it is true, it is too vague; for what it is to believe simpliciter ought to be explained in terms of degrees of belief.
This paper presents several possible notions of agreement, and corresponding notions of disagreement. It indicates how the findings are fruitful for the epistemology of disagreement, with special reference to the notion of epistemic peerhood.
Beliefs’, Philosophical Psychology 29, 732–742 (2016)
People often act in ways that appear incompatible with their sincere assertions (such as trembling in fear when their death becomes an imminent possibility, despite earlier professing that “Death is not bad!”). But how might we explain such cases? On the shifting view, subjects’ degrees of belief (or degrees of confidence) may be highly sensitive to changes in context. This paper articulates and refines this view, after defending it against recent criticisms. It details two mechanisms by which degrees of beliefs may shift.
Models, Predictions, Explanations, Methods, Instruments, and Values’,
Synthese (In Press)
Stanford’s argument against scientific realism focuses on theories, just as many earlier arguments from inconceivability have. However, there are possible arguments against scientific realism involving unconceived (or inconceivable) entities of different types: observations, models, predictions, explanations, methods, instruments, experiments, and values. This paper charts such arguments. In combination, they present the strongest challenge yet to scientific realism.
and S-T. Chen (eds), Philosophy of Science in Practice: Nancy Cartwright
and the Nature of Scientific Reasoning, 111–126 (New York: Springer) (2017)
Do component forces exist? I argue that the answer lies in the affirmative, on historical and operational grounds.
Niiniluoto’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 51, 100–104 (2015)
First, I argue that scientific progress is possible in the absence of increasing verisimilitude in science’s theories. Second, I argue that increasing theoretical verisimilitude is not the central, or primary, dimension of scientific progress. Third, I defend my previous argument that unjustified changes in scientific belief may be progressive. Fourth, I illustrate how false beliefs can promote scientific progress in ways that cannot be explicated by appeal to verisimilitude.
Other Recent Publications (2010-2014)
Several encyclopedia entries and book chapters (as well as book reviews) are not included in this list, but you're welcome to contact me if you'd like electronic copies of these or of the published versions of any of the articles below.
A complete list of my publications is on my CV.
This paper argues that talk of ‘the aim of science’ should be avoided in the philosophy of science, with special reference to the way that van Fraassen sets up the difference between scientific realism and constructive empiricism. It also argues that talking instead of ‘what counts as success in science as such’ is unsatisfactory. The paper concludes by showing what this talk may be profitably replaced with, namely specific claims concerning science that fall into the following categories: descriptive, evaluative, normative, and definitional. There are two key advantages to this proposal. First, realism and its competitors may be understood to consist of highly nuanced variants. Second, scientific realism and its competitors may be understood as something other than ‘all or nothing’ theses about science. More particularly, one may accept that there are general claims concerning science in some of the identified categories, but deny that there are such claims in the others.
I argue that so-called 'background knowledge' in confirmation theory has little, if anything, to do with 'knowledge' in the sense of mainstream epistemology. I argue that it is better construed as 'background information', which need not be believed in, justified, or true.
D. P. Rowbottom (eds), Intuitions (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 119–134 (2014)
In this piece, I advocate and motivate a new understanding of thought experiments, which avoids problems with the rival accounts of Brown and Norton.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 44(2), 161–168 (2013)
This paper is a supplement to, and provides a proof of principle of, Kuhn vs. Popper on Criticism and Dogmatism in Science: A Resolution at the Group Level. It illustrates how calculations may be performed in order to determine how the balance between different functions in science—such as imaginative, critical, and dogmatic—should be struck, with respect to confirmation (or corroboration) functions and rules of scientific method.
Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 94(2), 188–203 (2013)
In this paper, I present some new group level interpretations of probability, and champion one in particular: a consensus-based variant where group degrees of belief are construed as agreed upon betting quotients rather than shared personal degrees of belief. One notable feature of the account is that it allows us to treat consensus between experts on some matter as being on the union of their relevant background information. In the course of the discussion, I also introduce a novel distinction between intersubjective and interobjective interpretations of probability.
This paper responds to Achinstein’s criticism of the thesis that the onlyempirical fact that can affect the truth of an objective evidence claim such as ‘e is evidence for h’ (or ‘e confirms h to degree r’) is the truth of e. It shows that cases involving evidential flaws, which form the basis for Achinstein’s objections to the thesis, can satisfactorily be accounted for by appeal to changes in background information and working assumptions. The paper also argues that the a priori and empirical accounts of evidence are on a par when we consider scientific practice, but that a study of artificial intelligence might serve to differentiate them.
Philosophy of Science 64(4), 739–745 (2013)
This paper shows that Popper's measure of corroboration is inapplicable if, as Popper also argued, the logical probability of synthetic universal statements is zero relative to any evidence that we might possess. It goes on to show that Popper's definition of degree of testability, in terms of degree of logical content, suffers from a similar problem.
Philosophia Mathematica 21, 110–114 (2013)
This paper shows that Bertrand's proposed 'solutions' to his own question, which generates his chord paradox, are inapplicable. It uses a simple analogy with cake cutting. The problem is that none of Bertrand's solutions considers all possible cuts. This is no solace for the defenders of the principle of indifference, however, because it emerges that the paradox is harder to solve than previously anticipated.
This paper offers a novel 'changing places' account of identification in games, where the consequences of role swapping are crucial. First, it illustrates how such an account is consistent with the view, in classical game theory, that only outcomes (and not pathways) are significant. Second, it argues that this account is superior to the 'pooled resources' alternative when it comes to dealing with some situations in which many players identify. Third, it shows how such a 'changing places' account can be used in games where some of the players identify with one another, but others do not. Finally, it illustrates how the model can handle the notion that identification comes in degrees.
Science in Context 25, 247–262 (2012)
This paper investigates whether there is a discrepancy between the stated and actual aims in biomechanical research, particularly with respect to hypothesis testing. We present an analysis of one hundred papers recently published in The Journal of Experimental Biology and Journal of Biomechanics, and examine the prevalence of papers which (a) have hypothesis testing as a stated aim, (b) contain hypothesis testing claims that appear to be purely presentational (i.e. which seem not to have influenced the actual study), and (c) have exploration as a stated aim. We found that whereas no papers had exploration as a stated aim, 58% of papers had hypothesis testing as a stated aim. We had strong suspicions, at the bare minimum, that presentational hypotheses were present in 31% of the papers in this latter group.
This paper develops a new version of instrumentalism, in light of progress in the realism debate in recent decades, and thereby defends the view that instrumentalism remains a viable philosophical position on science. The key idea is that talk of unobservable objects should be taken literally only when those objects are assigned properties (or described in terms of analogies involving things) with which we are experientially (or otherwise) acquainted. This is derivative from the instrumentalist tradition in so far as the distinction between unobservable and observable is taken to have significance with respect to meaning.
Popper's Critical Rationalism: A Philosophical Investigation (London: Routledge, 2011)
Popper’s Critical Rationalism presents Popper’s views on science, knowledge, and inquiry, and examines the significance and tenability of these in light of recent developments in philosophy of science, philosophy of probability, and epistemology. It develops a fresh and novel philosophical position on science, which employs key insights from Popper while rejecting other elements of his philosophy.
Group Level’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 42(1), 117–124
Popper repeatedly emphasised the significance of a critical attitude, and a related critical method, for scientists. Kuhn, however, thought that unquestioning adherence to the theories of the day is proper; at least for ‘normal scientists’. In short, the former thought that dominant theories should be attacked, whereas the latter thought that they should be developed and defended (for the vast majority of the time).
Both seem to have missed a trick, however, due to their apparent insistence that each individual scientist should fulfil similar functions (at any given point in time). The trick is to consider science at the group level; and doing so shows how puzzle solving and ‘offensive’ critical activity can simultaneously have a legitimate place in science. This analysis shifts the focus of the debate. The crucial question becomes ‘How should the balance between functions be struck?’
Interface’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical
Sciences 42(2), 145–154 (2011)
This paper, which is based on recent empirical research at the University of Leeds, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Bristol, presents two difficulties which arise when condensed matter physicists interact with molecular biologists: (1) the former use models which appear to be too coarse-grained, approximate and/or idealized to serve a useful scientific purpose to the latter; and (2) the latter have a rather narrower view of what counts as an experiment, particularly when it comes to computer simulations, than the former. It argues that these findings are related; that computer simulations are considered to be undeserving of experimental status, by molecular biologists, precisely because of the idealizations and approximations that they involve. The complexity of biological systems is a key factor. The paper concludes by critically examining whether the new research programme of ‘systems biology’ offers a genuine alternative to the modelling strategies used by physicists. It argues that it does not.
This paper compares and contrasts the concept of a stance with that of a paradigm qua disciplinary matrix, in an attempt to illuminate both notions. First, it considers to what extent it is appropriate to draw an analogy between stances (which operate at the level of the individual) and disciplinary matrices (which operate at the level of the community). It suggests that despite first appearances, a disciplinary matrix is not simply a stance writ large. Second, it examines how we might reinterpret disciplinary matrices in terms of stances, and shows how doing so can provide us with a better insight into non-revolutionary science. Finally, it identifies two directions for future research: “Can the rationality of scientific revolutions be understood in terms of the dynamic between stances and paradigms?” and “Do stances help us to understand incommensurability between disciplinary matrices?”
Scientific Realism and the Rationality of Science), Studies in History and
Philosophy of Science 42(4), 625–628 (2011)
In this essay review, I argue that that there is a problem with the way that scientific realists tend to motivate belief in the metaphysical underpinnings of their position, or the so-called ‘metaphysical thesis of scientific realism’. I use Sankey’s approach as an illustration of the epistemological problems, in particular, with the inappropriate uses of presupposition and appeals to ‘common sense’.
Research’ (with Sarah Aiston), British Educational Research Journal 37(4),
How should educational research be contracted? And is there anything wrong with the way that public funding of educational research is currently administered? We endeavour to answer these questions by appeal to the work of two of the most prominent philosophers of science of the twentieth century, namely Popper and Kuhn. Although their normative views of science are radically different, we show that they would nonetheless agree on a number of key rules concerning the extent to which scientific practice should be influenced ‘from the outside’. We then show that these rules are often broken in the way that research is publicly funded in the UK.
Voluntarism’ (with Otávio Bueno), Synthese 178(1), 7–17 (2011)
We have three goals in this paper. First, we outline an ontology of stance, and explain the role that modes of engagement and styles of reasoning play in the characterization of a stance. Second, we argue that we do enjoy a degree of control over the modes of engagement and styles of reasoning we adopt. Third, we contend that maximizing one’s prospects for change (within the framework of other constraints, e.g., beliefs, one has) also maximizes one’s rationality.
Philosophy 88(2), 209–225 (2010)
Both Popper and van Fraassen have used evolutionary analogies to defend their views on the aim of science, although these are diametrically opposed. By employing Price's equation in an illustrative capacity, this paper considers which view is better supported. It shows that even if our observations and experimental results are reliable, an evolutionary analogy fails to demonstrate why conjecture and refutation should result in: (1) the isolation of true theories; (2) successive generations of theories of increasing truth-likeness; (3) empirically adequate theories; or (4) successive generations of theories of increasing proximity to empirical adequacy. Furthermore, it illustrates that appeals to induction do not appear to help. It concludes that an evolutionary analogy is only sufficient to defend the notion that the aim of science is to isolate a particular class of false theories, namely those that are empirically inadequate.
International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 24(3), 241–255 (2010)
This article challenges Bird’s view that scientific progress should be understood in terms of knowledge, by arguing that unjustified scientific beliefs (and/or changes in belief) may nevertheless be progressive. It also argues that false beliefs may promote progress.
Synthese 177(1), 139–149 (2010)
This paper argues that Duhem’s thesis does not decisively refute a corroboration-based account of scientific methodology (or ‘falsificationism’), but instead that auxiliary hypotheses are themselves subject to measurements of corroboration which can be used to inform practice. It argues that a corroboration-based account is equal to the popular Bayesian alternative, which has received much more recent attention, in this respect.
Please feel free to contact me for whatever reason - to ask me to review something, to discuss topics of mutual interest (whether or not you're a professional philosopher), to ask about doing a PhD, or what have you - as I am always happy to respond.
You'll find the link on the sidebar.