The Semantics of Theories

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The Semantics of Theories
(23-25 June 2016)

Idea and Motivation

Since 1970, no major international conference has been dedicated to the problem of the semantics of theories, even though the problem is of central and fundamental importance in all branches and topics of philosophy of science. The time, therefore, is ripe for such a major conference, bringing together leading proponents and critics of all major schools of thought on the problem. Such a gathering will spur new, innovative approaches to the problem, as well as connecting and invigorating work on existing approaches. It will also provide young researchers with a comprehensive introduction to the state of the art of this central field of research, and established researchers with a comprehensive overview.

The conference aims to explore the issues and problems attending the attempts to understand the semantics of scientific theories. Specific questions we want the conference to address include (but are not limited to):

  • What is it to formulate an account of the semantics of scientific theories?
  • What are the relative virtues and demerits of formal, technical versus informal, heuristic approaches to the problem?
  • What are the relative virtues and demerits of the most influential contemporary schools of thought (syntactic or received view, semantic view, structuralism, inferentialism, inter alia)?
  • How can one distinguish the pragmatics from the semantics, and what role does or ought each of them play?
  • Should there be a single, unified account of the semantics of theories for all branches of science, or do theories in different sciences (physics, biology, the social sciences, et al.) require different semantics?
  • What roles do representation and the general idea of a model play in semantics?
  • What input, if any, should the psychological and neurocognitive sciences have in a proper understanding of semantics?
  • What is the relation, if any, between the semantics of scientific theories and the semantics of mathematical theories?
  • How does or should a proper understanding of the semantics bear on related philosophical problems concerning scientific theories, including: their structure; their relation to experiment and observation; the status of theoretical terms and the realism-versus-instrumentalism debate; the distinction between factual and conceptual truths; issues of confirmation, reduction and emergence, incommensurability, concept-formation; etc.?