Abstracts of the presentations "Challenges of interdisciplinary research from the perspective of philosophy of science" - workshop

”Imperialistic asymmetries in interdisciplinarity”
Uskali Mäki

TINT, University of Helsinki

It is often considered that an asymmetrical relationship between disciplines violates some “genuine” interdisciplinarity. This is a mistake. Many useful relations between disciplines and their parts are asymmetrical in many ways. Some of these asymmetries are “imperialistic” relations, and it makes sense to ask whether they give rise to good science. My simple answer is that it depends – and this in turn leads to all sorts of complexities. It depends on what is going on in an imperialistic relationship, for example on whether it is a matter of explanatory unification – and on how unification is conceived – or rather (or also) of hegemonic dominance, or of unjustified authority, and so forth. I will clarify various understandings of imperialistic interdisciplinarity as well as the difficulties of its normative evaluation. Examples are mainly drawn from economics, often considered an imperialistic discipline, by friends and foes alike.

“How empirical data becomes philosophical analysis. Using qualitative interviews to study academic and research culture[1]
Katrin Velbaum

University of Tartu

Empirical philosophy (of science) has gained popularity during the last decade. In my presentation I will focus on one way to gain data for the philosophical analysis, the method that the working group of the Chair of Philosophy of Science at the University of Tartu has been using since the 2000s to collect data for philosophical analysis – semi-structured interviews derived from an ethnographic approach. I will describe how the data has been collected and what is the process of interpreting it. What impact has Cathrine Hasse and Stine Trentemøller's cultural contrast method (2009) had on the work of our working group.

I will also briefly touch on the problems and challenges that come with the use of interviews in philosophical studies. Some of the difficulties are very similar to the problems of interdisciplinary scientific fields, for example, merging the methodological and ethical standards of different disciplinary fields. Another part of the problem, however, is related to the consideration of what kind of philosophical questions can be covered by the ethnographic method. I will try to outline these limits and possibilities in my presentation.


Hasse, C., & Trentemøller, S. (2009). The Method of Culture Contrast. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 6(1-2), 46–66. https://doi.org/10.1080/14780880902900903

[1] The abstract is based on the presentation I gave at the EFAK (Annual Estonian Philosophy Conference) on 24 August 2023.

“Natural Philosophy and Interdisciplinarity”
Peeter Müürsepp

Tallinn University of Technology

Isaac Newton entitled his main work Principia Mathematica Philosophia Naturalis. That’s how he saw himself, a natural philosopher who applied mathematics in a novel way. There was no difference made between philosophy and science in the XVII century. The split was introduced in the XVIII and XIX centuries. This development has both negative and positive outcomes. It is clear, however, that the separation of science from natural philosophy was continued by the branching of science into different disciplines. Time has come to reverse this tendency. Interdisciplinary research is needed and it can be developed on the basis of the revival of the natural philosophy type of approach on a new level. An option for developing this kind of approach is analysed in the paper on the basis of Rein Vihalemm’s practical realism.

“The Interdisciplinarity of the philosophy of technics”
Juho Lindholm

University of Tartu

Abstract: Technics is often interdisciplinary: it is often necessary to consult many sciences to make an invention. The philosophy of technics is even more interdisciplinary: to understand a particular technic, one must not only consult the sciences necessary to understand its modus operandi but also the natural and social context and effects of its concrete use. In this presentation, I will give examples of sciences that the philosophy of technics may have recourse to. I will also discuss some issues that are common to these sciences and the philosophy of technics. These sciences include, but are not limited to, biology, economics, archaeology, anthropology, epistemology, and social and moral philosophy.

“The periodic system of chemical elements: theoretical basis and/versus pragmatism”
Ave Mets

University of Tartu

On one hand, the periodic system of chemical elements has been viewed as a near-perfect example of classification in sciences. Added to the assumption that good classifications are theory-guided, this system reflects chemical theories and how they "carve nature at its joints". On the other hand, a pragmatic approach to classification would suggest that the chemical elements could be classified differently, or that the periodic system could have a different and still legitimate shape, according to which properties of substances are of interest in theories of different scientific disciplines. I will consider those theories or their absence in the interdisciplinary employment of the system, drawing conclusions for the pluralist and pragmatist stance.

“Challenges of Methodological Innovation in Interdisciplinary Science”
Nancy J. Nersessian

Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard University

Methodological innovation is a hallmark of frontier science. In the case of interdisciplinary science, such innovation is accompanied by the challenges of needing to merge disparate, and possibly conflicting, conceptual, material, analytical, and value constraints of more than one discipline into a productive and well-founded method for investigation. Philosophers of science have a long-standing interest in the scientific method but have tended to focus on its purported logical structure while paying scant attention to how methods are created and used in practice. With the use of ethnographic methods, philosophers can examine and analyze how scientific methods are created, used, and warranted in the context of ongoing problem-solving. I will discuss insights about such innovation and its challenges, derived from a long-term ethnographic investigation of novel modeling methods in the bioengineering sciences.

"Normative social epistemology naturalized"
Nora Hangel

Leibniz Center for Science and Society (LCSS), University of Hannover

Scientific practices of evidence-checking, knowledge integration, epistemic trust, and epistemic dependence as forms of belief formation can be understood as concurrently cognitive and social processes. However, normative questions in social epistemology are rarely informed by analyzing scientific practice; E.g., whether Null-hypothesis – studies that don’t prove anything new – are worth being published or how to communicate to peers whether published studies do not replicate as expected. Knowledge-building processes show the relationship between what scientists do (descriptive) and the values and guidelines that govern their work (normative). The gap between how science is actually conducted and how it should be conducted, as well as actionable insights, can be analyzed with qualitative methods from within scientific practice. I will present some preliminary insights of my current project: JUKNOW by mapping different aspects of how normativity is enacted in practices of experimenting and disseminating findings in psychological science (judgment & decision-making science).

For more information see here.  

“Integrating history of economic thought, STS, and philosophy of economics. The case of modern economics and the computer technology”
Magdalena Malecka

University of Aarhus, University of Helsinki

The existing analyses in philosophy of science that examine economics are mostly centered on the issues of explanation, causal inference, representation by models, and epistemic role of models. It is an important scholarship that has led to valuable insights on the scientific aspects of the research conducted within modern economics. However, this focus does not allow us to account for the role of technology in economic research. We learn from historians of economic thought and historians of economics that modern economics, since its inception after the Second World War, has relied on developments in computer technology across various fields and approaches in theoretical and empirical economics (see: e.g., Mirowski 2002, Sent 2000, Backhouse & Cherrier 2017, Fontana 2006). STS scholars point out that the impact of computer technology on the post-WWII sciences led to a shift in theoretical culture and in regimes of knowledge (see: e.g., Galison 1996, Pickering 1995). In this talk, I reflect on my recent research project which attempts to analyse the epistemic relevance of computer technology in modern economics. In particular, I will attempt to address the question of whether and how insights from the history of economic thought and STS scholarship could (or should) be integrated with the philosophy of economics to account for the epistemic role of computers in economic research.

“Exploring Interdisciplinary: Case Of Experimental Philosophy”
Nikolai Šurakov

University of Tartu, EXTRA group, Ruhr University Bochum

The philosophical discourse has undergone a profound transformation through the advent of experimental philosophy (x-phi), effectively bridging the gap between classical philosophical inquiry and empirical exploration. Within this evolving landscape, this presentation explores the multifaceted implications that interdisciplinarity holds for x-phi. By accentuating the seamless integration of methodologies drawn from diverse domains, including statistics, survey-building, and data analysis, the session will unveil the novel ways in which philosophy—particularly philosophy of language and epistemology—benefits from an interdisciplinary approach. Drawing from the example of my research, the presentation will offer a tangible glimpse into the growing prevalence of interdisciplinary approaches within the realm of ordinary philosophy of language. I will present various tools I used to conduct several experiments investigating context sensitivity and attempt to outline the role of interdisciplinarity in x-phi.

“Helpful Anecdotes – How Anecdotal Evidence Can Help Animal Research”
Eveli Neemre

University of Tartu

In my presentation, I will focus on the status of anecdotal evidence in relation to animal research. With the development of digital technology humans document more and more of their everyday activities and interactions. Including interactions with animals. Home videos, pet cameras, car cameras, porch cameras, etc. capture a wide plethora of human-animal interactions and/or animal behaviors. Scientifically this huge dataset is counted as anecdotal evidence since there is no systematicity or research background there. But does this mean, that this data cannot be used? Could anecdotal evidence become scientific evidence? In animal research using less conventional methods to gather data is a useful research tool. Analyzing YouTube videos about animal behavior is an increasingly popular method for gaining information about the behaviors of different species. In my presentation, I will show examples of how YouTube data mining can be a viable research method and I will argue that video evidence that is filmed by regular persons can and should be used as scientific evidence under certain conditions.

“If we are colligating, then what exactly are we doing?”
Jaana Eigi

University of Tartu

In an earlier paper (Eigi-Watkin 2022), where I analysed different types of epistemic risk involved in qualitative research in the philosophy of science, I argued that this research involves a distinct type of reasoning - colligating reasoning. I defined it as "proposing, on the basis of empirical evidence, a unifying notion that provides a novel view on this evidence and enables making sense of the situation the evidence pertains to". In this presentation, I return to the notion of colligation. Drawing on the historical uses of this notion, I suggest that even if one accepts the process of colligation as central for qualitative research, this is compatible with a range of different views on what this reasoning consists of and how the claims it produces relate to the world.


Eigi-Watkin, J. (2022). "Applying the notion of epistemic risk to argumentation in the philosophy of science". European Journal for Philosophy of Science 12 

„Nine years in the field: what have we qua philosophers learned in the study of ID research practices?“
Endla Lõhkivi

University of Tartu

Empirical research in philosophy is challenging because of both theoretical and methodological problems. In the presentation, I shall describe some of the problems we have encountered in our field work, in very general terms, starting from questions such as what counts as interdisciplinary research, and what are its specific epistemic and cultural issues, to the problems related to evaluation, impact in society, etc. The empirical findings of our projects have provided us with rich narratives of research work. Qualitative analysis of gathered empirical material enables to see some of the problems in a new perspective.