CPS Annual Lecture: Scientific Progress and the Search for Truth

Philip Kitcher (Columbia University, NY) will give the CPS Annual Lecture 2021.

Portrait of Philip Kitcher.

Philip Kitcher will address the sustainability of the concept scientific progress in the CPS Annual Lecture.

Philip Kitcher is the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University.

His work is highly influential within the philosophy of science and beyond, and some of his research interests lie in the ethical and political constraints on scientific research, the evolution of altruism and morality, and the seeming conflict between science and religion.

Kitcher was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002, and the American Philosophical Association awarded him its inaugural Prometheus Prize in 2006 for lifetime achievement in “expanding the frontiers of science and philosophy.” 

Abstract: Scientific Progress and the Search for Truth

Scientific progress is often viewed as directed towards a goal, the attainment of the “whole truth about nature”. I argue that this idea, when taken seriously, cannot be sustained. 

Instead, I propose, scientific progress is a pragmatic progress: we advance from our current state by solving problems and overcoming limits. That immediately raises the question of how problems (and solutions) are properly determined. 

Although we normally – and reasonably – defer to scientists in deciding what counts as a significant problem, I suggest that the scientific community cannot be the ultimate authority. Scientific changes are properly assessed by what they contribute to human lives and to human societies.

Those contributions take two forms. Many people evaluate fields of science by the ways in which (directly or indirectly) they deliver practical benefits. By contrast, most scientists emphasize the value of pure understanding. How should these desiderata be weighed against one another? 

I approach the question by embedding the sciences in a long history of inquiry, extending far into the human and hominid past. The idea of the “search for truth” is, I claim, a latecomer in this inquiry. 

Properly understood, it is the quest for understanding a “nature” that has largely been shaped by our practical interests.


The lecture is open to everyone and no registration is needed.

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See also: 

October 20th: Philip Kitcher will give the lecture Why is climate action so hard? as part of the Science Studies Colloquium Series.

About Centre for Philosophy and the Sciences (CPS)

The Centre for Philosophy and the Sciences is an interdisciplinary meeting place for the interaction between the humanities and the sciences. Each year, the center organizes an annual lecture. 


Published Aug. 23, 2021 11:27 AM - Last modified Mar. 21, 2022 8:30 AM