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Science and its Limits: Contemporary and Kantian Perspectives

Science and its Limits: Contemporary and Kantian Perspectives - In Honor of Brigitte Falkenburg

Conference description

Does science have its limits? Are there principled bounds to what humans can know, grasp or understand using scientific methods? Or will the success story of scientific discoveries continue until everything is known in scientific terms? Given the spectacular breakthroughs that the history of science has seen, it may first seem unlikely that there are principled limitations of scientific inquiry. In philosophy, a naturalistic worldview is popular, which leaves no space for things that are not in principle accessible to scientific inquiry. But at closer inspection of various special sciences, there are reasons to become more skeptical. For instance, in fundamental physics, researchers got stuck in their attempts to represent gravitation and the other forces in a unified theory. In cosmology, there is an intensive debate about the question of whether a scientific case for the multiverse can be made. John Horgan, in his 1996 book, went as far as to claim the end of science. This conference aims to contrast and compare contemporary perspectives on science and its limits with Kant’s view on this topic. Relating Kant’s arguments to science as it is done nowadays is very natural since many of his skeptical points have a predictive component: they foretell that certain kinds of knowledge will not become feasible. Were Kant’s predictions right? Or do advances in, e.g., modern cosmology or molecular biology show that he got it wrong? If so, is there still any value in his verdicts on cosmology and mechanistic explanation? May he even have succeeded in calling attention to fundamental problems that are still relevant today? And does his œuvre contain resources for a convincing critique of naturalism? These are some of the questions that shall be addressed by the contributions to this conference. One focus lies on some special sciences, e.g., cosmology, but furthermore the conference covers aspects of Kant’s general philosophy of science, e.g., unification and its limitations.





Day 1 (April 11, 2019)

14:00–14:15                         Kristina Engelhard, Claus Beisbart
                                               Welcome and Introduction

Limits of the Special Sciences: The Examples of Psychology and Cosmology

14:15–15:30                         Katharina Kraus
                                               Kantian Perspectives on Personhood and Psychology

15:30–16:00                         Coffee Break

16:00–17:15                         Silvia De Bianchi
                                               Space, Time and World. Kant’s Philosophy of Cosmology

17:15–18:30                         Gregor Schiemann
                                               The Emptiness of the Universe.
                                               Cosmology from the Perspective of Philosophy of Nature


Day 2 (April 12, 2019)

The Quest for Unification

09:15–10:30                        Claus Beisbart
                                              What Can Kant's (first) Antinomy of Pure Reason Teach Us about the Limits of Science? Reflections on Present-Day Cosmology and Naturalism

10:30–11:00                        Coffee Break

11:00–12:15                        Wolfgang Rhode
                                              Unification, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

From Science to Metaphysics?

13:45–15:00                        Kristina Engelhard
                                              Fundamentalism in Metaphysics of Science and the Role of Science from a Kantian Perspective

15:00–15:30                        Coffee Break

15:30–16:45                        Nancy Cartwright
                                              In Defense of Physics as an Instrument

16:45–18:00                        Andreas Hüttemann
                                              How Laws Explain


Conference Venue

Emil-Figge-Str. 50, Room 0.442, 44227 Dortmund, Germany



Interested scholars are welcome to attend the conference. Attendance is free of charge, but only a limited number of places are available.
To register, please send an email to by April 4, 2019.

Conference announcement and abstracts

Travelling information