Summer School: “Idealism and the Autonomy Of The Human Sciences” (Keele, June 29th – July 2nd 2017)

We are glad to announce that a summer school on Idealism and the Autonomy of the Human Sciences will be held in Keele from the 29th of June to the 2nd of July.

Part of New Directions in the Study of the Mind (2015-17), a research project at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Philosophy, supported by the John Templeton Foundation

Themes explored by the summer school

A quick look at the history of the philosophy of mind shows that many things have changed since the heyday of the mind-brain identity theory in the 1950s when the orthodoxy was reductivist and the agenda was to show that the mind could be explained solely in physical terms. By the 1960s, Davidson’s work gave expression to the frustration that many felt towards the reductivist project: in the wake of his anomalous monism, many philosophers took their task to be not that of reducing the mental to the physical but to defend the autonomy of the mental. The philosophical consensus changed and the agenda became non-reductivist. Yet although the orthodoxy in the philosophy of mind became non-reductivist, the metaphilosophical assumptions underlying the debate concerning the relation between the mind and the body remained naturalist, so much so that the question posed by many philosophers was not “How can one defend the autonomy of the mental?” but rather “How does the mind fit in the natural world?” The latter question gave away a particular view of the relation between the sciences according to which there is a basic level which enjoys some form of ontological priority on which the special science supervene. So while non-reductivism had won the philosophical battle, naturalism won the all-important metaphilosophical war.

This research project investigates a form of non-reductivism which differs from the forms of non-reductivism currently on offer; it explores a form of non-reductivism that takes its cue from the tradition of idealism and is articulated from a distinctive metaphilosophical platform.

A note of caution should be made here. Idealism has had a rather bad press because it has been largely identified with an ontological claim about the nature of reality and with a causal claim about the mind’s powers to create or constitute it. Within the framework of this kind of idealism, the defence of the autonomy of the mental is achieved by eliminating the physical. For example, for Berkeley only the objects which belong to the manifest image are genuinely real. What really exists are tables, not particles arranged tablewise; chairs, not particles arranged chairwise. We may of course speak as if there were Lockean real essences lurking behind the middle-sized dry goods of the manifest image, but strictly speaking there are no such things. This kind of idealism is the exact antithesis of the sort of metaphysics defended by analytic metaphysicians such as van Inwagen, who argue that only the objects which belong to the scientific image are genuinely real. What really exists are molecules arranged tablewise, not tables; molecules arranged chairwise, not chairs. We may of course speak as if tables and chairs existed, but this is either a mere façon de parler or a downright error, for strictly speaking there are no tables chairs, etc.

The kind of non-reductivism explored by this project takes as its starting point a different kind of idealism, an idealism which is primarily concerned with identifying the presuppositions of knowledge. This kind of idealism was first defended by Kant who took the task of metaphysics to be that of investigating the structures of experience, structures that are logically prior to the forms of knowledge which they make possible. By transforming idealism from an ontological thesis about what really exists into an account of the conditions of knowledge, Kant provided the conceptual resources for thinking of scientific knowledge as a mode of representation, and of philosophy as a second-order inquiry into its presuppositions. Philosophers working in the post-Kantian tradition have taken this insight a step further and conceived of philosophy as unearthing not just the structures of scientific knowledge, but the heuristic principles and presuppositions governing both the human and the natural sciences. They understood nature to be the correlative of scientific method, and mind to be the correlative of hermeneutic investigation. As a result, they defended a form of methodological pluralism in which the natural and the human sciences have the same logical status: they are equally valid forms of investigation with different explanatory agendas which come into conflict only if one takes the object of investigation of natural science to be nature in itself, rather than the explanandum specific to that form of inquiry. In the German idealist tradition, Dilthey, Droysen, Mandelbaum, Ranke, and Windelband endorse a distinction between Erklären (explanation) and Verstehen (understanding) aimed at defending the methodological autonomy of the Geisteswissenschaften (human sciences) from the Naturwissenschaften (natural sciences). In the tradition of British idealism, Collingwood and Oakeshott developed a form of conceptual idealism which seeks to explain how it may be possible to hold on to both the manifest and the scientific image by showing that they rest on radically different assumptions about the nature of reality which are responsive to different explanatory goals.

This project investigates the form of methodological non-reductivism that arises from the idealist insight that knowledge determines what is known or that method determines subject matter. But unlike Berkeleyan idealism, the idealism explored by this project is not synonymous with immaterialism. Mind and matter are not ontological categories: they are the domain of inquiry of the human and the natural sciences, the correlatives of hermeneutic and scientific method. There are of course other forms of non-reductivism which are not making ontological pronouncements. One of the often-flaunted advantages of functionalism, for example, is that it is ontologically neutral. But from the perspective of post-Kantian idealism, functionalism can claim only a hollow non-reductivist victory because the causal theory of the mind on which it is based is firmly rooted in a picture that is naturalistic from a methodological if not from an ontological point of view. The distinctive advantage of post-Kantian non-reductivism is that because it does not launch a defence of the autonomy of the human sciences from a naturalistic platform, it gives us a conception of philosophy as a more autonomous and reflective activity whose role is to make explicit the presuppositions and heuristic principles at work in the special sciences: in this form of non-reductivism a defence of the autonomy of the human sciences is closely connected with a conception of philosophy as an epistemologically first science.

The summer school will take place at Keele University from Thursday 29th June to Sunday 2nd July, and will consist of a number of structured talks together with discussions around selected texts.

Katerina Deligiorgi (Sussex)
Giuseppina D’Oro (Keele)
Gabriele Gava (Frankfurt)
Paul Giladi (Sheffield)
Jim O’Shea (University College Dublin)
Alexis Papazoglou (Royal Holloway)
Andrea Staiti (Boston College/Köln)

Check out Keele:


There will be bursaries covering accommodation and lunchtime meals (but not travel expenses).

To apply for a bursary, please email a two-page CV and a 400 words statement explaining why you should be allocated the funding to by March 31st. While the bursaries will not be allocated on a first time first served basis, early expressions of interest would be greatly appreciated as this will enable to us to use funds efficiently.

More information about the Idealism and the Philosophy of Mind project can be found on our website:

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