MF1 On the Acquisition of Counterfactual Reasoning (Psychology)

Second Funding Period

PI: Dr. Eva Rafetseder, Department of Psychology, University of Stirling

People often reflect on how things might have turned out differently if they had acted differently in the past. Creating such alternatives to known facts has been defined as counterfactual reasoning (CFR). CFR (assuming that something were the case) has logically been differentiated from hypothetical reasoning (assuming that something is the case) with the closest possible world constraint. For example, we might assume counterfactually that if it hadn’t rained Marie would be dry. In order to do so we retain as many features of the actual world as possible. We only change what is stipulated in the if-antecedent of the counterfactual assumption together with logical and causal consequences of that assumption (closest possible world constraint). Recent research has shown that the understanding of this constraint develops from around 6 years onwards.

The fellowship aims at investigating how children younger than 6 years understand a counterfactual question; they are using what has been dubbed as basic conditional reasoning (BCR) Recently, a theory about the difference between CFR and BCR has been developed. One main aim will be to test this theory. Furthermore it is planned to look into the difference between CFR and pretend play. A number of researchers have linked counterfactual reasoning to pretend play. The basic idea is that, like for counterfactual reasoning, to engage in pretend play one has to represent the world as it is not. This, however, raises an important question why children are able to engage in pretend play when they still find it difficult to answer counterfactual questions until they are 6 years or older (when answers are controlled for BCR).

MF2 Instituting and Contesting Scientific Openness (Philosophy/History)

Second Funding Period

PI: Prof. Dr. Paul Ziche, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Utrecht

Counterfactual reasoning establishes, by definition, alternatives to the factual. Conceptually, this requires a framework that is characterized by openness: Minimally, we need to assume that it is not only possible with counterfactual alternatives to what is real, but that this even helps us to get better hold upon reality. This minimal condition becomes a very strong program indeed when we relate it to the sciences and the various forms of science: the question then rises how we can conceptualize a field of scientific openness within which alternative forms of science are not only conceivable, but even more: within which different sciences (naturally: in the broad sense of the German “Wissenschaft”) can interact constructively, and can accept each other as partners in a larger enterprise.
Some examples: logic, epistemology and methodology of science, all prominently developing in this period, reflect on the knowledge claims raises by other fields; Cassirer’s structuralism and Husserl’s phenomenology propose radically new forms of philosophy that at the same time can lie at the foundation of all sciences; world-view related theories such as ‘energeticism’ or ‘Ordnungslehre’ claim a yet broader perspective on science. Also, the most prominent handbook of counterfactual thinking in this period, Hans Vaihinger’s Philosophie des Als-Ob, participates in this programme.

All the paradigmatic cases just stated share the conviction that we in fact need to clarify and strengthen our notion of “science” in order to account for this openness in a scientific manner. Consequently, the protagonists aimed at developing new concepts and new forms of science that should, at the same time, adhere to rigorous standards as regards their scientificity, and make possible a tolerant interaction between those sciences.
This project investigates the crucial period around 1900 under precisely this premise: that this period is characterized by a scientific attitude which is looking for a basis for integrating seemingly disparate forms of science. Within this context, particular attention will be paid to the conceptual basis and some of the implications of this form of scientific openness, and it also be asked why this form of openness came into disregard.