Vossius Center for History of Humanities and Sciences

APES seminar: Nature in the Lab

04Oct2017 16:00 - 18:00


Massimiliano Simons (KU Leuven) will give the lecture "Nature in the lab: a philosophical analysis of constructivist claims in the new life sciences" in the APES Seminar series (Amsterdam Philosophy Encounters Science & Society).


The starting point of this PhD project is a constructivist interpretation of scientific practices: science does not study independent and pre-given phenomena, but constructs them in an active way. Although this topic has already been argued for in general, this project wants to focus on recent emerging life sciences, such as systems biology, Artificial Life and synthetic biology. These disciplines bring forth an extreme form of this constructivist aspect: they actively and explicitly produce biological phenomena, such as synthetic cells that do not exist outside of the laboratories.

It is, however, unclear what this ‘construction’ of nature entails. There are multiple interpretations of how to understand these technical mediations and how this constructive element either shows the uniqueness of scientific practices or precisely shows how there is nothing special about scientific practices in relation to other practices. On the one hand this project wants to identify the different interpretations of constructivism in science: what does it in fact mean to claim that science constructs its object? Secondly, it wants to differentiate the notion of constructivism itself, by abandoning it as a general claim (‘Science in general constructs its phenomena’) to more local, historical claims (how does the constrictive element shifts between disciplines?). This allows us to differentiate how a discipline, such as synthetic biology, is constructive in a unique sense, rather than being classified merely as one illustration of constructivism. This allows us to make room for the singularity of synthetic biology: in what specific way is synthetic biology a constructive practice?


APES is the place where Amsterdam-based philosophers of science based discuss about their specialised work in progress, about their experience in communicating to the public or to policy makers, run meta-philosophical reflections about their discipline, academia, society, and much more. Anyone interested in hearing and contributing to discussion about science, society, philosophy of science, or any combination of these, is most welcome to our meetings.

Venue: Faculty Room Department of Philosophy

  • Oude Turfmarkt 141-143

    Oude Turfmarkt 141-143 | 1012 GC Amsterdam
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