Research Highlights

In Philosophy

​Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant: "Chomsky, Quine, and the Nature of the Science of Language" (2023-25)

John Collins (UEA), Gary Kemp (Glasgow)

The two-year grant involves researchers from Glasgow and Amsterdam. Arguably, Quine and Chomsky are the two most influential theorists of language in the latter half of the 20th century. There has been relatively little inquiry, however, into their convergence on a range of topics. The standard view, encouraged by both parties themselves, is that there is a fundamental cleavage between their orientations: behaviourist and cognitive, respectively. The goal of the present research is to highlight areas where there is a distinctive agreement, especially regarding naturalism and a certain scepticism about the role of intentionality in linguistic theorising. While their real divergence is not to be doubted, once seen in the light of their agreement, Chomsky and Quine may be properly seen as offering a radical departure from the common assumption that linguistic theorising is answerable to commonsensical categories. The research will explore this convergence both historically and as an approach in its own right that runs against much contemporary thinking in philosophy. 

Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) Exploratory Research Project: Philosophical Investigation of Applications of Science in Mathematics (2023–24)

Bruno Jacinto (Lisbon), Daniele Molinini (Bologna), Matteo Morganti (Rome), Davide Rizza (UEA), postdoc: TBC.

Many philosophers of science and mathematics have studied the effectiveness of mathematics in science (direct application) but none have discussed the successful application of science in mathematics (converse application), even though many cases of converse application arise in mathematical practice. An important, urgent and thought-provoking analysis is thus called for. This project aims to supply it. 

British Academy project: Fragmented beliefs: Challenging appeals to ‘common sense’?(2022-24)

Eugen Fischer (Philosophy, UEA), Keith Allen (Philosophy, York), Paul Engelhardt (Psychology, UEA)

Appeals to common sense are common in philosophy and public discourse. But is there even any such thing as ‘the’ common sense view? A radical new challenge to such appeals arises from psychological findings about ‘belief fragmentation’: Different cognitive processes generate conflicting beliefs; these are stored in different ‘belief fragments’ which are never systematically screened for coherence. Fragmentation has been found across a wide range of beliefs: e.g., about disease, God, and death. Fragmentation frequently leads people to harbour conflicting beliefs about the same thing – so there is no such as ‘the’ common-sense conception of it, to which one could appeal. The present project examines this ‘fragmentation challenge’ in the context of ordinary beliefs about vision, which have shaped long-standing philosophical debates about perception. Three studies document relevant belief conflicts, study their persistence, identify cognitive traits modulating the conflicts, and explore the profound consequences for philosophical method and our rational self-image.

Thyssen Foundation project: Experimental argument analysis: Reasoning with stereotypes (2022-24)

Eugen Fischer (Philosophy, UEA), Paul Engelhardt (Psychology, UEA), post-doc: Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga

Reasoning couched in natural languages like English or French is shaped by automatic inferences that occur all the time beyond our conscious awareness – leaving us with less control over our reasoning than we might think. Conceived at UEA, the new research programme of experimental argument analysis examines the previously neglected roots of verbal reasoning in automatic language processing: The approach combines experimental methods from psychology and analytic methods from philosophy, to examine how automatic inferences triggered by words shape – and sometimes misdirect – reasoners’ moves from premises to conclusions. For proof of concept, this project studies when and why thinkers go along with stereotypical inferences in contexts that defeat them, and deploys findings to expose fallacies in influential philosophical arguments: We examine inappropriate inferences from appearance- and perception-verbs, and a salience bias that may explain them, to expose fallacies in arguments from illusion and hallucination.

Impact Case Study Book for Mathematics Teachers out in May 2023.

Davide Rizza published Primi Passi nell’Aritmetica dell’Infinito, a book introducing Italian mathematics teachers to a user-friendly numerical calculus that handles infinitely large and small quantities in a computationally concrete manner. An English and a Spanish translation are in progress.

Thyssen Foundation conference: Experiments and Ordinary Language Philosophy (2022)

Eugen Fischer (Philosophy, UEA) and Nat Hansen (Philosophy, Reading)

This international conference forged new connections between experimental philosophy and the philosophical tradition. It explored how experimental philosophy can provide new methods for ordinary language philosophy, and how ordinary language philosophy can motivate new agendas for experimental philosophy. The conference, was sponsored by the Thyssen Foundation and has issued in a Topical Collection in Synthese.