Lydia Patton

Associate Professor, Philosophy, Virginia Tech.

Specialization Philosophy of science, the history of philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics, and Kant and Neo-Kantianism.
See my CV [PDF].

My work to date has centered on problems of method and of the approach to problem solving, explanation, and understanding in philosophy and in the sciences, with an emphasis on the role of experiment, of scientific models, and of applied mathematics in theory building and theory assessment. “Reconsidering Experiments” argues that, as Hendry and Kidd (2015) put it, “If experiments have instructive lives, they can also have instructive afterlives.” “Experiment and Theory Building” examines the role of inference from experiment in theory building. What are the options open to the scientific community when faced with an experimental result that appears to be in conflict with accepted theory? I have an enduring interest in the contributions of Hermann von Helmholtz to experiment, problem solving, applied mathematics, and epistemology. Current work centers on Helmholtz’s theories of color and of sound, and how they are related to his physical theories of optics and acoustics and to his physiological theories of sensation and of perception.

“Signs, Toy Models, and the A Priori” and “Methodological Realism and Modal Resourcefulness” deal with the question of how background theories with distinct semantic or modal interpretations can generate the univocity of reference that, on many accounts, is required to argue that scientific theories ground objective or realist claims. Future work will continue to build on the semantic tradition, in which theories are associated with classes of models, but I plan to focus more closely on the role of mathematics, as I do in “Hilbert’s Objectivity.”

My work on the nineteenth century has impressed on me that the categories of “philosophy” and of “science” (not to mention “psychology,” “mind,” “mathematics”) are not smoothly projectible into the past. For instance, the behavior of historical actors isn’t explained simply by appeal to universal claims like “because she was a scientist, she looked for reproducible phenomena”. Hence my (qualified!) recent defense of Kuhn in an exchange with Moti Mizrahi (see also his response), James Marcum, and Vasso Kindi.

Work on the nineteenth century relationships between philosophy and science, including the dialogue between the human and the natural sciences, is found in “Methodology of the Sciences”, and more general reflections in a recent review of Frederick Beiser’s work. In this context, my work on Immanuel Kant and on the development of neo-Kantianism focuses on the status of philosophy as a theory of knowledge, on the fundamental arguments of Kantian epistemology (“The Paradox of Infinite Given Magnitude”), and on the relationships between neo-Kantianism, physiology, and psychology, including in the work of Helmholtz and of Friedrich Albert Lange.





The image in the background is of a portable electrostatic machine, on display at the Museo Galileo in Florence. Click here for information. Photograph (c) Lydia Patton 2014.