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Fons Dewulf

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Currently, I am a post-doctoral researcher at the Philosophy Department of Tilburg University (the Netherlands). I work on the ERC/NWO project "Exiled Empiricists" (https://exiledempiricists.com/), where I investigate the emergence of anglophone philosophy of science as an independent subdiscipline of professional philosophy and the impact of this emergence on the methods and aims of philosophy (of science) and on its relation to the sciences and society.

I have a PhD in Philosophy from Ghent university, supervised by Maarten Van Dyck. In my PhD dissertation I showed how conflicts concerning the “Geisteswissenschaften” within early 20th century German philosophy had a major thematical impact on anglophone philosophy of science after the second world war, specifically on the assumption that science aims at both description and explanation.

An updated version of my CV can be found here.

 
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Publications

Journal Articles

Dewulf, Fons and Roth, Paul. (2022) “Real True Facts: a Reply to Currie and Swaim.” Journal of the Philosophy of History 16, 207–225. https://doi:10.1163/18722636-12341478

Dewulf, Fons. (2022) “Beyond Hempel: Reframing the Debate about Scientific Explanation.” Philosophy of Science, 89, 585–603. https://doi.org/10.1017/psa.2021.45

Author's version

Dewulf, Fons and Massimiliano, Simons. (2021) “Positivism in Action: The Case of Louis Rougier.” HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 11 (2), 461-487. https://doi.org/10.1086/715873

Author's version

​In this paper, we investigate how the life and work of Louis Rougier relate to the broader political dimension of logical empiricist philosophy. We focus on three practical projects of Rougier in the 1930s and 1940s. First, his attempts to integrate French-speaking philosophers into an international network of scientific philosophers by organizing two Unity of Science conferences in Paris. Second, his role in the renewal of liberalism through the organization of the Walter Lippmann Colloquium. Third, Rougier’s attempts at political negotiations between Great Britain and the Vichy regime during the Second World War. These activities of Rougier in the 1930s and 1940s have so far never been discussed as part of a unified project on Rougier’s part. Based on our investigations of these practical projects of Rougier, we argue that Rougier’s relation to logical empiricist philosophers should primarily be understood on the level of action. Rougier’s projects aimed to proliferate the concrete improvement of society and the lives of its citizens by expunging all metaphysical questions and speculations from the sphere of social discourse. Rougier conceived logical empiricist philosophers as allies to achieve such practical effects in society.​

 

Dewulf, Fons (2021) “The Institutional Stabilization of Philosophy of Science and its Withdrawal from Social Concerns after the Second World War.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 29 (5), 935-953. https://doi.org/10.1080/09608788.2020.1848794

Author's version

​In this paper, I criticize the thesis that value-laden approaches in American philosophy of science were marginalized in the 1960s through the editorial policy at Philosophy of Science and funding practices at the National Science Foundation. I argue that there is no available evidence of any normative restriction on philosophy of science as a domain of inquiry which excluded research on the relation between science and society. Instead, I claim that the absence of any exemplary, professional philosopher who discussed the relation between science and society sufficed to narrow the focus of philosophers of science, given the institutional stabilization of the domain within professional philosophy from 1959 onwards.

Dewulf, Fons. (2020) "The Place of Historiography in the Network of Logical Empiricism." Intellectual History Review 30 (2), 321-345. https://doi.org/10.1080/17496977.2019.1648056

Author's version

In this paper I investigate how intellectual problems concerning an epistemology of history and a historical view of knowledge played a role in the network of logical empiricist philosophers between 1930 and 1945. Specifically, I focus on the practical efforts of Hans Reichenbach and Otto Neurath to incorporate these intellectual stakes concerning history. I argue that Reichenbach was mainly concerned with creating more institutional space for scientific philosophy. Consequently, he was interested in determining his relation to historically oriented philosophy on the practical level only. Otto Neurath, I claim, was interested in promoting an intellectual incorporation of an epistemology of history and a historical view of knowledge into the Unity of Science movement. His attempts, however, largely failed. I conclude that the intellectual stakes concerning history did have an effect within the network of logical empiricist philosophers, but that, by 1945 these stakes were entirely dissolved. The displacement of the network to the United States removed Reichenbach’s practical problems, while Neurath was unable to persuade enough actors before his death.

 

Dewulf, Fons. (2018) "Revisiting Hempel's Contribution to Philosophy of History." Journal of the History of Ideas 79 (3), 285-406. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhi.2018.0023

Author's version

This paper situates Carl Hempel’s 1942 paper “The Function of General Laws in History” within a broader debate over the philosophy of history in American academia between 1935 and 1943. I argue that Hempel’s paper was directed against German neo-Kantianism, and show how the German debate over historiography continued between 1939 and 1943 in the context of New York through the contributions of German philosophers who operated in the same intellectual network as Hempel, namely Paul Oskar Kristeller and Edgar Zilsel. Whereas this debate still witnessed many different philosophical approaches, Hempel’s logico-analytic methodology would come to dominate analytic philosophy of history.

 

Dewulf, Fons. (2017) "Rudolf Carnap's Incorporation of the Geisteswissenschaften in the Aufbau." HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 7 (2), 199-225. https://doi.org/10.1086/693420

Author's version

This article investigates the various ways in which Rudolf Carnap incorporated contemporary epistemological problems concerning the Geisteswissenschaften in Der logische Aufbau der Welt. I argue that Carnap defends a nonreductive incorporation of the Geisteswissenschaften within the unity of science. To this end Carnap aims to solve the problem of individuality, which was the focus of attention for important philosophers of the Geisteswissenschaften such as Wilhelm Dilthey, Heinrich Rickert, and Wilhelm Windelband. At the same time, Carnap argues that his constitutional method, which transforms cultural objects into psychological or physical objects, does not imply a loss of autonomy for the Geisteswissenschaften. Besides this defense of autonomy, Carnap incorporates several central notions of the contemporary theory of the Geisteswissenschaften into his theory of the Aufbau: cultural manifestation, the phenomenology of cultural experience, and the method of Verstehen.

Book Chapters

Dewulf, Fons. (2022) “The Heuristic and Epistemic Account of Verstehen in 20th century American Philosophy.” In: Tuboly, A. and Sivadó, A. (eds), The History of Understanding in Analytic Philosophy: Before and After Logical Empiricism. London: Bloomsbury. https://doi.org/10.5040/9781350159235.ch-003

Author's version

In this paper I distinguish two ways to approach Verstehen: a heuristic and an epistemic perspective. Whereas the heuristic perspective conceives Verstehen merely as a subjective methodological aid to guide empirical research, the epistemic account conceives it as a way to transform source-material into empirical evidence. I use the contemporary investigation of Shakespeare’s sexuality to illustrate this distinction. I discuss the heuristic account of Verstehen as originally defended by Carl Hempel and Theodore Abel and show how their account had its origin in an interpretation of Dilthey as a relativist by the American philosopher Maurice Mandelbaum. By revisiting the earliest responses against Hempel’s heuristic account, from Paul Oskar Kristeller and Otto Neurath, I argue that from the very beginning the heuristic account lacked any credibility to be applied to real debates in the humanities, like the debate about Shakespeare’s sexuality.

 

Dewulf, Fons. (2022) "Leo Apostel and Rudolf Carnap: The Development of Logical Empiricist Ethics in Post-War Europe." In: Tuboly, Adam and Damböck, Christian (eds.), The Socio-Ethical Dimension of Knowledge, 127-147. Cham: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-80363-6_7

Author's version

How can philosophy as a discourse help to distinguish what is right from what is wrong to pursue in life? In a time of the crisis of climate, migration and the increasing popularity of nationalist politics the urge to produce philosophical aid to the seemingly insurmountable social conflicts that beset society seems pressing. It requires audacity to resist this urge, to resign from philosophy – one of the most powerful traditional tools of rationality – the responsibility of ethical guidance. In this article I will discuss two 20th century philosophers who resisted this urge, Rudolf Carnap and Leo Apostel. The former’s ideas about value judgments amount to a well-known, classical account of non-cognitivism in 20th century meta-ethics. The latter’s ideas on the relation between philosophy and ethics are virtually unknown, although, as I will show below, they are a direct result of his interaction with Rudolf Carnap and arguably develop Carnap’s position in an interesting way.

 

Dewulf, Fons (2021) “The Emergence of Scientific Explanation as a Problem for Philosophy of Science: Aristotle, Nagel and Hempel.” In: Tuboly, A. and Neuber, M. (eds), Ernest Nagel: Between Pragmatist Naturalism and Logical Empiricism, 67-87. Cham: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-81010-8_4

Author's version

In this paper I trace Ernest Nagel’s earliest ideas on explanation by investigating his course-notes of the 1930s. At Columbia University there was an increasing interest in the study of Aristotle. As I show, Nagel’s focus on the explanatory aim of science originated from his reading of Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics. Through his teaching of Aristotle, Nagel inspired his New York colleagues to focus on a philosophical analysis of explanation. I claim that this resulted in Carl Hempel’s earliest work on scientific explanation. Although scientific explanation was not a central topic for philosophers of science in the 1940s or 1950s, Hempel and Nagel’s interest in the topic helped to canonize it in a period when the topics and methods in philosophy of science became increasingly standardized.

 

Dewulf, Fons. (2021) “Carnap’s Opposition to Logic of the Geisteswissenschaften.” In: Wolters, G. and Damböck, C. (eds), Young Carnap in an Historical Context: 1918–1935, 55-73. Cham: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-58251-7_3

Author's version

In this paper, I argue that Carnap consistently throughout his career accepted the scientific validity and autonomy of the humanities, but denied any validity to philosophies or theories of the humanities. In that sense, Carnap’s account of the humanities should be considered as an anti-philosophy which therapeutically dissolves all philosophical confusions over the alleged distinction between the humanities and the natural sciences.  Carnap’s position shows how one can maintain the validity of the humanities without epistemologically or metaphysically defining their nature in opposition to the natural sciences.

Dewulf, Fons. (2017) "The Epistemic Indispensability of Understanding in Historiography." In: Massimi M., Romeijn JW., Schurz G. (eds), EPSA15 Selected Papers, 25-36. European Studies in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 5. Dordrecht: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-53730-6_3

Author's version

In this paper I argue that understanding is an indispensable epistemic procedure when historians use texts as evidence. On my account understanding installs a norm that determines what kind of event or object a texts is evidence of. Historians can debate which norms should govern a body of texts, and if they reach consensus, they can use that body of texts as an empirical constraint over their historical claims. I argue that texts cannot perform this constraining function without understanding – it is thus indispensable. In order to argue for this position I first discuss two existing accounts of textual evidence in analytic philosophy of science by Kosso and Hurst. Both defend a coherentist position. I show that their coherentist position is flawed by applying it to the famous case of Lucien Febvre's argument that François Rabelais was not an atheist. I show that a coherence between texts leaves the debate concerning Rabelais' religious beliefs underdetermined, even though this should not be necessary. I argue that my account of understanding better captures Febvre's actual reasoning with texts. In the final section of the paper I show that the two most famous accounts of understanding in analytic philosophy by Hempel and Taylor ignore either the epistemic indispensability of understanding, or the actual success of evidentiary reasoning in the historical sciences that was enabled by understanding.

Reviews

Dewulf, Fons. (2020) “Review - Paul A. Roth, The Philosophical Structure of Historical Explanation.” Œconomia. History, Methodology, Philosophy 10 (2): 363-367. https://doi.org/10.4000/oeconomia.8092

Dissertation

Dewulf, Fons. (2018) A Genealogy of Scientific Explanation: the Emergence of the Deductive-Nomological Model at the Intersection of German Historical and Scientific philosophy. PhD Dissertation. Ghent University. https://lib.ugent.be/en/catalog/rug01:002405019?i=5&q=fons+dewulf 

Other

Dewulf, Fons. (2019) "Terug naar de ivoren toren." Rekto Verso https://www.rektoverso.be/artikel/terug-naar-de-ivoren-toren 

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Positions

 

Oct. 2018- Sep. 2021

Post-Doctoral Fellow of the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO); Department of Philosophy and Moral Science, Ghent University

 

Oct. 2014- Sep. 2018           

PhD Fellow of the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO); Department of Philosophy and Moral Science, Ghent University

Sep. 2019 - Dec. 2019

Visiting Fellow of the Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

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Education

2014-2018           PhD, Philosophy, Ghent University

 

Dissertation: A Genealogy of Scientific Explanation, The Emergence of the Covering-Law Model at the Intersection of German Historical and Scientific Philosophy

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Maarten Van Dyck

Committee: Prof. Dr. Alan Richardson, Prof. Dr. Paul Roth, Dr. Christian Damböck, Prof. Dr. Erik Weber

 

2013-2014           Special Teacher’s Program: Philosophy and Moral Science, Magna cum Laude, Ghent University

2013-2014           Master of Arts Literature and Linguistics: Greek, Summa cum Laude, Ghent University

2012-2013           Master of Arts Philosophy, Summa cum Laude, Ghent University

2009-2012           Bachelor of Arts Philosophy, Summa cum Laude, Ghent University