Research in Theoretical Philosophy

The starting point for many of our research and teaching activities are philosophical questions that arise from the context of individual sciences or touch on them in terms of content. Accordingly, the individual team members have not only philosophical but also individual scientific qualifications. The various inner- and interdisciplinary projects of the team members range from topics such as time and space travel to music and data science. The projects aim not only at scientific results, but also at a critical reflection on the social relevance of what is being investigated.

Philosophy of Time

Time appears in different forms: for instance as physical time, as perceived time, as social-intersubjective time, and as historical time. Therefore, the concept of time has been the subject of constant and seminal discussions in various philosophical sub-disciplines such as metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, ethics, and the historiography of philosophy. Comparatively little attention is paid to the connections and commonalities of these discussions. It is the aim of this project to fill part of this gap. Learn more.

Two projects are concerned with the epistemology of time and, closely related, space. In the context of quantum mechanics, the conditions under which quantum systems can generate something like an objective time scale that is in principle accessible to an observer are investigated. With regard to our currently best spacetime theory --- general relativity --- it is investigated under which conditions and to what degree the empirical content of the theory as well as that of related spacetime theories can be determined by means of clocks (chronometry). Learn more.

This subproject deals with the metaphysical-conceptual questions of how much spacetime actually persists in promising quantum gravity approaches (such as string theory).

To what extent are assertations about the geometry and shape (topology) of space and time conventions – rather than objective claims about matters of fact, non-factual, to some degree arbitrary elements that reflect the theoretician’s freedom to exercise discretion? Conventionalists champion the view that talk of spacetime geometry is indeed conventional. We investigate this provocative thesis and its status vis-á-vis contemporary physics.

Methodology in Philosophy and Science

The project analyses and defends the importance of conceptual-historical knowledge in the individual sciences. This knowledge is of both intrinsic and instrumental value, because it allows one to better understand and, if necessary, actively influence the inner dynamics of what one does as a scientist. Learn more.

The terms paradigm and paradigm change are used in an inflationary manner in science and everyday life. That is why there seem to be paradigm changes in science everywhere. But to what extent is the concept appropriate for disciplines other than physics, which is the field Kuhn's concept was designed for? Learn more.

The search for an empirically adequate theory of quantum gravity - i.e. a theory that should cover a range of validity in which traditionally both quantum mechanical and gravitational aspects are relevant - has been dragging on now since the 1930s. The project deals with methodological-conceptual questions in the theory development and pursuit of a theory of quantum gravity: Can candidates already be meaningfully tested or compared with each other before the actual experiment? How systematically have the known candidates been searched for? Have meaningful directions of theory development been disregarded for purely contingent but substantively unjustified reasons? Learn more.

One main project of ours within philosophy of science investigates super-empirical theory criteria (especially forms of unification and simplicity), which play an important role for theory selection and assessment. In concrete applications to physical theories, we study various explications of those criteria. The resulting case studies shed a critical light on the status of those criteria, and permit a nuanced, evaluation of their status.

Philosophy of the Individual Sciences

We are interested in philosophical questions concerning the foundations of musicology and also those in the border area between music, musical perception and hearing. There are collaborations with other academic disciplines (especially natural sciences; see essay "Paradoxien beim Hören") and also with artists (see the concert on "hearing time"/"ZeitHören"). Learn more.

Conceptual clarification within physics automatically leads up to wider questions from metaphysics and philosophy of science. Many of our projects can therefore be classified as classical projects in the philosophy of physics - such as those on the epistemology and metaphysics of space and time. Learn more.

What can be learned in outer space that we could not learn "at home" on earth? What is so interesting about Mars, say, as opposed to what we can study in terrestrial laboratories or what we can still explore on Earth (such as the deep sea)? Why should something be (more) interesting just because it is far away? As philosophers, we are interested especially in such epistemic questions, but without neglecting the exciting ethical, anthropological, and technological questions that arise in the context of space travel. Projects are pursued in collaboration with ZARM (the Center for Applied Spaceflight and Microgravity) and MAPEX (Center for Materials and Processes), both here in Bremen.

Critical Thinking

"Critical thinking in the sciences" - that sounds like a tautology! Science and research are always (at least supposedly) concerned with critical reflection; that is, with examining and questioning things rather than simply taking them at face value. Or is that perhaps only an ideal? In daily practice it may indeed look different. Numerous constraints, such as economic concerns, financial and time constraints, and peer pressure often make it difficult to critically examine the methods used, the concepts we presuppose and the conclusions drawn. Learn more.

The current developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning immediately raise philosophical questions, as does the general handling of ever increasing amounts of data. Pressing epistemological questions concern, for instance, the notion and role of epistemic “transparency” and of “creativity” in computer-based research. Learn more.

This project deals with selected concepts and problems that mark the beginning of the Western philosophical tradition and that, subsequently, influenced intellectual history on a wider scope. The aim is to work out systematic connections between the approaches of individual pre-Socratics and central debates of modern philosophy and natural science. A special focus lies on Anaximander. Learn more.