Philosophy meets Computer Science –
William James and the conception of Empirical Modelling
Interdisziplinäres Kolloquium.
Freitag, 12.12. 2008, 9.15 bis 14.30, Komplex I, Haus 11, Raum 2.22
Dr. Meurig Beynon (Computer Science,University of Warwick, UK)
Dr. Steve Russ (Computer Science,University of Warwick, UK)
Eine Veranstaltung des Instituts für Philosophie (Prof. Dr. H.-J. Petsche)
Radical Empiricism and Empirical Modelling
Dr Meurig Beynon and Dr Steve Russ,
Computer Science,
University of Warwick, UK
William James's philosophic stance of Radical Empiricism (RE) is topical for modern-day computing
in two complementary respects. On the one hand, RE offers an alternative ontological framework
within which to address aspects of experience that are peripheral to classical computer science but
central to contemporary computing practice. On the other hand, modern computing technology
makes it possible - and indeed in some contexts necessary - to invest unprecedented authority in
modes of representation and ways of knowing that transcend the traditional interpretations of
language. These two perspectives, to be explored with particular attention to the links between RE
and Empirical Modelling (EM), will be the respective subjects of our two presentations.
Major issues for Computer Science surround the thinking that precedes a computational model, and
the physical realisations that shadow its conception, design and use. The philosophical frameworks
that are best matched with the traditional view of computing, as rooted in Turing's account of
computation, deal most effectively with what can be expressed formally and reflects well-rehearsed
processes enacted by reliable agents. James's orientation towards the relationship between the formal
and the informal is the basis for a shift in perspective more radical than that associated with orthodox
critiques of the rationalistic accounts of computing. It is an orientation that is well-aligned to the
principles and practice of Empirical Modelling, as developed by Beynon, Russ and their
collaborators in Computer Science at the University of Warwick. Our first presentation will discuss
some respects in which James's outlook is helpful in thinking about the character and construction of
EM models.
James's philosophical writings have not gained the same degree of respect that has been accorded to
his fundamental work on the principles of psychology. The Jamesian scholar Marianne Janack
attributes this in part to the fact that his thinking does not respect what many philosophers consider to
be a sharp epistemological distinction between philosophical and psychological concerns. Other
philosophical commentators express concern at the way in which James distrusts words, yet is
obliged to frame his thinking about the notion of 'pure experience' in language. This potentially
exposes James to the charge of trying to express in his writing what he himself declares to be
inexpressible in language. There is a parallel to be drawn with the way in which Empirical Modelling
repudiates the reductionist interpretations of its linguistic forms that are integral to the classical
theory of computation. By seeking to account for computing in terms that are related to knowledge as
given-in-experience in a Jamesian sense, Empirical Modelling likewise aspires to dissolve the duality
between philosophical and psychological perspectives. Our second presentation will explore the
extent to which Empirical Modelling activity can be a helpful adjunct to James's essays on Radical
Empiricism in making sense of such central ideas as "conjunctive relations", "understanding
forwards", and "a pluralist universe".
First presentation and discussion
9:15 – 11:30
Second presentation and discussion 12:15 – 14:30

Philosophy meets Computer Science – Interdisziplinäres Kolloquium.