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Berlin, Technical University, 16–17 May 2008 EPISTEMIC OBJECTS I: Research Colloquium

Organised by Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (MPIWG), Günter Abel, Uljana Feest and Claudio Roller (Technische Universität Berlin)

When something attracts our epistemic curiosity, we may refer to it as an epistemic object. In the sciences, epistemic objects are the fundamental objects of research. But what is the relationship between epistemic objects in the sciences and our pre-scientific notions of them? What are the dynamics by which epistemic objects come into being? How are epistemic objects articulated linguistically? What role do empirical methods play in the constitution of epistemic objects? What is the relationship between the shifting status of epistemic objects and the supposedly atemporal character of scientific results? epistemic objects are the fundamental subjects of scientific research. They attract the attention and interest of scientists as well as of historians and philosophers of science and knowledge. The first research colloquium aimed to place a particular emphasis on the following four aspects:

(1) The internal relations between linguistic as well as non-linguistic signs and epistemic objects:
Both the constitution of scientific objects and the communication of the results of scientific research are conditionally bound to description and articulation by means of signs and interpretation. There are no epistemic objects without signs and interpretation. This relationship has to be elucidated.

(2) The relationship between modelling and epistemic objects: 
Many – but not all – epistemic objects can be construed as models. In elaborating on this point, one has to distinguish between the objects of the history and philosophy of science and the objects of the sciences themselves as well as the objects in everyday life. One also has to stress the differences between the epistemic objects in the various sciences and in the arts and humanities. The character and detail of these differences have to be assessed.

(3) The dynamics of epistemic objects:
In theory as well as in practice, epistemic objects are subject to changes, modifications, revisions, broadenings and restraints, in short: they have their own dynamics and temporal character. Both have to be elucidated and analyzed accompanied by a close analysis of historical cases.

(4) The relationships between epistemic objects and scientific experience:
The notion of an epistemic object is internally linked to questions about scientific experience and epistemic justification. Issues surrounding the nature and status of the empirical in the constitution of epistemic objects need to be addressed. Likewise objects’ convincing character and our ‘adaptation’ of judgment according to the properties and features of the epistemic objects calls for close analysis.