Philosophers of science from around the region gathered at SIUE to discuss an array of topics from mirror neurons to fields and waves. The St. Louis Area Philosophy of Science Association (SLAPSA) held its fourth annual meeting at SIUE’s Center for Spirituality and Sustainability on February 25. The conference was well attended, according to Chris Pearson, assistant professor of philosophy at SIUE.

Pearson coordinated the event, along with Judith Crane, associate professor of philosophy at SIUE. According to Pearson, the conference came together four years ago when Kent Staley from St. Louis University saw the potential and need for a regional conference.

“I think Kent was just interested and he recognized the potential for a regional group to get together once a year to discuss professional items going on like research or maybe share some teaching techniques,” said Pearson. “So, about four years ago Kent got this going and organized the first SLAPSA meeting and workshop at St. Louis University (SLU).”

Pearson stated that the idea of SLAPSA is to allow the four major institutions in the area with philosophy of science programs, SIUE, SLU, the University of Missouri St. Louis (UMSL) and Washington University (WU), to get together and talk about various issues surrounding the philosophy of science,  as well as share ideas, and teaching methods. With three of the four institutions having master’s programs in philosophy, the conference also gives opportunities for graduate students to present their ideas.

“One of the real advantages of the workshop is that graduate students are an integral part of it and that they get to propose their ideas to people other than their regular working advisor,” said Pearson. “I think each of the years there’s been a strong presence [of graduate students].”

The SLAPSA conference is a fairly informal grassroots type conference. Pearson stated that the speakers and topics are not limited. This allows a greater variety of speakers and topics to be presented. The conference also allows students and faculty the opportunity to get new eyes on their work.

“The principle objective of the workshop is to allow people the opportunity to publicly display what they are working on. So, whatever it is that people are working on and their ready and willing to offer to the rest of the community of philosophers of science in the St. Louis region, that’s really what it’s for,” said Pearson.

The conference follows the plan of a typical academic conference so that presenters and the audience have the opportunity to have a dialogue on the various topics.

The site rotates between the various institutions. Pearson stated that next year’s conference is in the initial planning phase, but people who are interested can find information at the SLAPSA website (((

This year, the conference was financially supported by SIUE’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). According to Aldemaro Romero, dean of CAS, the college supported the conference because it offers several opportunities to regional faculty and showcases the work of SIUE faculty as well.

“CAS supported the conference for two reasons, (1) it represents a good opportunity for our philosophy faculty to interact with faculty from other regional universities and (2) we are proud of the scholarly work done by our faculty in the area of philosophy of science, an area of increasing interest worldwide; therefore, this was an opportunity to showcase what they are doing,” said Romero.

Pearson stated that the topics presented at the conference do not fall into the categories that people generally believe philosophy topics follow.

“People’s conception of philosophy is ‘Oh, you’re working in these areas that have these grand names, Nietzsche and Plato and Descartes.’ There is plenty of that in philosophy, but philosophers of science aren’t like that,” said Pearson. “Typically, the issues that philosophers of science deal with are issues that cut across all the sciences, so there are ways in which they connect with some historical figures and their thoughts, but so much of what’s being done is really contemporary kinds of things that if you look at the program, you’ll see things like the recent research where they discovered these things called mirror neurons.”

Pearson stated that cutting across the interdisciplinary plane broadens the topics for philosophers of science, as was the case for the mirror neurons.

“One of the presentations was how does this affect our understanding of learning. People who are interested in certain aspects of the mind, philosophically speaking, find that kind of research fascinating. They’re much more inclined to read the latest issue of Science than they are to go back into some dusty old text from hundreds of years ago. Most of what you’ll see in contemporary philosophy of science is discussions of contemporary science.

The conference is targeted to philosophers of science. According to Pearson, some of the topics and jargon can be fairly technical, even for other philosophers of science.

“Somebody who is well-educated, and interested in science, there would be something to gain from it. But I doubt it would come easily for them. There is a certain degree of specialization. Some philosophy of sciences get really, really technical. People work in really formal mathematics to get at some of the underlying philosophical issues and that can be a real challenge for a lot of people if they are not well versed in some of the statistical matters.”

However, the conference is open to anyone to attend, with many of the past presenters understanding that a good presentation is accessible to everyone.

“We had a couple of presentations on the philosophy of mind, so you are talking about people who know a bit about brain anatomy and physiology. Part of the job though, I think, of a good presenter is to make it as accessible as they can. I think we had a good group that way. I think everybody felt, in the audience, like they could pick up on at least some of the topics that were being presented. And I think that would be the case for somebody who is really not very well versed in philosophical issues.”

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