Reduction and Elimination in Philosophy and the Sciences


31st International Wittgenstein Symposium 2008 on

Reduction and Elimination in Philosophy and the Sciences

Kirchberg am Wechsel, Austria, 10-16 August 2008


William Bechtel, Ansgar Beckermann, Johan van Benthem, Alexander Bird, Elke Brendel, Otavio Bueno, John P. Burgess, David Chalmers, Igor Douven, Hartry Field, Jerry Fodor, Kenneth Gemes, Volker Halbach, Stephan Hartmann, Alison Hills, Leon Horsten, Jaegwon Kim, James Ladyman, Oystein Linnebo, Bernard Linsky, Thomas Mormann, Carlos Moulines, Thomas Mueller, Karl-Georg Niebergall, Joelle Proust, Stathis Psillos, Sahotra Sarkar, Gerhard Schurz, Patrick Suppes, Crispin Wright, Edward N. Zalta, Albert Anglberger, Elena Castellani, Philip Ebert, Paul Egre, Ludwig Fahrbach, Simon Huttegger, Christian Kanzian, Jeff Ketland, Marcus Rossberg, Holger Sturm, Charlotte Werndl.


Alexander Hieke (Salzburg) & Hannes Leitgeb (Bristol),
on behalf of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society.



  1. Wittgenstein
  2. Logical Analysis
  3. Theory Reduction
  4. Nominalism
  5. Naturalism &Physicalism
  6. Supervenience


  • Ontological Reduction & Dependence
  • Neologicism

More detailed information on the contents of the sections and workshops can be found in the “BACKGROUND” part further down.


Instructions for authors will soon be available at
All contributions will be peer-reviewed. All submitted papers accepted for presentation at the symposium will appear in the Contributions of the ALWS Series. Since 1993, successive volumes in this series have appeared each August immediately prior to the symposium.


Further information on registration forms and information on travel and accommodation will be posted at .


The symposium will take place in Kirchberg am Wechsel (Austria) from 10-16 August 2008. Sunday, 10th of August 2008 is supposed to be the day on which speakers and conference participants are going to arrive and when they register in the conference office. In the evening, we plan on having an informal get together. On the next day (11 August, 10:00am) the first official session of presentations will start with Professor Jerry Fodor’s opening lecture of the symposium. The symposium will end officially in the afternoon of 16 August 2008.


Philosophers often have tried to either reduce “disagreeable” entities or concepts to (more) acceptable entities or concepts, or to eliminate the former altogether. Reduction and elimination, of course, very often have to do with the question of “What is really there?”, and thus these notions belong to the most fundamental ones in philosophy. But the topic is not merely restricted to metaphysics or ontology. Indeed, there are a variety of attempts at reduction and elimination to be found in all areas (and periods) of philosophy and science.

The symposium is intended to deal with the following topics (among others):

  • Logical Analysis: The logical analysis of language has long been regarded as the dominating paradigm for philosophy in the modern analytic tradition. Although the importance of projects such as Frege’s logicist construction of mathematics, Russell’s paraphrasis of definite descriptions, and Carnap’s logical reconstruction and explicatory definition of empirical concepts is still acknowledged, many philosophers now doubt the viability of the programme of logical analysis as it was originally conceived. Notorious problems such as those affecting the definitions of knowledge or truth have led to the revival of “non-analysing” approaches to philosophical concepts and problems (see e.g. Williamson’s account of knowledge as a primitive notion and the deflationary criticism of Tarski’s definition of truth). What role will — and should — logical analysis play in philosophy in the future?
  • Theory Reduction: Paradigm cases of theory reduction, such as the reduction of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion to Newtonian mechanics or the reduction of thermodynamics to the kinetic theory of gases, prompted philosophers of science to study the notions of reduction and reducibility in science. Nagel’s analysis of reduction in terms of bridge laws is the classical example of such an attempt. However, those early accounts of theory reduction were soon found to be too naive and their underlying treatment of scientific theories unrealistic. What are the state-of-the-art proposals on how to understand the reduction of a scientific theory to another? What is the purpose of such a reduction? In which cases should we NOT attempt to reduce a theory to another one?
  • Nominalism: Traditionally, nominalism is concerned with denying the existence of universals. Modern versions of nominalism object to abstract entities altogether; in particular they attack the assumption that the success of scientific theories, especially their mathematical components, commit us to the existence of abstract objects. As a consequence, nominalists have to show how the alleged reference to abstract entities can be eliminated or is merely apparent (Field’s Science without Numbers is prototypical in this respect). What types of “Constructive Nominalism” (a la Goodman & Quine) are there? Are there any principal obstacles for nominalistic programmes in general? What could nominalistic accounts of quantum theory or of set theory look like?
  • Naturalism & Physicalism: Naturalism and physicalism both want to eliminate the part of language that does not refer to the “natural facts” that science — or indeed physics — describes. Metaphysical Naturalism often goes hand in hand with (or even entails) an epistemological naturalism (Quine) as well as an ethical naturalism (mainly defined by its critics), so that also these two main disciplines of philosophy should restrict their investigations to the world of natural facts. Physicalist theses, of course, play a particularly important role in the philosophy of mind, since neuroscientific findings seem to support the view that, ultimately, the realm of the mental is but a part of the physical world. Which forms of naturalism and physicalism can be maintained within metaphysics, philosophy of science, epistemology and ethics? What are the consequences for philosophy when such views are accepted? Is philosophy a scientific discipline? If naturalism or physicalism is right, can we still see ourselves as autonomous beings with morality and a free will?
  • Supervenience: Mental, moral, aesthetical, and even “epistemological” properties have been said to supervene on properties of particular kind, e.g., physical properties. Supervenience is claimed to be neither reduction nor elimination but rather something different, but all these notions still belong to the same family, and sometimes it is even assumed that reduction is a borderline case of supervenience. What are the most abstract laws that govern supervenience relations? Which contemporary applications of the notion of supervenience are philosophically successful in the sense that they have more explanatory power than “reductive theories” without leading to unwanted semantical or ontological commitments? What are the logical relations between the concepts of supervenience, reduction, elimination, and ontological dependence?

The symposium will also include two workshops on:

  • Ontological Reduction & Dependence: Reducing a class of entities to another one has always been regarded attractive by those who subscribe to an ideal of ontological parsimony. On the other hand, what it is that gets reduced ontologically (objects or linguistic items?), what it means to be reduced ontologically, and which methods of reduction there are, is controversial (to say the least). Apart from reducing entities to further entities, metaphysicians sometimes aim to show that entities depend ontologically on other entities; e.g., a colour sensation instance would not exist if the person having the sensation did not exist. In other philosophical contexts, entities are rather said to depend ontologically on other entities if the individuation of the former involves the latter; in this sense, sets might be regarded to depend on their members, and mathematical objects would depend on the mathematical structures they are part of. Is there a general formal framework in which such notions of ontological reduction and dependency can be studied more systematically? Is ontological reduction really theory reduction in disguise? How shall we understand ontological dependency of objects which exist necessarily? How do reduction and dependence relate to Quine’s notion of ontological commitment?
  • Neologicism: Classical Logicism aimed at deriving every true mathematical statement from purely logical truths by reducing all mathematical concepts to logical ones. As Frege’s formal system proved to be inconsistent, and modern set theory seemed to require strong principles of a genuinely mathematical character, the programme of Logicism was long regarded as dead. However, in the last twenty years neologicist and neo-Fregean approaches in the philosophy of mathematics have experienced an amazing revival (Wright, Boolos, Hale). Abstraction principles, such as Hume’s principle, have been suggested to support a logicist reconstruction of mathematics in view of their quasi-analytical status. Do we have to reconceive the notion of reducibility in order to understand in what sense Neologicism is able to reduce mathematics to logic (as Linsky & Zalta have suggested recently)? What are the abstraction principles that govern mathematical theories apart from arithmetic (in particular: calculus and set theory)? How can Neo-Fregeanism avoid the logical and philosophical problems that affected Frege’s original system — cf. the problems of impredicativity and Bad Company?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *