.  Georg Brun  .  Philosophy

Research Projects

Reflective Equilibrium – Reconception and Application (since 2014)

University of Bern; funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation
Lead: Prof Dr.Dr. Claus Beisbart. Case-study: Tanja Rechnitzer

Reflective Equilibrium Revisited. Methodological Foundations for an Epistemology of Understanding (2009–2013)

ETH Zurich and Research Priority Program for Ethics, University of Zurich

Traditional epistemology focuses on theories of knowledge that account for true beliefs and truth-conducive justification. This is too narrow a perspective because scientific and philosophical theories do not exclusively aim at amassing true sentences. Rather, their goal is to advance our understanding of problems and phenomena. An epistemology that can explicate understanding in this sense must include further goals of inquiry (e.g. systematicity and coherence) and account for non-propositional contributions to understanding (e.g. illuminating examples, fruitful categories). The project investigates how the method of reflective equilibrium can be used as a basis for an epistemology of understanding. This framework is also of special interest in the context of policy-oriented research, as it provides an account of epistemic justification that evades the dogmatism of traditional foundationalism and the subjectivism of popular relativism.

Identities of Artefacts: Their Structure and Evaluation (2006–2012)

ETH Zurich; with Christoph Baumberger

In non-philosophical discourse, “identity” is often used in descriptions or evaluations of the specific character of non-personal objects. In contrast to identity as numerical identity, essence, persistence over time and the self-concept of a person, this notion has been neglected in philosophy although it is commonly used in everyday discourse as well as in, for example, aesthetic criticism and in consumer research. Buildings are said to contribute to a positive identity of a city, the Barcelona chair is claimed to have a distinctive identity, many people consider themselves to be attached to the specific identity of a certain landscape and corporate identity is an issue in many firms and organizations. As a first task, we clarify and delineate this notion of identity. We propose an explication which draws on the symbol-theory of Goodman and Elgin. This not only constitutes a further development of this symbol-theory but also calls for investigating the relation of identity to the basic notions of reference and exemplification, as well as to other aesthetic notions such as style. On this basis, we investigate in what sense an object can have multiple and even conflicting identities, and how identities can be evaluated. Our analysis is extensively illustrated with examples (especially, buildings, design objects and everyday objects).

Ethical Analysis of Policy Arguments in Climate-Related Land Use Decisions (2008–2011)

Part of the project CLIMPOL “Climate Policy Making for Enhanced Technological and Institutional Innovations”, ETH Zurich; with Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn and Urs Allenspach

Ethical Analysis of Economic Methods for Evaluating Forest Externalities (2008–2010)

Part of COST E-45 EUROFOREX “European Forest Externalities”, ETH Zurich; with Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn and Urs Allenspach

Values at Stake and Justified Choice Among Policies Regarding CH4 Fluxes (2005–2009)

Part of the research cluster TUMSS “Towards an Improved Understanding of Methane Sources and Sinks and Their Role in the Past, Present and Future Climate”, ETH Zurich; with Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn and Urs Allenspach

The three projects address problems of choosing policies in the context of sustainable development. Choices among policy options are typically justified with reference to an evaluative ordering of these options. Evaluations of policies with respect to sustainability, however, run into difficulties because sustainability is a complex value that encompasses a broad range of often conflicting ecological, economic and social values. This calls for integrating conflicting values in a way that respects the basic idea of sustainability. In a first step, we analyse which conditions of adequacy the concept of sustainability places on methods for integrating diverse evaluations. Secondly, we analyse the potential and limits of using cost-benefit-analysis, of resorting to parity as a fourth value relation, and of methods of multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA). The results are applied in studies on economic valuation methods of forest externalities and in an analysis of uncertainties which arise in assessing methane mitigation policies relating to ruminants.

Methods for Analysing Arguments and Texts (2005–2009)

ETH Zurich; with Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn

The project studies methods of analysing arguments and texts, especially with a view to their practical applicability and effectiveness for teaching skills in text analysis and critical thinking. We focus on techniques from philosophy and the humanities that are useful for philosophers as well as for scientists and engineers in a wide variety of contexts. How can formal logic, theory of argumentation, theories of definition and accounts of metaphor be put to use as general techniques for analysing texts and arguments?

Epistemology and Emotions (2005–2008)

University of Zurich; with Ulvi Doguoglu and Dominique Kuenzle

In cognitive science and ethics, the emotions have been of central interest during the last decade. Some philosophers have argued that emotions can not only distort cognition but also motivate inquiry, determine relevance and provide access to facts, beliefs, norms and non-propositional aspects of knowledge. On this background, the project investigates possible roles emotions have been claimed to play in epistemology. While it is certainly not true that emotions invariably thwart our epistemic endeavours, it is less clear whether this calls for redesigning epistemology or just for more careful study of their contributions to knowledge.

Problems of Logical Formalization (since 1994)

University of Zurich (1994–2003)

As the theory of valid arguments, logic is of crucial significance for philosophy. It is also an important tool for analysing reasoning and argumentative text. However, the formal theories of logic are only relevant to arguments if they are supplemented by theories about the relationship between real arguments and logical formulas. The project develops a theory of formalization and investigates its philosophical implications and underpinnings. Specifically, the project aims at elucidating principles of formalization that are implicitly operative in standard practice of elementary first-order logic, and to investigate how they are related to various, for example, semantic or proof-theoretic conceptions of logic.