The Professorship of Theoretical Philosophy and Philosophy of the Social Sciences focuses its research activities on the question of how theories of the social sciences and other scientific disciplines can be integrated into a higher-level theory. We explore issues regarding the conditions of truth of these scientific theories as well as issues of uniform or differing methodology. Moreover, we want to clarify the methodological foundations of evidence-based management and deal with theories of causality and with type classification as the basic concept of scientific work.
Beyond that, the teaching activities of the professorship focus on political philosophy, game theory fundamentals of social structures, philosophy of mind and general philosophy of science. We explore possible forms of cooperation between actors with fundamental personal interests and whether they remain stable. The philosophy of mind mainly addresses the relationship between the mind and the material world, whereas the general philosophy of science focuses, inter alia, on the differences between scientific and non-scientific theories.
Determining the characteristics that constitute the scientific method and the differences between the scientific method and non-scientific approaches for gaining knowledge is a philosophic-theoretical issue with extensive practical implications. On the one hand, the solution of this problem affects the sciences themselves, which have to align their work accordingly and simultaneously have the opportunity to critically reflect themselves. On the other hand, it affects different everyday contexts, such as evidence-based methods for entrepreneurial decisions. Here, questions arise as to under which conditions factual statements (e.g. “This raven is black.”) and statements by the law of nature (e.g. “All ravens are black.”) may be considered as being reliable statements, how the problem of induction can be negotiated in case of practical challenges and which factual fallacies are generally possible. The problem of induction describes the challenge of concluding a statement by the law of nature (“All ravens are black.”) from a finite number of cases (“Raven 1 is black”, “Raven 2 is black”, “Raven n is black”).
The professorship collaborates closely with representatives of the scientific community in research projects in order to contribute to the basic methodological issues. Moreover, we foster a vivid exchange with business representatives on the connection between scientific method and entrepreneurial practice. Our principal research method consists of the logical and analytical clarification of concepts based on the acquisition of scientific insights and canonical research methods.
Within the context of research co-operations, one of the major objectives of the professorship is to become an international benchmark for the scientific philosophy of social and cognitive sciences as well as for basic research on evidence-based management. To this end, a reasonable balance between teaching and research is always of utmost importance. We therefore aim at including current research findings in our lectures and seminars in order to adequately match the interests and expectations of students in the different courses.
In our courses, students deal with topics from the fields of philosophy of science, political philosophy, metaphysics, game theory, ethics and evidence-based management.
Our courses are based on the basic principles of Witten didactics by fostering highly individualized learning, interaction instead of traditional chalk and talk lessons and strong practical relevance. Furthermore, we develop the way of acquiring proof of academic achievements together with our students by means of innovative forms of examination. This didactic approach aims at promoting independent learning as well as creative and critical thinking.
Theory and practice
Jens Harbecke collaborates with external professors and representatives from industry and society for conducting the courses. The courses on philosophy of science and evidence-based management are based, among other things, on case studies being elaborated together with experts from the business community and then presented to the students to work on, thus ensuring a broad knowledge base.
Dealing with philosophical issues is primarily a theoretical challenge concerning fundamental questions of knowledge and agency. However, the analytical skills acquired this way are of direct practical relevance. With this in mind, our courses aim at providing the students with the opportunity to acquire important basic skills for their future professional activities; for example as scientists, entrepreneurs, managers, politicians or consultants.
Professor Jens Harbecke coordinates this international project funded by the European Commission with researchers at the University of Helsinki (Finland), the University of Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium), the University of Applied Sciences Brandenburg (Germany), the Max-Weber-Kolleg Erfurt (Germany) and Witten/Herdecke University (Germany). For further information, please visit: www.insosci.eu
The research project deals with the fact that governments of the western world increasingly address neuroscience and social science experts in order to seek advice when drafting new legislative proposals. One approach is conducting research on the limits of rational behaviour in connection with financial markets, consumption patterns or addictive behaviour. The resulting scientific findings shall be used to 'nudge' citizens gently towards behaviour deemed to be in their best interest by means of appropriate legal provisions.
Such undertakings, however, frequently did not prove to be effective in the past and partly conflicted with the basic rights and free will of the individual. Above all, a concept for adequately integrating the different disciplines was missing. The different levels of reality and motivational drivers are evident on the part of neuroscience, inter alia, in the findings on neuronal or hormonal mechanisms and on the part of social science in findings on individual decisions and institutional structures.
The Witten subproject of this international research project focuses on a salient and politically relevant topic: the financial markets. According to a widespread opinion, many of the dysfunctionalities within financial markets result from a conflict between emotions and rationality in individual decision-making processes. At Witten we aim at developing a theoretical and methodological framework for the conceptual and methodological analysis of this conflict. For this purpose, philosophers, neuroscientists and economists closely collaborate in order to identify and draft new solutions for regulatory economic interventions on this interdisciplinary basis.
Prof. Jens Harbecke is principal investigator of this three-year project with research teams at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel), the University of Cologne and Witten/Herdecke University. The German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development funds the projects within the GIF regular programme. The project started in January 2015 and will end in December 2017. It comprises three PhD projects, regular team member workshops and meetings as well as three joint scientific symposiums. For more information, please visit the project website at: http://www.philosophy-cognitive-science.com/.