On May 2-4, Lingnan welcomed several distinguished philosophers of science to participate in the conference “Science: The Real Thing?” hosted by the Department of Philosophy. Over the course of three days and nine sessions, the conference participants explored the topic of “scientific realism”, looking at both what scientific realism is, and what it can be in the future. Scientific realism is the view that the goal of scientific inquiry is to discover the complete truth about the world, everything from the very large (planets, solar systems, and galaxies) to the very small (cells, atoms, subatomic particles, etc.), and that much of contemporary science has arrived somewhat close to that truth. Other positions understand science as having more modest ambitions, such as think of science as a tool for making empirical predictions, but not necessarily capturing the truth about the basic constituents of the universe. A recurring theme of the conference was whether there are new avenues for thinking about the topic of realism that fall somewhere between these two extremes.
The conference brought together a number of internationally renowned scholars, and attracted a large number from the Hong Kong philosophy community. Speakers included Stathis Psillos of the University of Western Ontario (Canada), author of the book Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth, a must-read for anyone studying philosophy of science; Catherine Elgin of Harvard University, one of the world's most distinguished philosophers working in areas such as metaphysics, pragmatism, and the philosophy of science; Kyle Stanford of the University of California, Riverside; Anjan Chakravartty of the University of Notre Dame; Greg Frost-Arnold of Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Bence Nanay of the University of Cambridge; Johanna Wolff from the University of Hong Kong; and Darrell Rowbottom and Jamin Asay, the co-organisers from Lingnan University.
The intimate setting of the conference provided plenty of opportunity for engagement between the participants. Each day's presentations were capstoned by roundtable discussions of the various themes emerging from the talks and ensuing discussion periods. The visitors were also treated to the sights and tastes of Hong Kong, and finally returned home with good reports of the calibre of philosophy studied in Hong Kong and at Lingnan.