The Andrew W. Mellon Sawyer Seminar

2016-2018

Presented by Boston University

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Boston, MA 02215

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Grappling with the Futures: Insights from Philosophy, History and Science, Technology and Society

Updated: Aug 25, 2018

https://grapplingwiththefutures.com/

Sunday event at Harvard; Monday morning and lunch event at Boston University. Co-sponsored with the Harvard Department of the History and Philosophy of Science, the Boston Center for the Philosophy of Science, the BU Philosophy Department, the Millenium Project: Global Future Studies and Research, and the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Contemporary History), München-Berlin. Futures studies, which emerged as a new field after WWII, offers a variety of methods for predicting, forecasting, anticipating, controlling, imagining, and shaping multiple futures. Those methods include trend extrapolation, predictive modeling, scenario-planning, Delphi, and Wild Cards, to name a few. The goal of this symposium is to bring together philosophers, historians, and science, technology and society (STS) scholars who are deeply engaged with the exploration of the futures. We will begin an interdisciplinary dialogue that interrogates the goals, concepts, and methods of futures studies and probes informal futures-oriented thinking that is ubiquitous in social thought and practice.


From the 1950s on, American and European philosophers took part in the creation of futures studies. In the US, they relied on their background in logic, philosophy of science, and epistemology; in Europe, they mainly mobilized political and social philosophy, philosophy of action, ontology, and axiology. However, from the ‘80s to the end of the ‘90s, philosophers were less involved with the field. The symposium addressed the following kinds of questions: What are new philosophical issues, theories, concepts, and forms of engagement with futures studies? How are anticipation, forecast, and foresight related? What is the meaning and the value of the distinction between possible, probable, plausible, and desirable/undesirable futures? How can political and social philosophy, as well as ethics, fairly evaluate the normative dimensions of futures studies and contribute to making futures studies normatively more compelling in collaboration with practitioners? At a time when non-ideal theories of justice have gained momentum, what role should aspirational ideals, social hopes, and utopias play in normative conceptions of desirable futures? What role should risk, uncertainty, worst-case scenarios, and dystopias play in our anticipatory attitudes towards undesirable futures and our policy decisions? What theoretical frameworks can philosophers mobilize to investigate informal futures-oriented thinking?


Results: This two-day international event (one day each in Harvard University and Boston University) included participants from more than a dozen countries and was attended by over 100 people. The meeting laid the groundwork and set the agenda for a major collaborative network of interdisciplinary scholars working on various aspects of Future Studies. An edited volume and a themed journal issue of Futures are currently in the works.


We are grateful to the Harvard Department of the History and Philosophy of Science, the Boston Center for the Philosophy of Science, the BU Philosophy Department, the Millenium Project: Global Future Studies and Research, and the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Contemporary History), München-Berlin. for Co-Sponsoring this Event.


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