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Home > Focus > Dan Sperber at the European Congress of Analytic Philosophy

Dan Sperber at the European Congress of Analytic Philosophy

by Redazione FGB [1], 27 August 2011

The Giannino Bassetti Foundation is one of the sponsors of the seventh European Congress of Analytic Philosophy [2] taking place at the beginning of September in Milan at the San Raffaele University and The University of Milan [3].

Continuing the tradition of the Bassetti Foundation lectures [4] we have chosen to address the congress during a plenary session, inviting "one of the world's most renowned cognitive scientists and one of the most influential anthropologists of the modern cultural scene [5]": Dan Sperber [6] (Jean Nicod Institute, Paris & International Cognition and Cultural Institute).

On 3 September 2011 Sperber will approach the theme The Deconstruction of Social Unreality. In the following few lines we would like to outline some of the reasons that the Bassetti Foundation find Sperber's point of view interesting, from our won particular perspective and the Foundation mission of responsibility within innovation. The forthcoming contributions by Angela Simone and Margherita Fronte as well as the report that will be published soon after the congress will look further into Sperber's thoughts and place them within the themes already addressed on the website. Here we would just like to sketch an outline of our mutual interests.

There are two main themes addressed by the author that are pertinent to the work of the Bassetti Foundation: The study of the relationship between individual and society (the space within which we would argue exists the category of responsibility) and the tension created by the breaking down of disciplinary partitions, arguments that he develops in his long term attempt to review scientific methodology in relation to the social sciences.

His books [7], amongst which Le Symbolisme en général [8] (Hermann 1974), Le Savoir des anthropologues [9] (Hermann 1982) and La Contagion des Idées [10] (Odile Jacob 1996) - outline a conception of culture gathered within the epidemiology of representation formula. In parallel Sperber has worked with Deirdre Wilson [11] (University of London) publishing Relevance: Communication and Cognition Second Edition [12], (Blackwell 1995) and Relevance and meaning [13] (Cambridge UP). From these volumes a cognitive theory of communication emerges that the authors have called The Theory of Pertinence [14].

In Sperber's book entitled L'epidemiologia delle credenze Gloria Origgi [15] argues that the study of culture can not be seen as unrelated to individual psychology. This is an innovation in respect to the accepted approaches within the different anthropological schools. Sperber argues that in order to reach a naturalistic foundation of anthropology the role of psychological processes within culture must be considered. Origgi states that "the role of the social sciences is to explain the mechanism through which a mental representation is transformed into a public representation, and the reasons for which some public representations become stable and widespread within the population, that is to say become culture". This pushed the author into an epidemiological study of representation with a view to understanding "why some representations are more contagious than others": Mental processes and social relationships, mind and society with reciprocal influence.

In an interview conducted by Piero Perconti [16] Sperber explains that "at the bases both the interest that I have cultivated for the social sciences and the more recent into cognitive science are motivations tied to the political sphere". For more than 10 years the Bassetti Foundation has operated on the thin line between science and society [17] (see the materials [18] on our website and the paper by Massimiano Bucchi entitled Scientisti e antiscientisti. Perché scienza e società non si capiscono [19], giugno 2009).

Based upon our work with social scientists from different disciplines we have often and publicly stated the importance of politics within our mission to make innovation more responsible, a theme that we believe should enter into the social sciences [20]. We have often involved anthropology in our work, an example being a paper delivered by Jeff Ubois at the American Anthropological Association conference in 2010 entitled Responsible Innovation / Sustainable Innovation [21] and presented on behalf of the Foundation and our long collaboration with anthropologist Cristina Grasseni.

This theme that has become much more widely addressed recently. The recent internation convention entitled the Responsible Innovation Conference [22] that was funded by the Dutch government is a good example. As President piero Bassetti recently remarked "we have discovered that other people inhabit our desert island".

Sperber proposes this hybridization as a long term project and research tool and claims that his approach is not detrimental to accepted academic practice. It is once more the author that retrospectively reminds us of the idea that the utilization of the social sciences for political action within society evokes the 'topos' of responsibility; "scientific understanding can be an efficient compass for those public actions that aim at reforming change in a short time. But when we cultivate hopes for radical transformation in society we must admit that our understanding of the world does not allow us to determine which actions are just and which not".

We could even argue that this statement by Sperber represents the premise of existence for the Bassetti Foundation, challenged by the frontiers of technoscience, and neuroethics, and exactly for this reason permeable to every field of action that define the new axis of polis: an influence that covers many aspects addressed on the website from home DNA testing [23] (see also Consuming Genomes: Constructing the Genetic Consumer in the United States [24]) to design [25] in its form that we have defined poesis intensive and that relates to projects of new collective services.

Dan Sperber offers us the chance of better understanding the relationship between society and the individual, with reflections that might help us follow on from the following considerations from just a few years ago [26]:

"As Richard Nelson argues(...) every field of modern science has a gross debt to technology in order to experimentally produce. And therefore an intense negotiation with power (...)
It is dangerous not to not to worry about how innovation, which is the combination of science and power, is created and finalized. Who guides it? Who controls it? Who has the responsibility?(....)
And we must remember that using the word responsibility does not only refer to individual responsibility. It also means to refer to communitarian and political responsibility. (...) It is the job of politics to establish the sense, that is the direction, of the most general community work and its relative rules


photo: Whiteboard Philosophy [27] by thewind from Flickr

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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Redazione FGB
  2. 2] http://www.esap.info/ecap7/
  3. 3] http://maps.google.com/maps/place?q=Universit%C3%A0+San+Raffaele++Milano&hl=it&ie=UTF8&cid=13150933442142060447
  4. 4] /it/eventi/
  5. 5] http://www.rescogitans.it/main.php?articleid=291
  6. 6] http://www.dan.sperber.fr/
  7. 7] http://www.dan.sperber.fr/
  8. 8] http://www.editions-hermann.fr/ficheproduit.php?lang=fr&menu=&ref=Philosophie+Le+symbolisme+en+g%E9n%E9ral&prodid=384
  9. 9] http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/hom_0439-4216_1983_num_23_4_368448
  10. 10] http://www.odilejacob.fr/0207/923/Contagion-des-id%C3%A9es.html
  11. 11] http://www.langsci.ucl.ac.uk/home/deirdre/index.php
  12. 12] http://books.google.com/books/about/Relevance.html?id=2sOKgpYuX4wC
  13. 13] http://ebooks.cambridge.org/chapter.jsf?bid=CBO9780511486456&cid=CBO9780511486456A009
  14. 14] http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teoria_della_pertinenza
  15. 15] http://gloriaoriggi.free.fr/sperber.htm
  16. 16] http://www.rescogitans.it/main.php?articleid=291
  17. 17] /it/focus/democrazia_partecipata/
  18. 18] /it/pellegrini/listacrono.html
  19. 19] http://massimianobucchi.nova100.ilsole24ore.com/2010/03/scientisti-e-antiscientisti-perch%C3%A9-scienza-e-societ%C3%A0-non-si-capiscono.html
  20. 20] /en/focus/2011/02/responsible_innovation_sustain.html
  21. 21] http://issuu.com/fondazionebassetti/docs/jeff-innovation-aaa-2010-2
  22. 22] http://www.responsible-innovation.nl/conference/conf11/
  23. 23] /it/focus/2010/06/un_uomo_la_sua_storia_e_il_suo.html
  24. 24] /en/focus/2011/07/consuming_genomes_constructing.html
  25. 25] /it/focus/2011/08/realizzare_limprobabile_-_il_c.html
  26. 26] http://www.brunomondadori.com/scheda_opera.php?ID=2268
  27. 27] http://www.flickr.com/photos/thewind/2381297248/
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