2018-19 Department of Psychology Colloquium Series and Aston-Gottesman Lecture Series present Peter Zachar (Auburn University in Montgomery)


2018-2019 Colloquium Series and the
Aston-Gottesman Lecture Series present

Peter Zachar, PhD
Department of Psychology
Auburn University in Montgomery

“Scientific Conventions: Psychiatric Classifications as Both Definitions in Disguise and Descriptions”

In 1905 the mathematician and philosopher of science Henri Poincare advanced the hypotheses that geometry and some of the laws of physics are conventions, by which he meant neither purely logical, nor founded on experience. Poincare’s ideas were widely disseminated and, in the 1920s and 1930s, subsumed into the philosophy of science. Conventionalist notions are dispersed throughout philosophy and are implicit in a wide variety of claims about the interaction of empirical and non-empirical factors in theory choice. Nevertheless, certain key features of Poincare’s conventions have receded farther into the background. These include being definitions in disguise; being neither true nor false, being not arbitrary – freely chosen but selected for convenience; and being not subject to correction by experience. After a brief review of scientific conventionalism, I will attempt to elucidate some obvious conventions and some possible conventions in psychiatric classification with respect to Poincare’s key features. As it turns out, in psychopathology, operational definitions play both definitional and descriptive roles. As open concepts they may be treated as conventions yet are always potentially subject to correction by experience.

Peter Zachar, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at Auburn University Montgomery. He was the chair of the psychology department from 2003-2011, is currently the Associate Dean in the College Sciences, and the President of the Association for the Advancement of Philosophy and Psychiatry. His primary scholarly interests are on philosophical issues in psychiatric classification and psychopathology. Zachar is the author of over 100 publications, including Psychological Concepts and Biological Psychiatry: A Philosophical Analysis (John Benjamins, 2000), and A Metaphysics of Psychopathology (MIT Press, 2014).

Friday, February 15, 2019
Gilmer Hall, Room 190
Enhanced refreshments/reception to follow

Time and Location: 
3:30pm, Gilmer 190
Friday, February 15, 2019
"Scientific Conventions: Psychiatric Classifications as Both Definitions in Disguise and Descriptions"