Ott 232022

Inter-doctoral Conference Series
1° semester

21 November – 2 December



University of Cagliari
Inter-doctoral Conferences Series

Visiting Professor/Scientist 2022 programme funded by Regional Law 7/2007 by the Autonomous Region of Sardinia

Paul Dumouchel

“Explaining Social Phenomena”

21 November – 2 December 2022


Inter-doctoral conferences series at the University of Cagliari co-organised by:

  • PhD programme in Civil Engineering and Architecture;
  • PhD programme in Economics and Business;
  • PhD programme in History, Cultural Heritage, and International Studies;
  • PhD programme in Philological and Literary, Historical, and Cultural Studies;
  • PhD programme in Philosophy, Epistemology, and Human Sciences.



Paul Dumouchel is visiting professor at the University of Cagliari. He is Canadian, until recently professor at the Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, where he thought political philosophy and philosophy of science.  Now back in Canada he is affiliated with the Department of Philosophy of the University du Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) and visiting researcher at the Centre de Recherche en Droit Public (CRDP) of the University of Montreal.

Served as President of the Canadian Philosophical Association. Co-founder of the Centre de Recherche en Épistémologie Appliée (CREA) at the École Polythechnique in Paris.

Author of Emotions (1999), The Ambivalence of Scarcity and Other Essays (2014) and The Barren Sacrifice (2015); with Reiko Gotoh he edited Against Injustice: The New Economics of Amartya Sen (2009) and Social Bonds as Freedom (2015). His most recent book, with Luisa Damiano, is Living with Robots (2017)


Paul Dumouchel is visiting professor at the University of Cagliari within the Visiting Professor/Scientist 2022 programme funded by Regional Law 7/2007 by the Autonomous Region of Sardinia.

Paul Dumouchel è professore in visita all’Università di Cagliari nell’ambito del programma Visiting Professor/Scientist 2022, finanziato dalla LR 7/2007 della Regione Autonoma della Sardegna.


About the conference series “Explaining Social Phenomena”

This series of six conferences wants to focus on the question of explanation relative to social issues. By social issues, we do not simply mean explanation in the social sciences, because many, perhaps most of the social issues we face — for example, global warming, damage to and protection of the environment, the influence of technological change, in particular related to AI and robotics, and many others — are not purely social. They are not purely social first in their reality or materiality. Unlike what is the case, for example of a labour dispute related to the introduction of new technology, where there is a strong sense in which what is involved in the dispute is essentially a conflict between social groups, global warming, environmental damages or social transformations induced by technological change all also have a natural dimension that is part of what defines them as the problem which they are. These problems are not purely social in a second sense that, in consequence of having this extra-social dimension they cannot be explained (analyzed and understood) by resorting to the resources of social sciences exclusively. Neither can they be explained without them. From the point of view of our usual classification of knowledge, these phenomena are hybrids, neither simply social nor purely natural. They develop across the divide between the two types of science.

This situation should not be seen as something that is recent only. Anthropological studies of early hunter/gatherers (Testar, 1982) for example show that natural and social factors have always been interwoven in the production social structure and change. The social and technological development of societies is not something that can be analyzed without taking into account the environment where these groups lived and the constraints which the climate and resources imposed on human initiatives. This is not surprising given the type of creatures humans are. Even though, unlike most other species, humans have succeeded in adapting to just about all possible environments on earth, different types of societies and the solutions which are open to them are not unrelated to different types of environments in which they happen to exist. The case of technological change is not really different, in that it also requires to take into account both the “natural” and the social dimension of the phenomena in order to be understood and because it leads to transformations of the environment which in turn transform society.

What is surprising when we stop and think about it for a second, is that in spite of the number and importance of phenomena that cannot be explained by exclusive reference to either social factors or natural factors, only few of our disciplines actually bridge the gap between social scientific and natural scientific explanations. We can think essentially of four examples: ecology, geography, urban studies and archaeology. Even in those cases there is a tendency to distinguish between for example, physical geography and human geography or between forensic archaeology and cultural archaeology, between ecology and a course entitled “man and his environment” and so on. Without limiting the scope of my inquiry to these four disciplines (without even dealing directly with all of them), This conferences series wants to address the question of the explanation of these hybrid social phenomena.

Each conference hosts invited discussants and will engage students in discussion.



21 November 2022, 16:00-18:30
Hosted by PhD programme in Civil Engineering and Architecture
Aula Magna “Gaetano Cima”, Castello, Via Corte d’Appello 87, Cagliari

Tetsuro Watsuji’s concept of the Fudô

discussant Marco Stucchi

Fudô means both the climate and the environment. The two kanjis that make up Fudô, fu 風 means the wind, while the second dô 土 means the earth. Watsuji’s concept of the fudô however is that unlike the environment which is viewed as something that is external to us, the fudô encompasses both the social and cultural dimension of a place. Watsuji who studied in Germany under Heidegger originally thinks of the fudô as an analysis of the dimension of space to compensate Heidegger’s exclusive attention to the question of time. There is a temptation here, in which Watsuji to some extent falls, which is that of geographical determinism. There is more however than geographical determinism in his concept of the fudô. Apart from Watsuji, two other authors will guide us here: Montesquieu and Testar whose (1982) Les chasseurs-ceuilleurs ou l’origine de l’inégalité provides a wonderful use of the concept of fudô without ever using the term!

22 November 2022, 16:00-18:30
Hosted by PhD programme in Economics and Business
Aula Magna, Edificio Baffi, Via Sant’Ignazio da Laconi 74

Explanation and understanding: methodological individualism and biases in artificial intelligence

discussant Vittorio Pelligra

Here I want to argue that the essential contribution of methodological individualism in social science is the concept of the unintentional consequences of intentional actions and what the French sociologist Raymond Boudon (1979) called “perverse effect”. Like, for example, self-fulfilling prophecies, such non-intentional consequences are “meaning effects”. That is to say they are the results of the fact that humans are guided by meanings (however false or ridiculous these meanings may be) and of the fact that policy decisions inevitably are statements and are interpreted as statements. Artificial intelligence systems are made to interact with us, meaning sensitive creatures, but they do not themselves have any access to meaning and this I will argue explains many of the unintended effects of such systems, which we unsuccessfully try to limit using regulation.

25 November 2022, 16:00-18:30
Hosted by PhD programme in Civil Engineering and Architecture
Aula Magna “Gaetano Cima”, Castello, Via Corte d’Appello 87, Cagliari

Causal explanation and structural explanation: mimetic theory

discussant Ivan Blečić

Analyses of social phenomena in terms of mimetic desires or mimesis provide structural explanations rather than causal explanations of these phenomena. Here, I want to inquire into the nature of this difference, partially in view of the fact that it is sometimes argued in natural sciences that the two types of explanation are really equivalent. René Girard to the opposite considers that they are importantly different types of explanation and that there is something of a moral dimension involved to choosing a structural explanation rather than a causal explanation in the social domain. This difference, I will argue in relation to the second conference, has something to do with the fact that explanation bearing on humans inevitably involve meaning as an active component of the explanation and that relative to social issues causal explanation tend to reproduce the structure of an accusation.

28 November 2022, 16:00-18:30
Hosted by PhD programme in Civil Engineering and Architecture
Aula Verde (3rd floor), Via Corte d’Appello 87, Castello, Cagliari


Randomness and complexity: violence

A classical measure of complexity is that the complexity of system corresponds to the information which I lack in order to explain the system, its functioning and organization. Complexity corresponds to or measures this missing information, rather than how intricate or complicated are the relations between the different sub-parts of a system. Understood in this way complexity is essentially epistemic. It is not clear to what it corresponds in reality (ontologically), since it is a measure of my ignorance. Random events in this context indicate that the system I am observing is more complex than I thought, but that does not tell us how complicated or simple it really is, since randomness is a direct function of my ignorance. René Girard argues that violence erases differences and this is equivalent to saying that it reduces complexity. This reduction of complexity and destruction of differences however cannot be merely considered as an epistemic phenomenon.

30 November 2022, 16:00-18:30 15:30-18:00
Hosted by PhD programme in History, Cultural Heritage, and International Studies
Aula 9, Sa Duchessa (corpo centrale), Via Is Mirrionis 1

History and narrative: description as explanation

discussants Arnaldo Cecchini and Lorenzo Tanzini

In the 19th and in a good part of the 20th centuries a classical approach to the difference between social sciences and natural sciences defined the first as historical sciences and the second as nomological sciences. Nomological sciences are sciences which explains phenomena using laws that are temporally invariant. Historical sciences, it was argued, do not properly explain because they have no laws. They give account of phenomena in terms of narrative. That is by telling a story. This distinction has been radically challenged by the rise of modern evolutionary biology which is a historical science, which may or may not have laws, but the explanatory and technological success of modern biology raise the question of: at what conditions are stories explanatory and what makes a description a narrative, a story?

2 December 2022, 16:00-18:30
Hosted by PhD programme in Philosophy, Epistemology, and Human Sciences
Aula 15, Sa Duchessa (corpo centrale), Via Is Mirrionis 1

Objects and cognitive technologies: joint cognitive systems

discussant Francesca Ervas

Cognitive technologies – computers, DNA sequencers, AI – should from a philosophical point of view be our best examples of the close interrelations of the natural and social dimensions. Surprisingly they are not. First, I will rapidly indicate why they should be so conceived even from the point of view of those who view them as our rivals and as better than us. Mostly I will focus on why they are not recognise as what they are. Automated cognitive systems realise, that is make they socially real, what Baird (2004) claims of scientific instruments, that they are a form of Thing Knowledge. They are cognitive technologies transformed into objects, but we tend to overlook this objective aspect, to forget that they are things and uniquely focus on their performance as cognitive systems. In consequence, we view them as essentially subjective (artificial agents) and construe their consequences as purely social. Following Hollnagel & Woods (2005), I will argue that they are best understood as joint cognitive systems and that such an approach brings us to reintegrate their “natural” and objective dimension when trying to understand their effect on the world.


The Conference Series is open for enrolment to PhD, graduate and undergraduate students of University of Cagliari.

To enrol please fill in the enrolment form.

For learning credits (CFU) recognition, the nominal duration of the series is 18 hours (6 conferences, 3 hours each).

For further information contact Ivan Blečić (

Organising Committee

  • Ivan Blečić, PhD programme in Civil Engineering and Architecture
  • Emanuel Muroni, PhD programme in Civil Engineering and Architecture
  • Mauro Pala, PhD programme in Philological and Literary, Historical and Cultural Studies
  • Vittorio Pelligra, PhD prorgamme in Economics and Business
  • Giuseppe Sergioli, PhD programme in Philosophy, Epistemology, and Human Sciences
  • Lorenzo Tanzini, PhD programme in History, Cultural Heritage, and International Studies




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