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Event: Conference: Ignorances in the Sciences

Event date March 14, 2024 - March 15, 2024
Submission deadline December 01, 2023
Location Lyon France
Host(s) Centre de recherche Eugène Chevreul
Event website/information

Conference “Ignorances in the Sciences” – Lyon (Fr) – 14&15 March 2024

The main objective of the conference is to examine the way in which ignorance influences research in the various scientific disciplines (in both fundamental and applied research). Proposals for papers should contribute to a philosophical and epistemological investigation into ignorance – or ignorances – in the sciences. The ambition is therefore as much to question the philosophical content of scientific practices as to use the latter to construct a definition of ignorance or to put current conceptualisations to the test. The overall aim is to obtain a conception of ignorance that is enlightened and informed as much by its philosophical understandings as by its manifestations in scientific practices.


Ignorance, as a concept and a state, was not an object of academic attention until the 1980s. It can be explained by the fact that its own conception — as directly opposed to knowledge — makes it undesirable. As an absence, ignorance is seen as having no nature of its own, thereby presenting no specific academic interest. As an absence, above all, it is difficult to identify and even grasp. The emergence of scientific controversies (e.g., the tobacco controversy, the ozone depletion controversy, etc.) in the 1960s makes ignorance visible due to its environmental and public health consequences. This highlighting of ignorance led to the development of what Gross and McGoey (2015) call the ignorance studies, i.e., the studies of ignorance in a broad sense, across various areas: philosophy, linguistics, sociology, history, economics, etc. Among those studies, we can list agnotology (Proctor, 1995; Proctor and Schiebinger, 2008), the sociology of scientific ignorance (Stocking, 1998) and the feminist epistemology of ignorance (Tuana, 2004, 2006). These approaches particularly focus on the social dimension of ignorance both in its sources and consequences, and highlight the omnipresence and plurality of ignorance in science.

However, they have a blind spot, tied to their focus on the phenomenon rather than on the concept itself: they provide no definition of ignorance and its conditions are still unknown, thereby leaving its epistemic influence on scientific research in the dark. New approaches emerged in the 2010s, focusing on this dimension of ignorance. First, there is what can be named the heuristics of ignorance (see Firestein, 2012; Ivainer and Lenglet, 1996; Gaudet, 2014), i.e., the study of the role of ignorance in scientific research from a heuristic point of view: what is its role in the dynamic of discovery and innovation? In what way does ignorance constitute a resource for scientific research? Subsequently, studies in analytic epistemology emerged, in particular the work from Le Morvan (2011, 2013, 2015, 2022) and Peels (2009, 2011, 2012, 2023), who both focus on defining the necessary and sufficient conditions for ignorance, on determining its properties and questioning its plurality. The variety of these studies leads us to think that ignorance is indeed at the heart of scientific research, and in all fields. But is it dealt with the same way in physics and in geology? Does it have a similar influence in mathematics and biology? If analytic epistemology enable us to construct a general framework to analyse the concept, we cannot define it independently of concrete situations in which ignorance is found. We propose to explore ignorance, both as a concept or a phenomenon, from the various scientific practices themselves. To do so, the following leads (among others) can be explored:

• Why define ignorance? What are the stakes and difficulties of defining it?
• What are the conditions and properties of ignorance?
• How is ignorance represented in the sciences?
• What ignorances are the scientists facing in their fields today?
• Can the actual ignorances be overcome, at least in principle?
• How do scientific ignorances evolve?
• What strategies are developed by the scientists to deal with ignorance?

The main goal of this conference is to question the way ignorance influence research in different scientific fields (both in fundamental research and in applied research). The proposals must contribute to a philosophical and epistemological investigation of ignorance. The ambition is thus to interrogate the philosophical content of scientific practices as much as to use them to construct a definition of ignorance or to challenge current conceptualizations. The overall goal is to obtain an informed and enlightened conception of ignorance both by its philosophical understandings and its manifestations in scientific research.

Stuart Firestein. Ignorance: How it Drives Science. Oxford University Press, New York, 2012.
Joanne Gaudet. Absence and Presence in Science: Critical Reply to the Special Issue on ‘Absences’. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, 3(4):16–23, 2014.
Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey, editors. Routledge Handbook of Ignorance Studies. Routledge International Handbooks. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY, second edition edition, 2015.
Théodore Ivainer and Roger Lenglet. Les ignorances des savants. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris, 1996.
Pierre Le Morvan. Knowledge, Ignorance and True Belief. Theoria, 77(1):32–41, 2011.
Pierre Le Morvan. Why the Standard View of Ignorance Prevails. Philosophia, 41(1):239–256, March 2013.
Pierre Le Morvan. On the ignorance, knowledge, and nature of propositions. Synthese, 192(11):3647–3662, 2015. Publisher: Springer.
Pierre Le Morvan. Ignorance, truth, and falsehood. Ratio, 35(3):169–180, September 2022.
Rik Peels. What Is Ignorance? Philosophia, 38(1):57, 2009.
Rik Peels. Ignorance is Lack of True Belief: A Rejoinder to Le Morvan. Philosophia, 39(2):345, 2011.
Rik Peels. The New View on Ignorance Undefeated. Philosophia, 40(4):741–750, December 2012.
Rik Peels. Ignorance: A Philosophical Study. Oxford University Press, March 2023.
Robert Proctor and Londa Schiebinger, editors. Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2008.
Robert N. Proctor. The Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know And Don’t Know About Cancer. Basic Books, New York, NY, March 1995.
Holly Stocking. On Drawing Attention to Ignorance. Science Communication, 20(1):165–178, September 1998. Publisher: SAGE Publications Inc.
Nancy Tuana. Coming to Understand: Orgasm and the Epistemology of Ignorance. Hypatia, 19(1): 194–232, 2004.
Nancy Tuana. The Speculum of Ignorance: The Women’s Health Movement and Epistemologies of Ignorance. Hypatia, 21(3):1–19, 2006.


Deadline to send the proposals : 01/12/2023 (AoE)
Length : 500 words (without references – if necessary, use the “Comment” field to transmit it)
Language : French or English
Communications will be 30 minutes, followed by a 15 minutes discussion.
Accepted participants will be contacted in January 2024.

Use the form in the “New submission” section on this website to submit

Partial or total funding of the travel and accommodation may be granted depending on personal situations.


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