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2011 Patrick Suppes Prize in Philosophy of Science

Spring General Meeting
Nancy J. Nersessian

The American Philosophical Society awarded the inaugural Patrick Suppes Prize in Philosophy to Dr. Nancy J. Nersessian in recognition of her book Creating Scientific Concepts. The award was presented by Patrick Suppes, Lucie Stern Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Stanford University.

In 2005 Patrick Suppes, a member of this Society since 1991, established and funded a set of prizes to honor accomplishments in three very different and deeply significant scholarly fields that reflect the spectacular scope of his own interests.  The Patrick Suppes Prize will be awarded annually, with a cycle of three years rotating each of the three subject matter areas – a prize in Philosophy with special consideration for the Philosophy of Science, a prize in Psychology, and a prize in the History of Science.

Nancy Nersessian is the Regents’ Professor and Professor of Cognitive Science at Georgia Institute of Technology.  She received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Case Western Reserve University. Her research focuses on creativity, innovation, and conceptual change in science.  To this end, she works to bring together methodologies and conceptual frameworks from cognitive science, philosophy of science, and history of science, exploring both the cognitive and cultural mechanisms that lead up to scientific innovation.

In her first book, Faraday to Einstein: Constructing Meaning in Scientific Theories (1984), she emphasized the need for a better way to talk about the meaning of scientific concepts, but did not take the step of introducing systematic ideas from cognitive science and developmental psychology to go deeper into the nature of conceptual change.  This she has done in her 2008 book, Creating Scientific Concepts.  Her analysis in this book of the complicated process Maxwell went through in finally moving away from a mechanical conception of electromagnetic phenomena to the discovery of his fundamental electromagnetic equations is probably the best work of this kind to be found in the recent literature.  Dr. Nersessian’s work in this field draws from an incredible array of sources, from concepts and analyses in cognitive science to the extensive body of literature on scientific practices available in the social science field, and from her own theoretical analysis of problems to empirical data including historical documents and interviews with scholars.

The selection of the recipient was made by Pat Suppes in consultation with Jordi Cat, professor of philosophy of science at Indiana University; Thomas Ryckman, professor of philosophy of science at Stanford University; Michael Friedman, professor of philosophy of science at Stanford University; Helen Longino, a well-known philosopher of science and current chairman of the department at Stanford; George Smith, professor of philosophy at Tufts University; and Nancy Cartwright, professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics.