Evelyn Fox-Keller

Evelyn Fox-Keller
pas labex
pas Eurias

dates de séjour

15/10/2009 - 15/01/2010



Fonction d’origine

Professeure émérite

Institution d’origine

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (États-Unis)

pays d'origine


projet de recherche

Simplicity as an Epistemological Value in Scientific Practice

The epistemological value of simplicity has long been taken as self-evident by natural scientists, and perhaps especially by physical scientists, but as Mario Bunge (1962) reminded us almost half a century ago, there is nothing simple about what that value might be. Indeed, the purported value of simplicity is clearly multiple, as are the very meanings and references of the term. Bunge distinguished two kinds of simplicity: ontological (referring to things, events, processes) and semiotic (referring to concepts, propositions, and theories). When we speak of the epistemological value of simplicity, the reference is clearly to the second meaning, for it is our concepts, propositions, and theories, and not the things, events, and processes they describe, to which epistemic claims attach. And certainly, for the human agents that generate such concepts, propositions, and theories, some of the advantages – having especially to do with the practical value of simplicity -- are self-evident. If we are to be able to work with them, concepts and theories need to be simple enough for us to grasp. Indeed, one might even argue that the very meaning of simple is determined by the capacities of human minds, where those capacities are themselves manifestly shaped by training and, in addition, subject to technological enhancement. Like beauty, simplicity is in this sense in the eye of the beholder.


Evelyn Fox Keller is currently Professor Emerita of History and Philosophy of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Keller's early work concentrated at the intersection of physics and biology. Her subsequent research has focused on the history and philosophy of modern biology and on gender and science.

Evelyn Fox Keller received her Ph.D. in Physics from Harvard University. She arrived at MIT from the University of California, Berkeley, where she was Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric, History, and Women’s Studies. Professor Keller has taught at Northeastern University, S.U.N.Y. at Purchase, and New York University. She has been awarded numerous academic and professional honours, including the Blaise Pascal Research Chair by the Préfecture de la Région D’Ile-de-France, which she spent in Paris, and elected membership in the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Science. In addition, Professor Keller serves on the editorial boards of various journals including the Journal of the History of Biology and Biology and Philosophy. 

She is the author of several books, including A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock, Reflections on Gender and Science, The Century of the Gene, and Making Sense of Life: Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors and Machines.