Department of Philosophy

Lydia Patton

Associate Professor of Philosophy
Ph.D. McGill University, 2004
231 Major Williams Hall | Email | (540) 231-8489 | Personal Website
Philosophy of Science, History and Philosophy of Science, Kant

I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Graduate Program Director at Virginia Tech. My research centers on the philosophy of science, the history of philosophy of science, and Kant and Neo-Kantianism. See my CV [docx] or my CV [pdf].

My work to date has centered on problems of methodology and of the approach to problem solving, explanation, and understanding in philosophy and in the sciences, including analyses of the role of experiment, of scientific models, and of applied mathematics in theory building and theory assessment. Future work will aim at marshaling the resources of the philosophy of science to contribute to debates on the place of science with respect to the humanities and on the characteristic methods of science and of philosophy. Problems like climate change can be approached using distinct methods (scientific, artistic, philosophical, moral, political), and a methodological approach investigates the limitations, practical advantages, and epistemological consequences of each.

Several current projects focus on the development of theories of geometry, acoustics, electrodynamics, and optics, and on the influence of histories and interpretations of these theories on the development of history and philosophy of science. Work in progress includes studies of Ernst Mach's account of the development of mechanics in his monograph Die Mechanik in ihrer Entwickelung, and of Henri Poincaré's and David Hilbert's approaches to applied geometry.

At the moment, I'm focusing on a sustained study of the contributions of Hermann von Helmholtz to science and to philosophy. The work centers on Helmholtz's theories of color and of sound and how they are related to his physical theories of optics and acoustics and to his physiological theories of sensation. Helmholtz had a characteristic approach to scientific and philosophical theorizing about secondary qualities, or what came to be known as qualia. His approach unites experimental methodology, functionalist modeling, and physiological research. Thus, while situating Helmholtz in the history of theories of phenomenal experience is worthwhile in its own right, his approach may be of most interest as an alternative or a complement to contemporary theories of qualia, of phenomenal experience, and of scientific methodology.

Recent Work

Regular Classes

  • Philosophy 2126: Late Modern Philosophy
  • Philosophy 5204: Topics in the History of Philosophy
  • Philosophy 6314: History of Philosophy of Science