Composite Photographs and the Quest for Generality: Themes from Peirce and Galton

Presentation by Chiara Ambrosio, University College London.

Along with being an interesting visual method of scientific investigation in its own right, composite photography was often invoked, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as a powerful philosophical metaphor.

This paper investigates an early chapter in the life of this metaphor: its reception and use by the American philosopher Charles S. Peirce. I show how Peirce's use of composite photography was rooted in his sophisticated understanding of the composite process itself, which had been originally developed by Sir Francis Galton in the late 1870s.

I highlight substantial differences in the ways Peirce and Galton drew on the composite process to advance broader epistemological claims - especially claims concerning the nature and reliability of scientific generalisations.

I argue that Peirce and Galton's respective approaches to the issue of generalisation and generality condense deeper epistemological tensions that deserve renewed philosophical consideration.

I conclude arguing that the material dimension of photography as a mode of representation in its own right, and in particular the limitations of the photographic process as an "objective" mode of representation, were ultimately of crucial importance for the ways in which Peirce adopted and articulated the metaphor of composite photography in his philosophical works.

Humanomics Open Research Seminars - New trends in the humanities

Having established the new forum "Research Seminar", the Humanomics Research Centre continues to present new guest lectures and invited international scholars throughout the winter semester 2014.

The intention of this seminar series is to gather colleagues, PhD students, and advanced students for discussions of new trends and theories in the humanities - ranging from current research projects to theoretical debates about the past, present and future of humanities scholarship.

The objective is to organise one or two monthly meetings, Thursdays 16-18, with presentations of new research by Copenhagen University staff and invited international scholars.

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