Meet the new ESPhil colleague: William Peden

Where are you from? 

I was born in the UK, in Bristol, and I was also raised in the UK, in a town called Callander.

Where did you do your studies/What did you study?

I began with an MA in philosophy at Edinburgh University. After that, I went to Cambridge University to study the MPhil in history and philosophy of science. Finally, I studied for my PhD at Durham University, UK. My thesis topic was the applications of imprecise probability (specifically, the idea that the values of probabilities can be intervals rather than exact numbers) to questions about rational choices and scientific evidence.

Why did you choose Erasmus School of Philosophy to do your postdoc?

2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Jan Tinbergen's Nobel Prize in Economics, and the Erasmus School of Philosophy is running a great new project on philosophical and historical questions raised by his work. It is called "Jan Tinbergen: The Thinker" and it will be researched by a team of academics within Erasmus University. Tinbergen's work is very neglected by philosophers of economics, despite its importance and the way it touches on so many contemporary questions about economic expertise, statistical testing, the criteria for good scientific models, and more. I'm very excited about studying his work and using it as a focal point for my research, especially at an institution with such a great reputation for the philosophy of economics.

What is your research about?

Tinbergen's ideas connect with dozens of debates in the philosophy of economics, so I have decided to focus just a few. For example, Tinbergen's approach to economics was formed before economists paid much attention to modelling the governors of society, rather than just the governed population. He also formed his worldview before there was much economics of science, including economics of economics. As a result, he often applies a very different of thinking about economist and politicians on the one hand, and the people whose lives they impact on the other. Many economists today think the same way. Can this be justified? It depends on a lot of philosophical questions about scientific models, predictions, and so on.

I'm also interested in historically exploring Tinbergen's ideas about the role of equilibrium reasoning in economics and their influence within 20th century economics. Finally, Tinbergen's ideas raise some difficult questions about statistics in economics, such as what constitutes a genuine statistical test of a hypothesis and what is the proper role of economists' theoretical expertise in statistical economics.

What are your expectations of the postdoc?

Since Tinbergen is so neglected, I think that he will be the excellent starting point for novel research. Additionally, I enjoy working in a team and within lively research institutes/schools with researchers who have intersecting interests but different expertise, so the combination of the "Jan Tinbergen: The Thinker", the Erasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics (EIPE) and the broader Erasmus University School of Philosophy seems like the perfect research context for me. It will be a great adventure to learn about all the other projects within these teams and to interact with other researchers.

What are your first impressions of the Erasmus University and the city Rotterdam?

Rotterdam is the largest city in which I have lived, particularly considering the size of the greater Rotterdam-Den Haag urban area, but I think that the public transport and green spaces will make it feel manageable and comfortable. Erasmus University certainly lives up to the Netherlands' reputation for a high quality of life within work. It's unusual to have a university in a city centre that also has green space and does not feel cramped against other buildings. The current pandemic obviously presents some challenges, but I think that Erasmus University will be able to preserve both productivity and good working conditions in this difficult period. If you work an 8 hour day, then that is about 2/3 of your waking time, excluding holidays. Therefore, there is a lot of joy to be gained by making both that work and its environment as pleasant as possible.

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